Community Garden as Gallery of Decay
a rot journal
Author’s Note: I’m in a class on decay this semester and one of our assignments was to let something rot for about a month. I had a lot of fun documenting this experience and wanted to share it with all of you. Please enjoy my ramblings on ecology, and art conservation. If you want to see more photos, they all live here.
A Brief Introduction
I found the painting at Mother of Junk in Williamsburg, the kind of thrift store where you spend hours picking through the discarded objects of peoples’ past lives, hoping to find that one weirdly wonderful thing crammed between overflowing crates of miniatures, densely-packed shelves of dishware, and precarious stacks of furniture.
The painting was stuck between a washed-out watercolor landscape and a discouragingly dusty motivational quote poster. My criteria was simple: a piece small enough to fit on the garden bed without attracting attention and no glass frame cover so it could be fully exposed to the elements. This portrait of a young girl watching a bird from a blue park bench surrounded by birch trees checked all the boxes. I felt a pang of guilt at checkout when the cashier asked what I planned to do with the painting. It had been there for a long time and he was happy to see it go to a new home. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth—that I planned to abandon it outside in the community garden by my house.
Whole Neighborhood Garden is located on Bedford Avenue between Lafayette Avenue and Kosciuszko Street. Previously a playground, it was rebuilt in 2013 for the community to rent growing plots and compost food scraps. I got the code to unlock the gate from my roommate and spent an hour meandering through rows of raised beds clogged with dead leaves and overgrown herbs, trying to find the best spot for this experiment. I decided to place the painting in the back where it couldn’t be seen from the street (and potentially thrown away by another community garden member). I placed the painting flat on the foliage and soil, that way rain, snow, and detritus could accumulate on its painted surface.
Day 1: February 12, 2023
Each time an artwork enters a museum or gallery, a staff member has to perform a condition report to assess the object for signs that it may need cleaning or repair.
This painting was in relatively good condition when I bought it. It appears to be oil on wooden panel. No information about the artist, only their initials “EF” on the lower left side. The paint and varnish is intact. No major discoloration or craquelure to indicate previous surface damage or significant aging. On the underside, I observed minor corrosion on nails securing the panel to the frame and rust on the hanging wire. The frame appeared to be spray-painted with a gold finish that was already beginning to rub off, revealing pink wood underneath. In the garden, the bed the painting rested on was comprised mostly dried brown leaves although I noticed some ground ivy sprouting up through the soil, most likely from the previous week’s rain.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Screenshot Reliquary to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.