The Octagon Room
MASS MoCA visitors will be surprised to discover an eight-sided building surrounded by sandbags on the museum’s second floor. The building is The Octagon Room by Mark Dion, and it will be on view through January 2014, extended through January 2016. Stark and even brutalist when viewed from outside, once inside the bunker, visitors will find a richly detailed Victorian parlor containing an intricate narrative built of relics from the past eight years of Mark Dion’s own labyrinthine history.
Dion’s workexamines the zone between art, society, and history. His dynamic, conceptually rigorous art-making addresses the historical methods of representing and organizing the world, with particular attention to humanity’s sometimes tenuous relationship with nature, society, and the environment. The politics of museum representation has always been a central theme in Dion’s work, and in this walk-in diorama he exploits conventional museum display techniques to turn history making, and authority itself, on their heads.
Dion’s use of aneight-sided building was inspired by the 19th-century mania for octagonalstructures, popularized by the American phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler who championed the merits of octagonal homes in his widely publicized book, The Octagon House: A Home for All. In the end, however, eight-sided homes never took hold (despite their cost-efficiency), and instead became the choice of idiosyncratic individualists, standing defiant among their four-sided neighbors.Dion’s structure also reads as a bunker, a wartime style of architecture that often signals retreat. Dion made this work with a sort of symbolicwithdrawal from the politics of the years of George W. Bush in mind.
The Octagon Room is a manifestation of this personal (and, in many ways, sociopolitical) negotiation, which becomes even more evident inside the building with objects that includea map of the world with pins in places where the artist developed projects, miniature versions of Dion’sprojects, and drawings and notes alongside various costumes --lab coats, fishing waders, safari vests,etc – that Dion wore while performing. The desk holds a collection of hotel key cards, membership cards, and invitations which detail the artist’s travel life. Visitors will find a collection of books which have influenced Dion’s work; a hall of fame of sorts -- in the form of framed photos and prints -- of thinkers who have influenced the artist’s practice; and a series of urns lining the fireplace, each of which holds the ashes of Dion’s archives from his years at American Fine Arts, Co., his longtime gallery which closed after the death of its founder, Colin de Land, in 2003.
The history of each of the objects adds up to a staggering sum of experiences; Take together, Dion’s “cabinet of curiosities” reveals acountry’s relationship with its own people and neighbors, and the artist’s status and position within this geopolitical framework.
About Mark Dion
Based in New York City and Pennsylvania, Mark Dion's notable recent projects include Systema Metropolis, Natural History Museum, London, 2007 (solo); Seattle Vivarium, part of the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum, 2007 (solo); The Natural History of the Museum, Carre d'Art, Nimes, France, and touring to Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg and Seedamm Kulturzentrum, Pfäffikon, Switzerland, 2007 (solo); The South Florida Wildlife Rescue Unit, Miami Art Museum, 2006/7 (solo); Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art, Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, 2006/7 (group); Ecotopia: The 2nd ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, International Center of Photography, New York, 2007 (group); Drawing as Process in Contemporary Art, Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, 2006 (group). Dion is currently developing and ongoing project with the John Bartram Association that will result in the exhibition Mark Dion: Travels of William Bartram Reconsidered, Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, from June 21 to December 6. Dion’s relationship to The Berkshires began in 2005 when he and Bang on a Can founder David Lang presented The Anatomy Lesson, a mixed media performance piece at MASS MoCA; a year later he was included in MASS MoCA’s exhibition Becoming Animal, and in 2012 Dion worked with the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, and The Explorers Club in New York on Phantoms of the Clark Expeditions. Dion’s films can also be seen at MASS MoCA starting on March 23, 2013, in the exhibition The One Minute Film Festival: 10 Years.