Artist, environmentalist, and obsessive organizer-of-everything, Mark Dion has constructed a “Library for the Birds of New York” at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery… and the birds themselves couldn’t care less.
The 22 birds nest, perch, and poop on hundreds of books ranging in topics from bird identification, navigation, and predators. They do not however, read any of them. And I think that’s the point. There is a human need to investigate, categorize, transcribe, and too often kill/capture nature, that all seems uninteresting, if not completely pointless, to the “nature” itself.
Having only seen pigeons in my last 11 years living here, I wondered IF these birds were “real” New Yorkers (very “New Yorker” of me). It turns out that both species are transplants from somewhere else, and yet these particular birds are current residents – on loan, and carefully monitored/nurtured by bird handlers daily. In that choice, there seems to be a clear commentary on captivity and domestication but perhaps also a nod to New Yorkers themselves, where like most residents, Dion wasn’t born but currently calls home. It doesn’t hurt that they both make beautiful music, adding to the pleasure of sharing the space with them.
Upstairs there are 5 additional bird-free sculptures that give deeper insight into Dion’s environmental concerns and apparent addiction to picking up and organizing just about EVERYTHING.
The eclectic and bizarre display case, “An Archaeology of Disorder” (above), displays objects of “psychiatric affliction”. The effect is doubled by Mark’s own seemingly obsessive behavior in assembling it.
For “Brontosaurus”, Dion has sculpted his childhood understanding (aka: cartoonishly incorrect) of a dinosaur while revealing cleaning supplies in its base. Though humorous in its blunt fakery (particularly if this is ever installed in an actual museum), it also darkly hints at the plastics and chemicals that may contribute to our own extinction.
“Cabinet of Marine Debris” is exactly that. Garbage collected off the Alaskan coastline is ordered with such perfection and harmony that it reaches a discomforting balance between beauty and tragedy.
My favorite by far however is “Memory Box”, a shed packed with hundreds of small boxes, containers, and tins – each filled with old trinkets, toys, debris, or dried plants. Few visitors know that you can enter and open any box (do it!).
The act of pulling a box and prying it open feels like art rule-breaking and personal trespassing, while every unboxing feels like it’s your birthday. It’s sneaky, and surprising, and purely magical – a lot to say for some dried leaves and rusted keys.
Finally, in a dark side room, “The Phantom Museum (Wonder Workshop)” holds objects sculpted by Dion, all painted glow-in-the-dark. Like everything else in this exhibition, its wonder needs no explanation.
What: Mark Dion: The Library for the Birds of New York and other Marvels
Where: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 521 W 21st St, New York, NY
When: February 25 – April 16, 2016
All images courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Photographed by Genevieve Hanson.