Hugh Hayden’s largest installation to date “Brier Patch,” a display of 100 elementary school desks spreading over 3,600 square feet, is now on view in Madison Square Park.
These aren’t your typical desks, however.
In this installation put on by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, tree branches erupt out of the tabletops and seats, eventually becoming one tangled union. These branches represent a brier patch which, in reference to folklore traditions, is a place that offers protection for some yet danger for others.
This reference is a direct comparison to the American education system and the American dream as a whole, a system in which some excel while others are left behind. The symbolism also extends to the financial entanglement of student debt acquired through the pursuit of higher education.
Hayden’s work often explores common objects and their symbolism in individual and collective lives as well as cultural histories.
Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy said in a press release, “Hayden imbues each of his works with intense meaning that, when peeled back, reveals lived experiences about rooted systems in our country and the world…Brier Patch is both visually powerful and loaded with inherent tensions…that ask us to consider how these dichotomies coexist in society and the work.”
Brier Patch also alludes to the typical classroom structure of desks in rows and its similarly to the arrangement of tombstones found in a military cemetery. Much like a tombstone, each desk can be viewed as a stand-in for an individual. The tangled branches work to disrupt this formation and come together to form one interconnected community.
The Conservancy is responsible for bringing awe-inspiring works of art to the 60,000 daily visitors in Madison Square Park. Madison Square Park Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer says, “We are proud to collaborate with Hugh Hayden on this project and to present him with the canvas of our park, where he will be able to express his vision on a new scale.”
Brier Patch is on view from January 18 through April 24, 2022, and will be complemented by several public programs focusing on storytelling, education, and Black identity.