Art wall in the People’s Garden

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Morningside Heights native Leander Knust’s installation finds a home on West 111th Street


  • At first glance, Leander Knust’s work looks like a large outdoor bookshelf. Photo: Leander Knust

  • Re-Material Wall in the park on West 111th Street. Photo: Leander Knust

  • Close-up of the jars. Photo: Leander Knust

A community garden in Morningside Heights is now home to an art installation by one of its own.

On May 18, a welcoming ceremony was held for the Re-Material Wall by Leander Knust at the West 111th Street People’s Garden. Knust, 27, lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but spent the first 10 years of his life in Morningside Heights.

His work reflects an interest in growth and decay, and he uses methods that demonstrate the process of change. Additionally, Knust is fascinated with the intersection between technology and nature.

“This feels very close to home,” he told the West Side Spirit. “I never predicted life to have a full circle like this. It’s such a nice honor.”

The piece, which took four months to make and will be on display for a year, is made up of steel, reclaimed pipes, old floor boards, copper piping from old plumbing, glass jars, electrical wiring, solar panels and trumpet parts.

Re-Material Wall uses energy from the sun to slowly decay copper piping, growing it into crystalline, coral-like forms.

The sculpture, standing nine feet tall and ten feet long, at first glance looks like a large outdoor bookshelf. A steel frame supports five pine shelves that hold forty jars. Each jar contains a copper plating solution of copper sulfate and water. Also in each vessel, a cathode wire suspends a copper object while an anode wire resting at the bottom collects the copper molecules that are carried by the electrical current. The current is supplied by a forty-watt solar panel at the top of the unit that will divide its total wattage evenly amongst the jars.

The process is very slow and only functions at a very low wattage; just one volt per jar, less than the output of a watch battery. As electricity travels in the same fractal path life uses to expand, the accumulated molecules tracing this path look like biological growth.

Knust began electroforming copper corals by accident in 2016. After an experience hiking in upper Michigan, during which he found a raw pure copper nugget, he decided to try and re-naturalize this material.

After trying to copperplate stones and sticks with no success, he left the system running for two weeks as he went on another hike. Knust returned to discover his first copper coral. Through a few years of experimentation and failure, he figured out how to power a successful process via solar energy and drew up the first sketch of Re-Material Wall.

The wall was originally on display in Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City from October 2018 to March 2019. Socrates awards grants to emerging artists and two years ago, Knust was a recipient.

When his time in LIC was up, his choices were to scrap the wall or find it a new home. Fortunately, he was able to find the latter in Morningside Heights.

“The 111th Street People’s Garden is somewhere I used to go and spend time there as a child,” Knust said. “I have a lot of memories with my family and friends in the neighborhood. I went to the garden and it just felt like the perfect environment to have the sculpture.”

He recalled how he was once chased by a peacock right near the garden as a child.

Knust met with the gardeners at the park and they were receptive to having the sculpture there.

Ultimately, the wall symbolizes the ever changing culture and dynamics in New York City.

“The garden itself has been this resilient community stronghold,” he said. “To me I built this sculpture and it means a lot to me. I just hope that people find an experience of raw curiosity when they experience the piece. I just hope to inspire people.”

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