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Little apple afloat

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Meet Manhattan's Mini-Me.

Workers at a Staten Island dry dock are toiling to create an artificial "island" that will orbit Manhattan for 10 days.

The project is the brainchild of late artist Robert Smithson, a conceptual landscape artist who conceived "Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan" in 1973, but died in an air crash that year before his idea could be created.

Before it is launched Saturday, the 30-by-90-foot barge will be filled with dirt, rocks, grass, seven native trees and shrubs and made to look like a real island. It will be hauled around Gotham's waterways by a 45-foot tugboat for 12 hours every day until Sept. 25.

While some might say imitation is the highest form of flattery, Smithson's concept is much deeper.

The basic sketches were done in homage to Frederick Law Olmstead's design of Central Park, curators believe, and the concept is to take the park - itself man-made - from its natural surroundings and allow New Yorkers to reimagine a part of their island outside of itself.

"Smithson's idea was to have the island be part of New York and elements of the city within the work," said Diane Shamash, director of Minetta Brook, a nonprofit contemporary-arts organization that is building the island.

The boulders are borrowed from Central Park, and the shrubs and trees - grown in nurseries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania - will be planted in the park when the exhibition is finished, Shamash said.

The floating exhibit is in conjunction with a Whitney Museum retrospective of Smithson's work, which opened in June and runs through Oct. 23. The retrospective features paintings, essays and photos made from 1955 to 1973.

Smithson, who moved to Manhattan when he was 19, was fascinated with entropy and primordial landscapes.

Some of his better-known works include "Spiral Jetty," a 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide coil of earth spiraling out into Utah's Great Salt Lake, and "Asphalt Rundown," in which a dump truck poured asphalt down a gravel quarry.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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