Composed to Decompose

July 2019 – July 2020

Exhibition Artists:

Allyson Levy • Amanda Heidel • Amy Benedict • Anne-Katrin Spiess •  Arielle Ponder • Beth Haber • Bill Rybak • Christina Nalty • Claudia McNulty • Daniel Totten • Eliza Evans • Hudson Valley Bee Habitat • Ilse Schreiber-Noll • Jan Harrison & Alan Baer • Jebah Baum • Jeffrey Benjamin • Jessica Poser • Joel Olzak • Kathleen Anderson • Laurie Sheridan • Maria Lupo • Matthew Friday • Maxine Leu • Michael Asbill •  Michael McDonough • Mimi Graminski • Nadine May Lewis • Patricia Tinajero, Mary Anne Davis & Kate Farrington • Sam Horowitz • Stuart Bigley, Harold McBride, & Stephen Spencer • Susan Togut • Tasha Depp & Joann Alvis • Zachary Skinner

Unison Arts Sculpture Garden is free to the public and open year-round from dawn until dusk.

Curated by members of the SUNY New Paltz sculpture program, “Composed to Decompose” is an innovative outdoor art exhibition in which artists dispense with conventional art practices and adopt ecosystem dynamics as the model of ecologically responsible human behaviors. This exhibition opens at Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, New York on July 21st at 4 pm.  We welcome the community to come and explore the installations and meet the artists.

Co-curators Michael Asbill and Linda Weintraub explain, “This exhibition invites artists to challenge the widespread social, personal, and economic desire for material stability, and demonstrate that humans disturb ecosystem functions when they attempt to defy bio degradability. Forty-five artists have composed installations that are intentionally designed to decompose over the course of an entire year. They demonstrate that it is through decomposition that fertility is replenished, ecosystems are revitalized, and life is renewed.”

This significant frontier of contemporary culture is identified as “Eco-Materialism.” The concept is explored in a popular new book by Linda Weintraub entitled “What’s Next: Eco-Materialism and Contemporary Art.” Like this text, “Composed to Decompose” advocates for humans to respect non-human systems and functions. This entails inviting the effects of weather, season, and wildlife. By July 2020, when the exhibition year ends, the vitality of each site will be enlivened and enhanced by these decomposed artworks.

In addition to the individual year-long installations, a companion exhibition, entitled “Composed to Decompose: Sequential Responsive Transformations,” will include twelve artists working on a single site, sequentially, over the course of the year. The curators explain, “Each month a new artist will enter the site to add to and/or alter the remains of previous artists’ installations, contributing to an ongoing sequence of interactive interventions. In this manner, artists emulate the responsiveness that prevails among wildlife, instead of the domination that prevails in contemporary industrial practices.”

Many of the ‘Composed to Decompose’ artists are replacing conventional art practices, which tend to be polluting and depleting, with environmental interactions that productively engage or restore an ecosystem. For example, Michael McDonough has not only chosen to work with bamboo, he has gone to the trouble of transporting the bamboo to the Unison Art Center without relying on a petroleum use vehicle. When he could not get permission to conduct a bicycle brigade, he arranged to use an all-electric vehicle. Likewise, the ink used to create the installation by Mary Ann Davis, Maria Patricia Tinajero, and Kate Farrington, is concocted with wild mulberries, and the paper will be crafted from pulp fermented by human saliva. Amanda Heidel is creating a mycelial pathway by inoculating a mushroom slurry into bricks formed from locally sourced spent coffee grounds and cardboard. Alyson Levy is attaching seeds from a surviving ash tree to the standing trunks of dying Ash trees, inviting the interaction of woodpeckers. Amy Benedict is creating a spiral path bordered by tall grasses that she will braid; the piece is dormant through the winter and returns in the spring. These projects contrast with such common contemporary practices as clear-cutting forests, mountain-top removal, and dredging wetlands.  In all these ways, this exhibition presents material engagements that respect and restore ecosystem functions.