Take a walk along the northern edge of Marcus Garvey Park and you're bound to catch sight of a mysterious new structure resembling a massive bird's nest. Head around to the eastern section and you'll pass another large arrangement of branches, this one resembling a group of soft mounds. Six similarly enigmatic shapes await in other corners of the park.
At first glance, it may seem as if some fantastical creature has been gathering bits of tree detritus and using them to build lairs throughout the park. But these eight sculptures are actually the work of some very real humans: artist Maren Hassinger and her team of industrious volunteers.
A Harlem-based multidisciplinary artist, Hassinger conceived these site-specific sculptures for the outdoor exhibit "Monuments," opening Saturday, June 16. It's one of the Studio Museum in Harlem's many projects meant to bring art into the community while it constructs its new building on 125th Street. Composed of branches from Marcus Garvey and a few other city parks, the structures are oversize and ambiguous, yet still manage to blend in with their surroundings.
"This project is a monument to nature and our ability to work together," explained Hassinger on a recent afternoon as she and a group of helpers used zip ties to connect small piles of branches to the chicken wire that forms the shape of the structures (the insides are filled with mulch).
Indeed, many of those who have been building the sculptures are not just from the museum–"Part of my job is to get down and dirty," admitted Assistant Curator Hallie Ringle–but from the neighborhood as well.
In the first five days of the project, Hassinger and her team welcomed volunteers from the Studio Museum’s Teen Leadership Council, local parents and their children, teachers on their lunch break, and a cyclist who offered to collect sticks. Even the park's chess players have been giving encouragement and feedback, said Ringle.
The structures will remain in the park for almost a year, meaning they will be exposed to any harsh weather that may come their way. Luckily, Hassinger lives just a few blocks away and will be able to tend to her creations if need be. For someone who said she was "inspired by the idea of nature vanishing, and what we are doing about it," it just might be the perfect activity.