Mark Dion is an artist who feels that is an artists’ job to “go against the grain of dominant culture, to challenge perception and convention.” In his work, he contemplates and changes the way that dominant ideologies influence our society, culture, and nature throughout history. He uses “scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects [to create] works that question the distinctions between ‘objective’ (‘rational’) scientific methods and ‘subjective’ (‘irrational’) influences.”
In this piece, Mark Dion played on the way that Aristotle attempted to classify life in a hierarchical system. Man’s creation is on the bottom, while fungi, fruits and vegetales, corals, butterflies, a stuffed cat and duck, and the bust of a scholar follow. The way Dion has placed these on a staircase is well done in signifying how a hierarchical system works, the separation it creates and the way he has played with the jump in size from step to step plays up that idea even more.
Ship in a Bottle
Dion put a very contemporary twist on this historic idea of the ship in a bottle. This twelve-foot long clear glass ‘bottle’ is by an L.A. waterfront on a grassy mound. The ship inside is resting on what looks like water but is actually an entire bed of crushed glass. When looking at this piece from the right angle, it seems as if this giant piece, the ship and bottle, are floating out on the waters of the Port’s outer harbor. Dion said, “The art of crafting miniature ships in bottles was a favorite pastime of sailors, who have been important participants in the Port’s long history and culture. My ‘Ship in a Bottle’ is a contemporary concept to unify the aesthetic of contemporary public art with that of vernacular, nautical craft-work and to respectfully acknowledge the central role played by the Port of Los Angeles and the city of San Pedro as the gateway of international commerce in the United States.”
Tar and Feathers, 1999.
When I first saw this piece, my first reaction was, “ew.” But then I remembered the way that Dion plays with nature and how it affects society. I do not like the based he put the tree on, because to me it feels like an afterthought, and I wish it looked as if it was just growing out of the floor to ground it more to this world we live in every single day. The hanging animals are quite creepy, however, the fact that they are in tar along with the tree brings them closer and part of the tree. Each animal can mean something different to each person in society, and I think that that is an important essence of this piece.