A Fictional Department of Archaeology for NYC

Artist Joe Bochynski contemplates what New Yorkers will leave behind today for future explorers to find.

Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archeology installed in Bushwick last October (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

In October, the Landmarks Preservation Commission opened a new center for the New York City Archaeological Repository, dedicated to all types of objects excavated from sites across the city — from a 17th-century wine bottle to the 1,000-year-old bones of an urban canine. While the city’s archaeologists are busy exploring and cataloging such artifacts, artist Joe Bochynski has been contemplating what New Yorkers may leave behind today for future explorers to find, through an ongoing project that imagines an alternative archaeological repository.

Detail of “A Tree in Greenpoint” from Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archeology

His tongue-in-cheek NYC Department of Archaeology (DoA) currently has over a dozen fragmented objects — except, rather than being aged and decaying, they’re all his own handcrafted and intentionally cracked tile mosaics. Each one is attached to a concrete block the artist sourced from construction sites around New York and is sincerely presented as hailing from the past: every piece has an “Object Record Form,” meticulously filled in with Bochynski’s imagined histories. The forms assign dates to fragments, from 2012 (part of an Ikea logo) to as far back as 1300 BCE (a chunk decorated with a traditional Huichol motif), and document where Bochynski found them, how they reached him (the IKEA piece was “found by fisherman”), and his observations of them.

Bochynski presented the findings from his most recent dig season during last year’s Bushwick Open Studios, where he doubled as the clerk for the DoA’s Brooklyn Division. Other mosaics on view included an “Institutional Edge” recovered from roadside construction on the Upper West Side; a fragment that reads, “FORE” (per its record: “Possible meanings: Forever 21 / Forest Hills Stadium / Forensic Pathology, Queens Div / Forerunner Sports / Foreplay Novelties”); and an intricately crafted tile mosaic depicting two chickens beneath a fruit tree — “A Tree in Greenpoint,” Bochynski labeled it, “found among a brownfield midden deposit near Newtown Creek,” with a “design evocative of Wycinanki, a folk art in Eastern Europe made with intricately cut paper.”

Sample Object Record Forms from Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archaeology

Although fictionalized and lighthearted, the Department of Archaeology draws attention to our urban infrastructure, particularly to architectural details we may overlook. As Bochynski’s comprehensive records suggest, what we build today will be studied dutifully by researchers one day, every remaining bit grappled with and read as part of the city’s culture and heritage. It’s notable that concrete is an inherent part of each of his bright mosaics: not only does the material remind us of the widespread property upheavals that endlessly transform our city, but it’s also one that survives time. The most widely used man-made material, it underscores our existence in the Anthropocene, when our decisions leave behind the deepest of tracks.

Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archeology installed in Bushwick last October
Late-17th-century “Ashanti Bird” from Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archeology
C. 1890 “Jumping Carp” from Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archaeology
C. 1740s “Heart Diagram” from Joe Bochynski’s Department of Archaeology
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