Mark Dion

Mark Dion was born 1961, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1981/82, he studied at the Hartford School of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in 2002. From 1982 until 1984, he continued his studies at the School for Visual Arts, New York, and then participated in the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York. In the 1980s, early exhibition projects took Dion to Europe and to South America.

Since the mid-1980s, critical analyses of culturally shaped ways of ordering and representing nature have been of central significance in Dion’s work. His installations, sculptures, films, videos, and performances present themselves as stagings of visual culture through closely connecting art and scientific exhibits, through taking on the perspective of the archaeologist, the palaeontologist, the zoologist, or the botanist.

In his art, Dion focuses on environmental and ecological (Concrete Jungle, 1992), but also on scientific and systematic dealings with nature (Scala Naturae, 1994), as well as their ideological presuppositions and contents. With structuring markers, for example, Dion intervenes in existing landscapes with his comments (The Crossroads, Skulptur-Biennale, Münsterland 1999). Yet he also deals with historical structures of knowledge that have produced enduring forms of visual representation. Dion always keeps in mind the respective museal contexts that have kept disseminating fundamental constructions of nature, science, and art (Microsomosgraphia; Memento Mori (My Glass is Run), both 2005).

Mostly, Dion’s objects and installations directly refer to contents and forms of publication in the sciences and in natural history (Field Guide to the Wildlife of Madison Square Park, 2002). Further references are research-oriented systems of ordering, of classification, archival systems and systems of presentation (A Tale of Two Seas: An Account of Stephan Dillemuth’s and Mark Dion’s Journey Along the Shores of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and What They Found There, 1996). Also, experimental set-ups in the laboratory as well as the research institutes themselves as places of producing and acquiring knowledge are investigated. Dion is interested in specific experimental set-ups (Frankenstein in the Age of Biotechnology, 1993; The N.Y. State Bureau of Tropical Conservation, 1992) and in the set-up of observation and research stations (Biologische Forschungsstation Alster / Biological Research Station Alster, 2002, Hamburg). He always considers the culturally situated perspectives and time-bound angles from which nature is looked at, explored, and mediated. »There is a language of scientific certitude that, I think, needs to be questioned. The objectivity of science is a myth. Every historical treatment of science has to admit that science is saturated with ideology and that scientific truth relies on historical contingencies. What bothers me is that science speaks with absolute certainty, which is ahistorical and often prevents the public from recognizing that knowledge and insight are always shifting. Those who are involved in research rarely speak in such uncritical terms. However, their work is being translated for a broader public without critical reflection« (M. Dion, 2000).

In recent years, Dion’s installations have demonstrated, with their richness of material, the continuation and modification of earlier themes towards a focus on the relation between nature and urban space. Also, archaeological works emerged that expose the layers of an object-oriented kind of history writing and that are, once again, positioned at the interface of nature and culture.

Dion’s exhibitions are primarily shaped by the rather close, contents-based coherence of his works. Work and exhibit, the title of the work as well as the title of the exhibition, tend to become identical. They demonstrate a basic understanding of themes and works that focuses on questions knowledge construction and on the spatial or museal arrangement (2006: »The Curiosity Shop«, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; 2005: »Seattle Vivarium, part of I AM SAM«, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum; 2004 »Rescue Archaeology«, Museum of Modern Art, New York; 2003: »Microcosmographia, Mark Dion’s Wunderkammer«, University of Tokyo Museum, Tokio; 1997: »Natural History And Other Fictions«, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Kunstverein Hamburg, De Appel, Amsterdam; 1990: »The (Un)Making of Nature«, Whitney Museum of American Art, Downtown, N.Y.; 1989: »The Desire of the Museum«, Whitney Museum, N.Y.)..

Mark Dion lives and works in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania, and in New York.

Selected Literature

Dion, Mark: The National History of the Museum, Ausst.-Kat. Nimes, Pfäffikon 2007

Natural Fictions and Other Fictions. An Exhibition by Mark Dion: Ausst.-Kat., Ikon Gallery Birmingham, Birmingham 1997

The End of the Game: Ausst.-Kat., De Vleeshal, Middelburg 1995

Kontext Kunst: Ausst.-Kat. Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum Graz, Steirischer Herbst 93, hg. v. P. Weibel, Köln 1994

Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen

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