c. Elizabeth Keegin Colley

The Last Stand: An Experimental Opera for Trees

August 12, 2021

Prospect Park Alliance and NYC Parks Art in the Parks is partnering with Creative Time to present artist Kamala Sankaram’s first public artwork, The Last Stand, in Brooklyn’s Backyard.

On view September 18–October 10, this public sound installation and experimental opera for and about trees invites audiences to consider the complex and expansive life cycle of one of our most vital natural resources. 

Prospect Park is home to Brooklyn’s last remaining forest with more than 30,000 trees and many species of native flora that are an integral habitat to the hundreds of species of birds and wildlife.

“Since our founding in 1987, Prospect Park Alliance has played a critical role in revitalizing the park’s 250 acres of core woodlands,” said Sue Donoghue, President of Prospect Park Alliance and Park Administrator. “The park’s 30,000 trees are the ‘lungs’ of Brooklyn and are vital to our community’s health and well-being. We are so pleased to be hosting The Last Stand, and drawing attention to the importance of trees to our environment and future.”

The Last Stand chronicles the lifespan of a 300-year-old Northern Red Oak—the “Mother Tree”—from the years 1750–2050. The rich soundscape tells the story of the Mother Tree in Black Rock Forest, a nearly 4,000-acre diverse ecosystem in upstate New York with tree species tracing back 14,000 years. Sankaram personally created field recordings of the environment to develop sounds for the installation, which will be experienced through rhythms, looped sounds, and the physical vibrations they generate.

“In the wake of this year’s catastrophic heat, storms, and floods, the immediacy of the climate emergency has only become clearer. We can no longer hold ourselves separate from the world around us. Rather, to stave off the most devastating effects of climate change, we must recognize the interconnectedness of humankind with our delicate world and all the living beings that inhabit it. It is my hope that by allowing ourselves to try and step inside the perspective of a tree, to experience its different intelligence and sense of time, we can rekindle this sense of connection,” said Kamala Sankaram. 

Over the course of 10 hours, the opera spans the Mother Tree’s life from acorn to its “last stand,” the final burst of life-giving energy a tree gives to its vast forest life network before it dies. Trees and visitors will experience sounds native to the natural environment, including animal and tree canopy noises, as well as sounds that mimic moments of life-altering tragedy, including invasions from non-native insects to human-induced threats such as excess rain, logging, and fire. Finally, the narrative carries the audience into the future with sounds that hint at the catastrophic effects of climate change, calling attention to the symbiotic and sometimes negative relationships within ecosystems.

The Last Stand is the winner of Creative Time’s 2021 Emerging Artist Open Call, which offers the opportunity for an artist to create their first-ever public artwork. Lead Project Support for The Last Stand is generously provided by Costa Brazil.

Learn more about The Last Stand, on view in Prospect Park from September 18–October 10, 2021.