Cologne

Mark Dion

Galerie Christian Nagel

Mark Dion is seemingly unparalleled as an artist-researcher—his chosen métier of analyzing prevailing notions of nature and science and the ways in which they are represented. In particular, Dion subjects the processes of naming and categorizing—which are, of course, always also acts of control—to the same meticulous scrutiny he gives to their institutions, such as natural history museums. The results are often-opulent installations using a wealth of materials. Jungle Shop, 2008, for instance, draws its life from a profusion of goods of all sorts—groceries, tools, cigarettes, Coca-Cola, various types of alcohol, etc.—assembled in the interior of a simple shack. Alluding to outpost stores in the virgin forests that the artist has encountered on journeys around the world, the compendium of objects reveals the fascinating classificatory order determined by elementary habits of life and survival in regions apparently far removed from civilization, yet at the same time it mirrors a globalized flow of goods and interests.

Dion’s solo exhibition “Jungle Shop and Other Mischief” presented abundance in other ways as well. Hung in several series, a selection of Dion’s works on paper was displayed, turning this gallery show into a midcareer drawing survey. Many of the artist’s broader projects were thus represented here through the medium, including On Tropical Nature, 1991; Library for the Birds of Antwerp, 1993; The Great Munich Bug Hunt, 1993; Excavation, Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, 2000/2001; and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 2004. Scheme of the Field of Investigation 1986–2003, 2003, provides a kind of index or cartography of Dion’s areas of study. Aside from his central area of concern, the representation of nature, one finds the rubric OTHER SITES OF INTEREST, under which falls the heading GOVERNMENT ILLEGALITY; this category in turn is split into DOMESTIC POLICY (FBI) and FOREIGN POLICY (CIA). The groups are then reunited later on under the themes of ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, BUSINESS OF SCIENCE,
and BIO-TECHNOLOGY.

Characteristic of Dion’s drawings is their specific economy: With the exception of a few recent gouaches, he uses only two colors, red and blue—also traditionally employed in accounting. Limiting himself to the most minimal technical media, Dion creates an interesting contrast to the obsessive richness of detail the drawings otherwise share with his installations. Dion’s drawings can be read on several different levels: as a cartography of his own intricately interconnected areas of interest; as a method of understanding, assimilating, and organizing divergent fields of knowledge; and as a mode of commentary. And, of course, they are frequently sketches for future endeavors. Thus one group of drawings, “Gesellschaft der Amateur-Ornithologen—Clubhaus” (Society of Amateur Ornithologists Clubhouse), 2009, features sketches for a new project for 2010, when Essen, Germany, the largest city in the Ruhr, will take its turn as European Capital of Culture. Dion is planning to install a bird-watching station for amateurs in a former gas tank in the region whose ecology once suffered a great deal because of its early industrial development, although it has been partially gentrified in recent years and assigned the political label of “metropolis.” For Dion, pursuing the topics of environment and nature can never be apolitical; while leaving no room for doubt on this score, the artist nonetheless tempers the politics in his work with a goodly portion of irony.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.