During the past two decades, Mark Dion has created a skull-staving catalog of projects exploring how nature is represented in science and culture. Dion, who has snagged an honorary Ph.D from the University of Hartford, has had solo shows in museums across the globe including New York's Museum of Modern Art and the University of Tokyo Museum among others.
The artist's South Florida Wildlife Rescue Unit, originally commissioned by the Miami Art Museum in 2006, is a large-scale installation that focuses on the Everglades and human attempts to control the South Florida ecosystem. Dion's mustard-colored contraption appears not unlike a Wynwood food truck that has been retrofitted into a rolling bio-lab and freighted down with sundry microscopes, bug nets, wild animal snares, and dozens of cages.
Dion's snazzy wheels are designed to represent a bogus agency that rushes into vulnerable ecosystems to rescue endangered plants and animals. It also makes one think about more responsible stewardship of our natural surroundings and the unbridled exploitation of our biological resources.
His thought-provoking installation is broken down into three separate segments. The first is his faux eco-rescue wagon serving as a cheeky how-to guide for budding conservationists. It also conveys a notion of effective stewardship of our natural resources by policymakers while tipping a chapeau to grassroots activism past and present.
The second portion features a series of reproductions of vintage photographs taken in the early decades of the 20th century by John Kunkel Small. He was a curator of the New York Botanical Garden who identified numerous plant species in the Everglades. Small penned From Eden to Sahara: Florida's Tragedy, a scathing commentary on the damage dredging and draining inflicted on the area.
For the last section of his installation, Dion employs a vitrine containing artifacts, including a book of pressed specimens, the Herbarium Perrine (Marine Algae); purportedly belonging to 19th century botanist and early Florida settler Henry Perrine who introduced foreign plant species to the Everglades now considered one of the biggest threats to the ecosystem. Like his fake wheels, the contents of this display are also a figment of Dion's imagination.
"Dion's installation tells the story of the various mentalities and motivations, both positive and negative, which have determined our history with Florida's wilderness," says Peter Boswell, Miami Art Museum assistant director for programs/senior curator.
Tonight at 6:00 p.m. at the Miami Art Museum (101 West Flagler Street, Miami) Dion will be joined at an opening reception by Michael Grunwald in a dialogue about the nature of his work and environmental changes in South Florida. Grunwald is the author of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise. Tickets cost $10 and seating is limited. Call 305-375-3000 or visit miamiartmuseum.org.
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