New York’s High Line Park is a welcome idyll on a former train track, high above the streets of Manhattan. Here, a citizens’ initiative not only keeps the park in bloom, but also brightens it with a changing roster of art projects. One of the latest examples was created by Jamaican artist Nari Ward who turned a smart fortwo into fertile ground for new life.

It was this special mix of perpetual motion and stasis that caught his eye, states Nari Ward, referencing both his own smart tree sculpture and the work’s exhibition space.

In place and on display at New York’s High Line Park until March 2017, Ward’s work pays homage to its unique setting. After all, the “park on stilts,” a refurbished and repurposed elevated railway track, can look back on almost a century’s worth of history. Where once freight trains supplied West Manhattan factories with raw materials, conveniently arriving at the second or third story, this millennium has given the industrial relic and behemoth a new lease of life as a green oasis, towering high above New York’s bustling traffic.

A tree grows from a car

Here, the former neighborhood initiative “Friends of the High Line“ not only takes care of the park’s upkeep, including the High Line’s trees and shrubs, but also encourages performances, mural paintings, and a local flavor of urban or “High Line” art.

Ward’s smart tree is a great example of such artistic expression. During his first visit to his native Jamaica after 15 years of absence, tucked away on his father’s property, he spotted a scrap car that was propped up on boulders as if waiting for some long-forgotten repair and maintenance. After all those years, the vehicle had been taken over by a lime tree, growing out of the chassis.

Art paying homage to sustainability

This combination of decay and creation, of nature and technology, of motion and peaceful balance, really caught the artist’s attention, so he decided to recreate it for the High Line Park – with a smart fortwo from the previous generation 451. Ward filled the wheel guards with stones, covered the exterior in tread patterns, and packed the interior with soil suitable for growing an apple tree – the latter a tribute to New York’s cooler climate.

“I wanted to give viewers a feel for the creation of new from old,” Ward explains. Born in 1963 on Jamaica, the artist has been living and working in New York City since the 1980s. Many of his works arose from materials found in the streets of the metropolis and topics like hope, optimism, or sustainability are recurring themes.

According to Nari Ward, his approach has a lot to do with his roots and heritage. “In so-called third-world countries, people invariably need to improvise and get by with what they have. That’s what I want to honor and cherish with my work.”

smart tree
The tree stretches toward the New York sky.