THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT
American artist Mark Dion’s show at the Whitechapel demonstrates that eco art can still have an airy touch.
In 2006, the American conceptual artist Mark Dion took an 80ft Western hemlock tree that had keeled over 10 years earlier, and placed it on its side in a specially monitored, climate-controlled greenhouse in the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington. Viewers of the “Neukom Vivarium” art work — for it was one — were provided with magnifying glasses and field guides to help them explore some of the lichens, fungi and creepy-crawlies that now made this giant “nurse log” their home, while also, in a quieter moment, asked to reflect on the extravagant technological requirements needed to keep this small ecosystem alive when it was removed from its natural context (which at the rate we’re going, so much of “nature” might be).
Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World, which has just opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, brings together this carefully managed balance between the inquisitive and the pedagogic in a varied survey of Dion’s work. Included in the show will be the hunting blinds he has built for fictional characters (a glutton, a librarian, a dandy) and cabinets of curiosities featuring “treasure” dredged up from the Thames and impossible creatures made of day-glo resin; all part of Dion’s enquiry into the history of natural science and how our current “irrational and suicidal” ideas about nature came to be. It’s a playful nudge towards the issue that is really the biggest of our times.
Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World, now until 13 May, Whitechapel Gallery, London E1; whitechapelgallery.org