Mobile Gardens and Luxury Compost at "Black Gold" by Tattfoo Tan [food art]


Currently on display at the Bronx River Art Center in New York City is the exhibition "Black Gold" which includes an installation by Tattfoo Tan, a self-described "community based intervention artist." "Black Gold" is part of his S.O.S. project (Sustainable. Organics. Stewardship.), a year-long horticulture and cultivation project, in which he "engages deeply in the social and cultural curve of 'green' ethics and aesthetics."

The installation is composed of three parts: the first, mobile gardens built out of discarded shopping carts; the second, "Black Gold," jarred compost priced at the value of gold; and the third, artifacts that document his quest for the "certification of knowledge" in which he becomes a "certified master composter."

Mobile Gardens


"Mobile Gardens," Tattfoo Tan. Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

Tattfoo Tan's "Mobile Gardens" are built out of discarded shopping carts using found materials (garbage cans, laundry detergent bottles, buckets, etc) to grow produce including herbs and tomatoes. Originally conceptualized to be locked to a sign post for a week-long period "to engage the public," in this installation the mobile gardens are stored indoors at the gallery and taken outside for an hour once a day.


"Mobile Gardens," Tattfoo Tan. Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

Tattfoo Tan describes the project:

Discarded shopping cart can be found everywhere, especially in low income neighborhood. It is a sign of urban decay and neglect. The location where one can find this urban artifact also point out a piece of land that is unused or a corner in our
urban sprawl that is out of sight. This land can be and should be better used. Why are they just there and deserted? Who owns the land? Who have the rights to use the land?

A discarded shopping cart is the sign of our times.


"Mobile Gardens," Tattfoo Tan. Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

Black Gold


"Black Gold," Tattfoo Tan. Photo via


"Black Gold," Tattfoo Tan. Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion


"Black Gold," Tattfoo Tan. Photo via


"Black Gold," Tattfoo Tan. Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

The second part of Tan's installation is "Black Gold," comprised of two components: compost bins inside a trunk, and a series of jars containing a 2009 vintage of compost made by the artist — compost is sometimes called "black gold" by gardeners. Inspired by the Italian artist Piero Manzoni's 1961 piece "Artist's shit" in which 90 cans containing 30 grams of his excrement were sold for the equivalent price of gold, Tan is selling each ten-ounce jar of compost for $9,000, based on the current valuation of gold at $900/oz.

Green Stewardship


Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion


Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion


Photo via


Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

The third part of the installation documents Tan's "Green Stewardship" project in which he satisfies his intrigue in what he calls the "certification of knowledge" by becoming a certified master composter and a NYC-approved citizen pruner. It also allows him to "flaunt my new found title on my gray coverall," adorned with patches of his own design, functioning as ersatz merit badges that announce his certifications.


Photo: EMD/Raphael Brion

"Black Gold" runs July 24 through September 12, 2009
Bronx River Art Center
1087 East Tremont Ave.
Bronx, NY 10460

—Raphael Brion

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One Comment

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  1. lorie honor

    I love what Tattfoo's doing and saying in this a fellow master composter I am impressed at how he's infused creativity, whimsy and social commentary into the science of composting!!

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