Two entwined wooden obelisks sit at the southeast corner of McCarren Park in Northern Brooklyn. They’re made of plywood, which was a ubiquitous material last summer as businesses and institutions across New York boarded up in anticipation of riots that never happened. Those plywood barriers were detested by many in the city, myself included. Luxury art spaces like the Whitney Museum, Hauser & Wirth, and the New Museum, among others, barricaded themselves from the public. Meanwhile, other spaces did the opposite and opened up their venues to protesters, including Invisible Dog Art Center, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and Triple Canopy, which all heeded calls to #OpenYourLobby for protesters.
Utilizing these leftover wood slats, artist Michael Zelehoski has created a work that reflects on our political moment. His sculpture, title “Miguelito,” is constructed out of the plywood businesses used to board up their windows during last summer’s racial justice protests. They are spray painted with messages from the protests, and he’s used them to construct two entwined wooden obelisks, which the artist arranged to resemble a caltrop, a spiked metal weapon thrown on the ground during protests. The title “Miguelito” refers to what protesters in Chile called the contraptions, which they fashioned out of twisted nails to blow up the tires on police vehicles. (Zelehoski lived in Chile during the early aughts.)
The artist has combined many of the moments from the last year into this work. The misshapen obelisks reflect the current crisis about monuments and their role in society, not to mention the role obelisks have in the projection of imperial power for millennia. The plywood points to the fear that seeped into the minds of those watching Black Lives Matter protests, and the caltrop form suggests both the tools of security and the ways the public can resist surveillance.
“During the BLM protests last summer I was reminded of the caltrops or ‘miguelitos’ that we used to make in the sculpture studio in Santiago, Chile during protests there in the early 2000s,” Zelehoski told Hyperallergic. “It occurred to me that instead of just tearing down monuments we could build them to represent progressive values and protest. We can’t just define ourselves in opposition. We have to propose new ways forward as well. I wanted this to be a monument for the people and for people to be able to continue to express themselves on its surface. Parks is opposed to that but we’ll see what happens ;).”
The work, which was supported by Worthless Studios, will be up by the Union Avenue and Bayard Street entrance to McCarren Park until October 2021.