Curated Decay (2017) argues that things are worth preserving, whereas some things can’t be preserved; better by far to watch them rot

This post concerns Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving (2017) by Caitlin DeSilvey.

I first learned about this impressive book some time back on Twitter.

You can access a London School of Economics review of it here.

If you do a Twitter search for “Curated Decay,” you can find many interesting tweets about the book.

Not all things can be preserved

I am highly taken by the concept underlying Caitlin DeSilvey’s study.

The concept is most interesting. In a nutshell, DeSilvey notes, some potential heritage sites are not going to be preserved, no matter what.

Sometimes, that is, transience and impermanence – as demonstrated through (by way of example) the imposing power of rot, decay, deterioration, and erosion – have the upper hand.

Under such conditions, what does a person, trained within the framework, mindset, and worldview of “preservation,” as it is traditionally configured, to do?

The book is positioned as an experiment. It’s a work in progress.

For some readers, the lack of a definitive conclusion, in Caitlin DeSilvey’s study, may be irksome. I would not know. I feel at home with uncertainty and ambiguity. For that reason, from my perspective, the lack of a conclusion warrants celebration. The lack of a conclusion, in fact, is the underlying theme of the study.

Trees and metal intertwined

At an early chapter, the author refers to a situation where a tree at an abandoned site has over the years incorporated chunks of abandoned machinery into its bark.

I was reminded, when I read this passage, of situations in my local neighbourhoods, where parts of metal fences have, similarly, been incorporated into the barks of trees. I now see that metal-and-wood configuration from a different perspective, having read the above-noted passage.

The book is a work of art. It prompts a person to look at things anew. I recommend it highly.

1 reply
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A blurb for Curated Decay (2017) at the Toronto Public Library website reads:

    Transporting readers from derelict homesteads to imperiled harbors, postindustrial ruins to Cold War test sites, Curated Decay presents an unparalleled provocation to conventional thinking on the conservation of cultural heritage. Caitlin DeSilvey proposes rethinking the care of certain vulnerable sites in terms of ecology and entropy, and explains how we must adopt an ethical stance that allows us to collaborate with–rather than defend against–natural processes.

    Curated Decay chronicles DeSilvey’s travels to places where experiments in curated ruination and creative collapse are under way, or under consideration. It uses case studies from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere to explore how objects and structures produce meaning not only in their preservation and persistence, but also in their decay and disintegration. Through accessible and engaging discussion of specific places and their stories, it traces how cultural memory is generated in encounters with ephemeral artifacts and architectures.

    An interdisciplinary reframing of the concept of the ruin that combines historical and philosophical depth with attentive storytelling, Curated Decay represents the first attempt to apply new theories of materiality and ecology to the concerns of critical heritage studies.


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