I spent an interesting hour or so yesterday reading some of 'Archaeology', a book about American Artist Mark Dion. I happened across his name in 'Nomad' by Sibella Court. I loved 'Etc' by her and found the amazing 'Colour' by Victoria Finlay, because she mentions it.
(Aside one-these two books are gorgeous-as much as the look and content of the beautiful photos, and the evocative tales of her travels, I love the way the pages smell-whatever ink they are using smells great, and the variation in paper, and even the way it is sometimes difficult to read all the words as they are printed onto a dark background)
The Internet is so great for facilitating this kind of thing (as I am sure you don't need me to tell you!) so after about half an hour of searching, I couldn't find the book she mentions, but I chose 'Archaeology' as a likely good choice. Dion is very interesting indeed. (And I realise I have seen one of his works in Tate Modern before, but had not remembered and looked into him)
I think I have understood the main points of what his work is about but the thing that grabs me first is that it is full of the kind of stuff I love-basically old and lost things dug up, dredged up, beach combed and variously found. Things from the shore of the Thames like the things I find. These objects are then displayed in a museum like way and are fascinating to look at.
(Aside two-I love to do this, have made pieces of work in the past which were intended to be museum like-using found things. They are in a drawer somewhere. I curate my own things all the time and our flat is a constantly changing museum of my whims.(Cluttered but I love it!)
Dion assumes the role of archaeologist, explorer, ornithologist-whatever is necessary in the process of making his work. He genuinely does the work. He and a team of workers, sort, clean and catalogue things, before they are displayed. In one of the articles it talks about how the process is important and the participation of onlookers is a part of that. Richard Long was mentioned as another artist where process is the main focus, with a record being made for the later viewer.
The objects are then displayed in an art gallery-and this is the departure from science or the other roles and purposes-the objects are made to be art rather than just, say, an historical piece of evidence. The viewer is made to question what constitutes art (Duchamp is mentioned here) (that old chestnut!-and the art/craft debate too-as in how some things may be displayed in an Ethnographic museum, which later may be displayed as art in a gallery, so changing the judgement made of them)
(Aside three-it just came to me the other night as clear as anything-my crocheting straightforward things such as bags or washcloths is craft-as I know how to do it, there are not any surprises and it is just a case of getting on and finishing it. A felty head uses craft -a simple building block, but the decisions I make about how it will be make it into art. But then, do the decisions a skilled crocheter make about colour, pattern and shape make their work art or craft? It was suddenly not clear again. Really I think most things are a mixture of things-which in a way is what Mark Dion is all about)
Two interesting bits from the book-how the Thames has been dredged consistently to keep it clear and a lot of the ballast ended up in Newcastle. Consequently, there have been significant archaeological finds up there, that are thought to have originated on the bed of the Thames.
The other tale that I loved was about Dion's work for the Venice Biennale where he dredged a section of a Venetian canal, and displayed these finds. The Venetian authorities were ready to throw him in jail for stealing precious historical artifacts, until a deal was struck whereby he 'donated' one of his works to them!
Art rant over!