Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World

Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World_001
Image courtesy of White Chapel Gallery

Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World
14 February – 13 May 2018
The Whitechapel Gallery 

The Whitechapel Gallery presents a major solo exhibition of American artist Mark Dion, with large-scale installations made between the 1990s to the present, including a new commission created especially for London.  Each installation draws attention to characters that observe, conserve or exploit the natural world

Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World_002
Image courtesy of White Chapel Gallery

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Mark Dion (b. 1961) approaches art by shadowing scientific enquiry, engaging in fieldwork, expeditions and experiments. Performing the role of scientist, explorer, museum curator and archaeologist, Dion examines how knowledge is gathered, interpreted, classified and presented. His research and collections come together as elaborate installations, which combine artefacts, material culture, photographs and documents. His work raises questions concerning the culture of nature and the environment – such as how nature can exist in urban space but also how it is managed and controlled. Curated by Whitechapel Gallery Director, Iwona Blazwick, Mark Dion begins with a new commission by the artist, to be unveiled in February 2018. Alongside this is a series of Hunting Blinds (2008), inspired by structures used to disguise hunters in the wild. Each is characterised by the personality of an imagined inhabitant, from the glutton or the dandy rococo to the librarian.

Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World_003Image courtesy of White Chapel Gallery

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Viewers are invited to examine the belongings and attributes of their absent owners. The librarian’s hunting blind is well-equipped with shelves full of books, a small armchair and equipment hanging neatly on the walls; while the Dandy delights in the decorative potential of natural objects and curios. In an exploration of hunting as a traditional, but contentious, cultural practice, wall-mounted felt banners made in the style of medieval heraldic standards depicting animals, such as the fox, bear and stag, accompany the installation. A naturalist’s study, decorated with wallpaper designed by the artist then leads the viewer indoors and into the 19th century.  The clues and symbols pictured in photographs, intricate drawings, prints and models may look historic, but they touch on environmental issues of our time.

Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World_004Image courtesy of White Chapel Gallery

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The exhibition continues with the Bureau for the Centre of the Study for Surrealism and its Legacy, a recreation of a 1920s curator’s office filled with evocative objects, artefacts and specimens from ancient and modern culture. Inspired by Dion’s interactions during a residency at Manchester Museum in 2002, the installation serves as a repository for neglected and unclassifiable objects ranging from photographs to intricate drawings, prints and models. According to the artist this work is designed to “provide a fitting setting for the contemplation and study of Surrealism.” Tate Thames Dig (1998-2000) is presented in the final rooms as an iconic example of Dion’s participatory practice. During the summer of 1998, two years before the launch of Tate Modern in 2000, teenagers, retirees, artists and historians mudlarked on the foreshores of Millbank and Bankside for artefacts at low tide. Led by Dion’s archaeological approach, they unearthed clay pipes, plastic toys, credit cards and animal bones that have been transformed into this poetic display. Documentary photographs of the beachcombers and tidal flow charts are also exhibited. By combining historic and contemporary finds, the work presents a slice of London’s material history over the centuries.

more. www.whitechapelgallery.org

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