worthless studios hosts a competition to repurpose excess plywood into sculptural works of public art with its plywood protection project. during this turbulent year, nearly every corner of new york city has seen a radical and rapid transformation. while dwellings have taken on the role of offices, office buildings have largely closed their doors. restaurants have been turned inside-out as the sidewalks are lined with experimental, makeshift dining enclosures. in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and a summer of revolutionary protests, the experience of occupying the city at nearly every level has been rendered strange and uncanny. NYC-based nonprofit worthless studios has picked up on one move: storefronts, especially luxury brands, have been wrapped in a full height, protective plywood skin.
images courtesy of worthless studios | @worthlessstudios
especially in its most pedestrian-dense areas, the sidewalk life of new york had once lent a fluid experience between the street and the indoors. ground-level facades of full-height glazing invite the pedestrian’s gaze inside, expanding the boundaries of the street. now, as many of these windows are boarded up, the street seems to narrow and look inward on itself. worthless studios founder neil hamamoto addresses a more tangible effect of this massive usage of plywood, one that was noticed perhaps only by the city’s builders and artists: ‘plywood prices skyrocketed to above $90 for one 4’ x 8’ AC plywood board and supply was depleted citywide. art material costs rank at the top of the artist’s expense list and this discarded material must not go to waste.’ while it was at first the role of the plywood to protect the city, the initiative by worthless studios ensures the protection of the plywood in turn.
as retailers have begun to shed their protective layers of plywood, worthless studios and the five competition-winners of the plywood protection project will transform the wasted material into public art. the five projects — a first look at the proposals below — will be constructed primarily of the gathered plywood material. the works will be no larger in volume than twelve cubic feet, will comply to basic public safety measures, and will include anchoring mechanisms to ensure the security of the work. while the exact locations have not yet been determined, the completed sculptures will be displayed across the city by the spring/summer of 2021.
designboom speaks with worthless studio founder neil hamamoto to learn more about the initiative.
designboom DB: in such a polarized time, the image of the boarded shopfronts can evoke very different connotations depending on the viewer. using such provocative material, do you expect the overall initiative to be received in a similarly polarized way?
neil hamamoto (NH): the plywood protection project was not conceived to be a dividing or polarizing force. rather, we launched the project in an effort to engage with our community here in new york and repurpose materials used amidst a moment of crisis, reshaping plywood into something beautiful. this is an important reminder that the issues we’re living through don’t disappear once the physical barriers are taken down, and we plan to make another round of plywood collections to ensure that this material doesn’t go to waste and lose its historic meaning.
DB: can you speak to the site specific nature of the project within its context of new york city?
NH: worthless studios is a new york based non-profit so we focus our attention here, but as you might know boarded up windows and excessive plywood usage are certainly not limited to this town. thinking about sites as relevant to PPP, I designed the project to support five artists so that one sculpture could go up in each borough. while the exact locations are still being determined, we hope the final sites will fulfill that goal to really make it a complete citywide engagement.
DB: do you imagine that the public will physically engage with the works, or might they be viewed from afar as an art object?
NH: we have proposals from artists that will do both. tanda’s and michael’s proposals are more on the side of art object while behrang & ann, tony, and karine & caroline are more on the side of physically engaging.
DB: when sourcing the material, did you intentionally seek out plywood with graffiti? how might graffiti affect the language of the work?
NH: sourcing the plywood was actually more difficult than you’d think, so that old expression ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ sort of came into play. when someone finally returned our calls and wanted to support the cause, we didn’t raise too many questions about the content of the wood since our focus was on saving plywood from landfill and making sure we had ample supply to support the works of our artists. when it comes to how the contents of the wood might alter the work, really, that’s left in the hands of the artists. we’ve photographed each board we’ve collected to date and labeled it with its original address, from there, the artists will decide amongst themselves which pieces they need and how certain colors, words or images might add or detract from their own work.
DB: can you comment on the role of the artist during such a politically-charged time?
NH: I don’t know if the role of the artist needs to change when times get politically charged. of course there are many politically motivated or influenced artists and this is certainly a busy, and likely overwhelming, time for them, but I don’t think it’s necessary for artists to feel a need to respond or be active when the lens feels almost solely focused on politics. I think the role of the artist is to vehemently proceed forward. I do think this is a moment for arts organizations to step up politically, provide support for artists and actively engage in projects that move the needle forward, which is what we aim to do at worthless studios.
project title: plywood protection project
founder: neil hamamoto
selected artists: behrang behin + ann ha | KaN landscape design + caroline mardok | michael zelehoski | tanda francis | tony dibernardo
location: new york, NY
display date: spring/summer 2021