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  • Writer's pictureArthur Bruso

Cabinet of Marine Debris by Mark Dion

Shelves and cabinet with plastic bottles and other colored plastic items.
Cabinet of Marine Debris, 2014 cabinet; wood, glass, metal, paint assorted marine debris; plastic, rope 113 x 84 x 32 inches

I'm contemplating this work of art. Mark Dion made his reputation as an artist by reviving the wunderkammer for a post-modernist audience. Here with “Cabinet of Marine Debris,” he makes a statement on the plastic pollution clogging the oceans. HIs concept was to go to islands off of the coast of Alaska, which were at the outlying edge of the North Pacific Gyre - a circular streaming current in the North Pacific that has become infamous as a collecting place for floating, ocean borne plastic - and collect the plastic debris that he found on the beaches. He cleans and arranges the objects he’s found and places them into a specially constructed cabinet.

The cabinet in this instance looks very much like a cupboard that would be found in a fishing cabin or beach house. The white shelves and doors, against the dark painted interior, draws your attention to, and sets off the objects placed on them. The objects are carefully arranged by shape, with special attention to color juxtapositions. The horizontal surface, under glass, even has a collection of bottle caps and other small items arranged in a color spectrum.

Dion, first grabs the views attention with the thoughtful, colorful display of the objects, where we can admire their physicality. It is when we realize that these have all been collected as beach trash, then the environmental message hit home. Many of the bottle shapes are recognizable as containers for cleaning supplies that we use frequently. We rarely consider where the empty container ends up. There is a phenomenon in environmental studies known as the disappearing trash. Humans have this belief that when trash leaves our hands, it disappears. Dion is letting us know that trash does not disappear when we are finished with it. It lingers somewhere on the planet and may float in the ocean for a long time before it is washed up on a far away beach.

Arthur Bruso © 2017

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