about the work
Mark Dion is known for his exhaustive engagement with systems of representation and nature that take the form of artistic interventions in Institutions and collections – particularly with natural history museums. In his work, he questions museology’s claim to the sovereignty of knowledge and interpretation. Dion’s drawings, sculptures, and installations examine traditional systems of thought and order with which objects of the natural world are categorized and classified. He recognizes this scientific approach to nature as an instrument of control and a mirror of the prevailing exploitative conditions – such as colonialism or industrial modernism. In his clever, often ironically pointed works, he takes a cue from historical models such as the “Wunderkammer” (cabinet of curiosities) or assumes the role of the curious explorer. For Sensing Nature, he presents Emperor Penguin (2016). In the installation, the dummy of an emperor penguin sits in a zinc tub filled with jewelry and tar, as though freshly imported from Antarctica and only just unpacked. Whether the tub offers protection for survival in the face of melting Antarctic ice is questionable. Above all, the work illustrates the treatment of exotic animals that have been torn from their natural context for research and superfluous enjoyment in zoos and circuses, degraded to objects. The installation captures a drastic image of the current destruction of habitats and biodiversity at the hands of global warming. It echoes the consequences of a global economy based on the exploitation of natural resources. Mark Dion takes his sculpture off its pedestal and places it on the same crate that serves to transport it. In this way, he ultimately also criticizes the business of art, which contributes to climate change through global trade and exhibitions.
Mark Dion (* 1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts) has been working since the mid-1980s on the history of our interaction with nature, explicitly examining representations of nature in the sciences as symptoms of ideological discourses. Dion frequently engages with nature in urban spaces, addressing the complex structures of historiography in archaeologically oriented works. His visually arresting and material-rich works question the social category of “nature.” Mark Dion‘s work is included in numerous collections such as Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Tate Gallery, London, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, and Israel Museum of Art, Jerusalem. He participated in 2012 in Documenta 13 and 2008 in the Sydney Biennale. In addition, his work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, ICA Boston, Marta Herford, Academy for Fine Arts, Dresden, Museum Het Domein in Sittard, Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, and the Natural History Museum. Dion teaches in the Visual Art Department at Columbia University and is co-author of Concrete Jungle. The Smithsonian American Art Museum presented Dion with the Lucelia Artist Award in 2008.