composed to decompose: harbingers of decay

new paltz, New York

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“HARBINGERS OF DECAY”, is our phase of the installation “Composed to Decompose” at the Unison Art Center. This sequential art installation includes the work of twelve artists who contribute to the same site installation, one each month, over a one year period from July 2019 through June 2020.  Each artist alters the previous work to add their comment on the nature of decomposition and regeneration. Michael McDonough, the July artist built three bamboo towers and then in August Carol Padburg laid two of the towers on their sides and created a small pool and mushroom garden. Our installation is the third in the series.



A ruin is the embodiment of architectural decomposition.  Structures outlive their uses, are abandoned and fall into disrepair and decay.  Without daily care, dust and dirt collects in the corners, opportunistic spiders span the spaces with webs and water invades through unfilled cracks to dampen the interior bringing on the arrival of mold and mildew.  Water freezes and thaws prying apart masonry, peeling the paint, loosening the plaster and warping the moldings in a slow motion crumble.  Rats chew the baseboards, birds foul the attics and insects feed on the rot.  The agents of ruin are tenacious, never taking a day off continuously assaulting our best accomplishments and most prized possessions.

Our installation dramatizes the determined attack of the natural forces of decomposition by draping the previous installations with a net of string suggesting the cobwebs, caterpillar tents and mold that signal the assault of natural forces on the things we build.

The degree to which the assailing web appears to be pulling its victim down is countered by the strength and perseverance of the subject under assault which pushes upward in determined resistance. Our installation illustrates this constant struggle between the forces of generation and destruction celebrating the rebalancing tension of natural cycles.



Bacteria are a primary agent of decay.  Bacteria come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colors. Bacteria is everywhere. 

Our installation is also a metaphor for a bacterial invasion.  The geometries that define our installation are meant to suggest bacterial mold growing in a petri dish with the initial circle of hay bales marking the boundaries of the dish and the previous artist’s interventions the outside agent that introduces the bacteria of decay.



Much of the effort of building is aimed at resisting decay.  To this end humans have developed ever more processed materials that are increasingly impervious to the natural elements.  This impulse has led to aluminum siding, plastic wood and vinyl flooring. “Virtually Maintenance Free” is a hard slogan to resist.  Of course, the trade-off is that these material’s transcendence of time causes them to become irrelevant as their lack of change and alteration creates a sense of separation from the surrounding environment.  Materials whose surfaces show the wear brought on by the passage of time, require continued maintenance but they appear more strongly of this world.  As materials warp and weather they mark time passing expressing the forces of decay that assail us all.

The preceding two concepts explored by our installation create the appearance of the aspects of decay that they represent.  The third concept overlays an idea that is more real.  It arrays a variety of materials as a comparative test of the actual affects of decay.

Three types of string are included in our installation to form a sort of materials test field.  The smallest web is made of yarn spun by hand from a mix of wool, corn silk, corn husk, Goldenrod and milkweed floss.  It is minimally processed and the fibers are very close to state in which they were collected.  The three largest webs are made of pure cotton cord.  This string is made of an organic material but it has been twisted by a machine to a high level of consistency.  It will return to an appearance closer to its natural state as it gets dirty, weathers and untwists.  The second smallest web is made of orange synthetic nylon twine. Its surface quality and color are rarely found in the natural world and it will become more other worldly as it shrugs off the effects of time while the materials around it decay.    

Which web do you prefer?


Installation materials include:

Hand spun sheep’s wool, corn silk, corn husk, Goldenrod and milkweed floss yarn

16 ply cotton butcher’s cord

100% Nylon twine

Salvaged construction waste wood

Latex paint