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Egyptian Obelisk Replica by the L.A. River Offers Rare Views

Artist Michael Parker transports Angelenos to Egypt with the public opening of "The Unfinished," a 137-foot obelisk-shaped excavation on the banks of the Los Angeles River in the soft-bottomed Glendale Narrows. The massive urban earthwork is a scaled replica of an ancient Egyptian archaeological site known as the "the Unfinished Obelisk."

"Tied up in the manipulation of the L.A. River is the history of western land grabs and the real estate speculation that drove the creation of the city," writes Parker on Artbound. "I saw a parallel in the Nile River and in the building programs of the great ancient Egyptian pharaohs."

The original "Unfinished Obelisk" is located in the stone quarries of Aswan. Thought to be commissioned by the female Pharoah Hatshepsut, it is the largest known ancient obelisk yet uncovered. Despite its aspirations to grandeur, the obelisk was never erected. While working to remove it from the bedrock, the obelisk developed fissures that would have made it impossible to raise without breaking it. It carries with it a bittersweet message, writes student Egyptologist Maggie Geoga. "The unfinished obelisk is a monument whose meaning fundamentally changed the very moment the granite cracked. Instead of reminding us of the pharaoh's absolute power, this permanently horizontal obelisk makes us think about the workmen who came so close to accomplishing the king's unprecedented order and whose failure has been on full display for 2500 years."

Photo: L.A. State Historic Park
Photo: L.A. State Historic Park

The public art project lies on the Bowtie parcel, an industrial site owned by California State Parks and slated to become a park in the future. Just off the 2 Freeway in Glendale, the space offers an almost surreal view of the historic waterway that many don't get to see because of its forbidding surroundings. To get to it, one has to get off the freeway and navigate a landscape of anonymous buildings, pass an orange barrier, and park on a concrete slab with no reassuring signage. Sean Woods, L.A. superintendent of California State Parks, says the agency is working on creating a more welcoming entrance by creating designated day-use parking and adding signage. Right now, only Parker's multi-language sign is the only evidence visitors have come to the right place.

The project was produced by Clockshop, a non-profit arts organization, in partnership with the California State Parks, who hope to bring more visibility to the site in preparation for its transformation into a public park. Unlike many "Please don't touch" art projects, "The Unfinished" bears no such airs. With caution, those who make it out to the site are able to sit on the edge of the entrenched obelisk and enjoy the rare view of a natural Los Angeles River.

Despite all the red tape one hears about working along the Los Angeles River, this project seems to be one of the few exceptions, due in large part to a believer within the agency. "Art for us in a way to elevate the site in the minds of people. It helps bring attention to it, so people who come and visit see what a cool site it is and what it could possibly be as a park," said Woods. Work on the site began in November and finished March.

State Parks is now in the process of ironing out a partnership with Clockshop to activate the space with a calendar of music, art and other cultural events all the way up to this year's Frogtown Artwalk. Meanwhile, every first Sunday of the month, the site is open to the public from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

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