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‘Tree Mountain’ is a giant man-made forest and living work of art with a powerful message

We live in a world where there is more art to consume than ever. There’s no shortage of musical mashups, digital paintings, song covers, cosplay videos, and so on and on and on and on. While having visual and audio exposure to various forms of art is lovely, when we only experience art through an online platform, we sometimes sacrifice that powerful feeling of immersion, of being able to come face to face with a creation and truly be moved by an artist’s message. There’s a subtle, yet undeniable change that happens both internally and externally when you step into something with the intention to inspire. Honestly, it’s the closest thing to real world alchemy that we’ve got.

Agnes Denes might not be a name that regularly comes up on your feed, but she’s made an entire career out of creating art that provides this kind of visceral, profound effect.

Since the late 1960s, Denes has been a pioneer for environmental activism through art, exploring our relationship to the Earth through epically large-scale creations that mimic natural splendors of nature. And what really makes her work unique, even among other similar artists, is that it’s more than a call to action—there’s actual restoration built into the process.

The most brilliant example of this is her grandest work of all, ”Tree Mountain,” which is both artwork and the first ever human-made virgin forest. Yep, she designed a giant, living, breathing thing. Denes doesn’t just praise Mother Nature in her creations…she channels her.

tree mountain

The work’s full title, “Tree Mountain—A Living Time Capsule—11,000 Trees, 11,000 People, 400 Years,” gives a glimpse into the huge scope and scale of the project. Built at the site of an abandoned mine in Ylöjärvi, Finland, “Tree Mountain” measures 1,378 feet long, 886 feet wide, and 125 feet tall, and is made up of thousands of trees planted in a formation reminiscent of the golden ratio.

Though Denes first came up with the concept in 1984, it wouldn’t become an official project until 1992. But once it was backed by the United Nations and the Finnish government, volunteers from around the world came together to help. Anyone who planted a tree received a certificate that not only named them as the owner of the tree they planted but bestowed ownership of the tree to that person’s descendants up to 400 years in the future.

Even granting ownership of the trees is part of the project’s message. As Denes has stated, “Anything you put into the world you become responsible for…my hope is they keep [Tree Mountain] going, for the centuries.”

Truly, at the core of all of Denes’ work is a commitment to a better future for the planet.

“The trees must outlive the present era and, by surviving, carry our concepts into an unknown time in the future. If civilization as we know it ends or changes, there will be a reminder in the form of a strange forest for our descendants to ponder. They may reflect on an undertaking that did not serve personal needs but the common good and the highest ideals of humanity and its environment while benefiting future generations.”