worthless studios’ Plywood Protection Project gives new life to a material symbol of our times

Board Meeting

worthless studios’ Plywood Protection Project gives new life to a material symbol of our times

Over 200 plywood boards were salvaged across New York City by worthless studios. The material will now be used to create five sculptural installations set to debut in each borough on May 15. (Courtesy worthless studios)

If any single material gained a certain newfound ubiquity in New York City and countless other American cities and towns over the past year, it has been humble and readily available plywood. Used to board up storefronts shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic and deployed to protect businesses during the historic protests decrying systemic racism and police-perpetrated violence against Black Americans, these plywood property shields are now beginning to come down as “normal” life slowly resumes. (The nationwide social justice protests that defined the summer of 2020 continue on, albeit at a smaller and more concentrated scale; the work is far from done.) The material was actually a hard-to-find commodity in New York City during the height of the summer with single 4’–by–8′ AC plywood boards selling for more than $90 dollars each.

With such a massive amount of plywood now bound for rubbish heaps, New York art nonprofit worthless studios has launched an initiative to salvage, protect, and reuse protest plywood. As part of its Plywood Protection Project, worthless studios collected over 200 used plywood boards, which have since been distributed to five artists who are now incorporating them into sculptural works of art. The collective works, realized as part of a unifying public art project, will be unveiled May 15 at five different sites across the city, one in each borough. (Relatedly, plywood played a central role in this year’s Times Square Design Competition, which was won by the studio Soft­–Firm for its hope- and gratitude-projecting Love Letters.)

a graffiti-covered plywood board
Protest plywood collected by worthless studios. (Courtesy worthless studios)

Over 200 local artists and makers applied to take part in The Plywood Protection Project. The five finalists, who have each received studio space, tools, fabrication and installation assistance, a $500 budget for other required materials, and a $2,000 artist stipend, were selected by a jury assembled by worthless studios. Each completed sculpture will be, as mentioned, on view starting May 15 through November 1 with the exception of one artwork (indicated below), which will remain up through June 30. Once the installations are revealed at their respective sites worthless studios will launch a safe, in-person programming series—talks, performances, musical events, readings, youth-centered activities, and on—that tie into each work.

“At its core The Plywood Protection Project is about New York City and staying here amidst the pandemic — being all in on this city while supporting the artists who’ve remained here during this tough time,” explained Neil Hamamoto, founder and artistic director of worthless studios, in a statement. “I think the project touches on that sentiment materially but also from an art historical standpoint, in thinking about so many great artists who’ve lived in New York using materials from our streets to create work. In many ways our project is an ode and a continuation of that rich history.”

Below you’ll find further information about each of The Plywood Protection Project’s in-progress artworks including the artist, location, and a brief description of the work provided by worthless studios along with design renderings. AN will share additional details and photography of the completed sculptures in May. You can also view more worthless studios-headed projects, past and present, at the nonprofit’s Instagram account.

RockIt BlackTanda Francis

Queensbridge Park, Queens (May 15–November 1)

RockIt Black, Tanda Francis (Tanda Francis/Courtesy worthless studios)

RockIt Black is a continuation of Tanda Francis’s work, which is dedicated to undoing the stigmatization of Blackness by presenting Black identities as divine and as a foundation to our shared humanity.”

Be HeardBehin Ha Design Studio

Thomas Paine Park, Manhattan (May 15–November 1)

a sculptural art installation incorporating plywood
Be Heard, Benin Ha Design Studio (Benin Ha Design Studio/Courtesy worthless studios)

Be Heard honors the social justice protest of 2020 by celebrating free speech and civic engagement.”

Open House — Tony DiBernardo 

Alice Austen House Side Lawn, Staten Island (May 15–June 30)

renderings of theatrical stage incorporating protest plywood
Open House, Tony DiBernardo (Tony Bernardo/Courtesy worthless studios)

“Tony’s interactive sculpture, Open House, showcases the value of theatre artists and performers in New York, many of whom have struggled to find work amidst the pandemic.”

Untitled work — KaN+Mardok

Poe Park, The Bronx (May 15–November 1)

rendering of an art installation incorporating protest plywood, part of the plywood protection project
Untitled, KaN+Mardok (KaN+Mardok/Courtesy worthless studios)

“In honor of the Black Lives Matter movement, KaN+Mardok [Karine Duteil and Nadej Hocini of KaN Landscape Design with French-American visual artist Caroline Mardok] have created an interactive series of portraits and silhouettes of the 2020 protests.”

Miguelito — Michael Zelehoski

McCarren Park, Brooklyn (May 15–November 1)

rendering of a sculptural art installation fabricated with protest plywood as part of the plywood protection project
Miguelito, Michael Zelehoski (Michael Zelehoski/Courtesy worthless studios)

Miguelito consists of two plywood obelisks: symbols of political power derived from Egypt, twisted together to form a caltrop, a symbol of protest.”