Public art piece unveiled

Visitors to "The Unfinished" stand near the tip of the obelisk and check out the roughly two-foot-deep ditch that surrounds the public art piece. (Courtesy of Emma Sheffer / May 2, 2014)

For Michael Parker, there would be no better place to carve a 137-foot obelisk into asphalt than a plot of land bounded by the Glendale Narrows of the Los Angeles River, boxy industrial buildings, power lines and the Glendale (2) Freeway.

Standing on the massive earthwork — fenced-in on all sides by a 2-foot-deep ditch and piles of infill dirt — visitors are surrounded by a mixture of urban and environmental landscapes, the Los Angeles artist said standing atop his creation this week.

“My hope is that it makes you re-envision what the city is and also what nature is,” Parker said. “It’s kind of a way of bringing people to think about the city and the built-in environment they live in and ask them to pay attention.”

California State Parks officials had their own motivations for approving the public art piece: getting backing for a new park on 18 acres known as “the bowtie” along the Los Angeles River.

“We really want to drum up public support for actually building a state park out there,” said Sean Woods, superintendent for the Los Angeles sector of California State Parks. “We thought, ‘Why not engage the art community to sort of rock people’s perspectives of what they expect a park to be?’”

Parks officials and politicians are in the early stages of analyzing a bond proposal for the proposed park on the site the state agency bought about a decade ago for $11 million, Woods said.

The park plan comes as multiple government agencies are working to revitalize the Los Angeles River. River. In December 2012, Glendale opened the first phase of its Glendale Narrows Riverwalk, a trail, park and equestrian center on the Glendale side of the narrows, which stretches through Los Angeles.

Glendale officials are currently working on expanding the trail and considering a proposal to build a bridge over the river to Griffith Park.

The obelisk, called “The Unfinished,” was produced by Clockshop with the help of a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, a nonprofit. With $1,800 and more than a dozen volunteers, Parker spent several days using what he called “childhood fantasy tools” — a concrete saw and excavator tractor — to cut straight lines for the obelisks outline and dig out mountains of dirt.

“The Unfinished” is a replica of an obelisk in Egypt that was never erected because it began to crack before it was complete. Parker learned about the failed obelisk years ago, but after the political unrest in Egypt last summer, he was inspired to recreate the botched monument as an art piece.

“That notion of it failing just before it [was] finished, the workers being heartbroken, stuck with me,” Parker said, adding that there are parallels between the obelisk he designed and the original unfinished one which remains at a quarry site in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan.

Aswan is home to a dam in the Nile River, a man-made structure that attempted to control flooding, much like the concretizing of the majority of the Los Angeles River.

Parker also said the shape of the obelisk reminds him of the Los Angeles City Hall building, which has a triangular tip, and he hopes his work will spark discussions about power and an individual’s own sense of accomplishments.

“This piece, to me, is like a risky piece. It’s not safe. People may think it’s very stupid, like art people, but that’s OK,” Parker said.

Clockshop has planned a variety of arts performances to take place at and around the obelisk on the first Sunday of every month throughout the summer, with the first one kicking off from 2 to 6 p.m. this Sunday. The programming may be extended throughout the year, Wood said.

The closest street address to “The Unfinished,” which was completed in March, is 2800 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. For step-by-step directions and more information about the performances, visit clockshop.org/theunfinished.html.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Clockshop funded the project.

-- Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine

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