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.)
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 Black —Tanda Francis
Queensbridge Park, Queens (May 15–November 1)
“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 Heard — Behin Ha Design Studio
Thomas Paine Park, Manhattan (May 15–November 1)
“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)
“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.”
Poe Park, The Bronx (May 15–November 1)
“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)
“Miguelito consists of two plywood obelisks: symbols of political power derived from Egypt, twisted together to form a caltrop, a symbol of protest.”