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Artist in residence: Mark Dion

Mark Dion (born 1961) is an American artist best known for working across many disciplines and for his use of scientific presentations in his installations. Dion has exhibited internationally, including at the Tate and the Museum of Modern Art. He has received numerous awards, and lives and works in New York. Mark Dion used the Michaelis Upper Gallery as a studio during his residency, working on a project based on the Schildbach Xylotheque that is on exhibition at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, this year.

The Schildbach Xylotheque, a wood-library crafted by Carl Schildbach from 1771 to 1799 and housed in the Natural History Museum, Kassel, Germany, is one of the treasures of Enlightenment scientific culture. The first of its kind, it consists of 530 volumes of 441 local tree and shrub species, comprised in an encyclopedic arrangement. Each “book” is carefully crafted from wood, with bark spines, and contains a three-dimensional representation of the tree’s life cycle composed of dried plant parts and delicate wax replicas.

Dion, who works about and with living things, respectively, their dissected and preserved remnants, is adding six new books to the xylotheque, each presenting a specific wood from one of the five formerly missing continents, to symbolically complete the library’s encyclopedic endeavor. Dion’s six books will be created during various residencies around the world; the first book was made from one of Joseph Beuys’ 7000 Oaks (1982) in Kassel, the second in Seattle, the third in Bogota and the fourth will be made in Cape Town.

Though shadowing the scientific methodologies and classification systems of archaeology, biology, biochemistry, ethnography, museology, or ornithology, Dion’s approach to science and dominant culture is rather skeptical, playful, and anti-authorial, introducing methods and traditions from other fields to embrace the rich interrelatedness of various—cultural, political, and natural—ecologies. Dion breaches the cultures of nature, science, and art, focusing on the rich materiality of both the natural and the artificial world to foster a critical thinking toward ecology.

Dion’s residency at the Michaelis Galleries was arranged by the Centre for Curating the Archive and made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.