THE GREEN­HOUSE EF­FECT

Amer­i­can artist Mark Dion’s show at the Whitechapel demon­strates that eco art can still have an airy touch.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CULTURE -

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

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