In the central atrium of Meta Platforms Inc.’s soon-to-open New York City offices in the James A. Farley Building, a 50-foot-tall, two-ton “tree” made of aluminum and stainless steel is suspended over four stories, its root base hanging in midair.
Created by New York-based artist Timur Si-Qin, the sculpture, “Sacred Footprint,” is a marriage of nature and technology that originated largely with 3-D–scanned images of birch, ash, pine, hemlocks, and other tree species taken on winter hikes in New York state’s Catskill and Adirondack mountains. Most of the leaves on the tree represent those of a yellow birch, as does the root ball.
Since Si-Qin, who is of German and Mongolian-Chinese descent, moved to New York five years ago, he’s “fallen in love with the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and natural surroundings,” he says. “The city only exists because of this natural wealth that existed here beforehand. I see this sculpture as a reminder of that, and paying homage to the natural identity of New York.”
The sculpture, which was fabricated into life in Si-Qin’s Beijing gallery, Magician Space, through 3-D printing, mold making, metal casting and painting, is among five large-scale works Meta commissioned from New York artists for the soaring new spaces of the Farley building. The Beaux-Arts structure, which was once the main branch of the U.S. Postal Service, and today holds the Moynihan Train Hall in addition to stores and restaurants, will soon house Meta’s tech and engineering teams on five levels.
August 2017 image shows the Moynihan Train Hall under construction.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The tech firm
— the parent of Facebook and Instagram — always infuses art into its office spaces, commissioning works by local artists to “celebrate and make those connections to the community,” says Tina Vaz, head of Meta Open Arts, a global program that partners with cultural organizations and collaborates with both designers and artists.
For its buildings, art creates an “intersection of analog and technology” that Vaz describes as foundational to its program. “We look at it as making art and making tech are analogous forms of creative problem solving,” Vaz says. “Having that same builder spirit is integral to all the work that we do.”
The New York artists who created these space-redefining works at the Farley Building were invited by Meta’s global team of curators who, Vaz says, work similar to their colleagues everywhere. All of the company’s curators have traditional art world backgrounds. “They are connected to and tap into the cultural ecosystem,” looking for artists at all stages of their careers, she says.
“All the work is site-responsive, site-specific,” with curators working with the artists to develop their proposals. “We try to give them as much supported creative freedom as we can,” Vaz says.
Employees and visitors to Meta — and even commuters and shoppers passing through the Farley building — will be able to experience these expansive works. In the office’s main lobby are two 20-foot-long triptychs, each more than six-feet high, painted with flowers, wildlife, and vistas native to New York state by the artists Esteban Cabeza de Baca and Heidi Howard, who have a shared studio space in Queens, N.Y.
The vibrant work, the largest collaboration by the artists, also includes companion murals filled with the flora and fauna of the desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast painted on the walls of the elevator bank area adjacent to the lobby.
In the building’s “ring lobby,” which can be seen from the waiting area of the Moynihan train hall, hang New York multimedia artist Liz Collins’s vivid zigzag-striped textile work, “Every Which Way,” which is patterned to evoke signage from the streets of New York.
Rendered in various geometric shapes, these bold upholstered-padded panels are installed on four walls throughout the space, covering 100 feet in all. Meta points out that the textiles were woven on a Jacquard loom, 19th-century technology that is “considered a predecessor to modern computing,” according to a news release.
The Farley’s south lobby features a painting by Matthew Kirk, an enrolled member of the Navajo nation who was born in Arizona, raised by a non–Native American family in Wisconsin, and today lives in Ridgewood, Queens. Kirk brought all these elements of who he is into “Shadow of a Shadow,” a 22-foot-long painting, and “A Distant Lie,” which is 8 by 11 feet.
These “weaving” paintings, as Kirk calls them, use a grid structure similar to Navajo rugs, in addition to construction materials such as a steel rebar grid that separates the works into hundreds of small paintings. These paintings have various symbols, from the North Star — central to Navajo culture — to references to superheroes given his life as an urban father.
The “cross-cultural hybrid language,” of the pieces alludes to the “Farley building’s identity as a hub for communication,” Meta said — first, as a central post office and now as a major hub for the company in New York.
Brooklyn artist Baseera Khan created two related works in the Farley Building that examine systems of power — a huge sculpture and a hand-painted mural. Khan’s parents are Muslim, and immigrated from India to Texas, where the artist was born.
The 10 foot-by-7½-foot-by-7½-foot sculpture sits on a 12-foot-high plinth to represent the “imperialist power” of the Corinthian column, Meta said. The sculpture is covered with handmade silk rugs from Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan with a Muslim-majority population that was once colonized by the British. The mural — Khan’s first — repeats the patterns of the rugs in a gesture the artist said in a statement is meant to “remind the viewer of how ‘oriental rugs’ have historically been emptied of their meaning through colonial dominance.”
For Si-Qin, “Sacred Footprint” is consistent with his practice of creating digital representations of nature, which he personally doesn’t see as distinct from one another given that humans, as part of nature, create the technology. In this case, all the trees that were used to make his monumental structure are still alive, growing where he found them. “With this process I appreciate that you can still capture that living quality,” Si-Qin says.
The work was actually based on the ancient concept of “the tree of life,” often a mythical or religious symbol of the interconnectedness of nature.
“Ultimately I had this opportunity to realize such a big work, and I hope it can be a positive influence,” he says.