I recently saw American artist Mark Dion’s (b.1961) new show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. Dion uses natural and manmade ‘specimens’ to create installations which are uncanny simulacra of real environments. In his often witty drawings, sculptures, photographs and displays he frequently draws on the techniques and classification systems of scientific enquiry, whilst punning on the iconographies of museum display.
The highlight of the show is arguably The Library for the Birds of London (2018), a new commission continuing a series of aviaries Dion has created since 1993. The installation is a temporary home to 22 live zebra finches, hired from an animal acting agency. Visitors are invited inside the aviary, which has an apple tree at its centre, referencing the tree of life. Over 600 books devoted to ornithology, environmentalism, literature, theory and the natural sciences surround the birds, alongside items of material culture relating to ornithology and hunting. It is the perfect centrepiece to this compelling exhibition which prompts us to reflect on our relationship to the natural world. And what better medium to use in examining ‘nature’ than the idiosyncrasies of ‘science’ and the pure artifice of ‘art’? Give me this over Blue Planet II anyday.
Read a selection of my writing on art here.