Mark Dion returns to New Bedford

By Owen Lee, Staff Writer

Mark Dion, an internationally admired installation artist,  returned to his home town of New Bedford to do a symposium on his creative process on Thursday, October 12. The night was titled “Inspired by the City That Lit the World: Mark Dion Reflects on His Creative Process,” and ran in conjunction with his new survey, “Misadventures of a 21st Century Naturalist.”

Mark Dion, as an artist, is very conservation-minded. Many of his art pieces revolve around the sea or marine life. They also tend to involve large quantities of odd objects, often for humor or irony.

In particular, the works that will be showcased at his survey on Friday will be some of his classics: “The N.Y. State Bureau of Tropical Conservation, 1992,” which is a replica of an office hallway and shelf constructed from wood, and “Toys ’R’ U.S. (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth), 1994,” which is an arrangement of children’s dinosaur memorabillia.

His symposium was sponsored by UMass Dartmouth, and it was organized between UMass and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

The purpose of the talk was to examine the natural world of our past, present, and future in order to fully integrate it into our art. Dion also wanted to begin the topic of conservation and artistic use of the environment among leading area artists. After a brief introduction by New Bedford mayor Jon F. Mitchell, the presentation was split into three segments.Professor Pamela Karimi hosted the intro, “The Artist and the American Post-Industrial Landscape.”

Then, Mark Dion hosted the segment “Space, Nature, and Materiality in New Bedford and Beyond.” He tells the audience about his beginnings as an artist and his admiration for New Bedford.

He also showed off some of his more famous works, such as “The Ship Chandler,” which could be described as a classical chandler’s shop filled with an inordinate number of marine tools and equipment, situated in Los Angeles.

He also displays his unique “Cabinet of Marine Debris” piece, a cabinet of well-ordered and displayed trash collected from the Boston Harbor.

He tells the audience “It looks great even though it’s trash, because it’s the result of teams of dozens of product designers.”

Then there is the conclusion, a talk by Caroline A. Jones who gave a quick commentary on Dion’s career.

She noted past influences of Dion’s, which include the likes of René Magritte, Sol Lewitt, and Mierle Ukeles. She also informs the audience of Dion’s contemporaries, and new artists that his work may have influenced.

Afterwards a brief Q&A session was held, where topics like conservation efforts and New Bedford’s past are broached.

Dion still refers to it as “The City That Lit the World,” showing a great pride for his home city.

“There’s still a kind of optimism in terms of what can be done here.”

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