• Arthur Bruso

Mark Dion: An Archaeology of Disorder


A glass display case with objects on shelves.
Mark Dion “An Archaeology of Disorder” 2015. mixed media

An Archeology of Disorder was conceived by Mark Dion while artist in residence at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The Royal Edinburgh Hospital is a psychiatric hospital founded in 1774 in Edinburgh, Scotland.


The piece consists of a glass case that is filled with objects that have a conceptual association to the Hospital, its patients or its methods. For instance, there is a pile of puzzle pieces, to represent the act of puzzle rebuilding as a form of therapy; a taxidermic cat, representing a patient who insisted that he had a cat living in his stomach; a syphilitic skull symbolic of the tertiary stage syphilis sufferers who would have been housed there; and locks that trace detainment and security back over 200 years.


When I saw this piece, there was no information that accompanied it, so it meaning and conceptual associations were lost to me. It stood as a case of some interesting, some baffling objects, that did not seem to have an internal cohesiveness. After doing the research and understanding the concept of the collection, the meaning became clear, but it also brings up the issue of how does an artist successfully convey meaning, especially in a work who’s meaning is necessary to the understanding of the artist’s intent.


Skull with severe bone lesions from advanced syphilis.
Detail of "An Archaeology of Disorder." Syphilitic skull.

Arthur Bruso


© 2017 Arthur Bruso


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