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Mark Dion: artist eco-warrior

The environmentally-minded artist has a number of projects in Miami this month

The environmentally-minded artist Mark Dion (currently on a research trip in the Amazonian jungle in Guyana) has a number of projects in Miami this month, drawing on Florida’s vast natural resources. At the Miami Art Museum, Dion has a new series of works (until 14 January 2007) that look at the history of the Everglades in southern Florida, the largest subtropical wilderness in the US. The installation opens with a giant yellow truck (right), fitted out with scientific equipment and research gear and marked with the logo of the South Florida Wildlife Rescue Unit, an imagined agency that is meant to save endangered animal and plant life from destruction. Dion’s fictitious organisation, which appears to have significant state funding with its official uniforms and research tools, stands in ironic contrast to the government’s real-life inaction to preserve the Everglades over the years.

“The government has not been effective. There have been many good intentions, but no real action,” explains the curator René Morales. Over the past two centuries, half the original marshland has been drained for agriculture and Miami still draws much of its water supply from this natural reserve. In 2004, the state and federal governments finally launched a joint $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades, the largest environmental project of its kind in the world.

Alongside the truck, Dion is presenting reproductions of archival photographs showing conservators, as well as suspected poachers, removing rare plants from the forests. The exhibition ends with the recreated Herbarium (a catalogue of pressed plants) of the 19th-century botanist Henry Perrine, who proposed planting South American crops like mango and coffee in the Everglades to boost the area’s agriculture. Today, the second biggest threat to the natural ecosystem is the encroachment of these non-native species.

Meanwhile, in a separate project at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens called Plant Babies, Dion has put rare plant seedlings in baby buggies; visitors are invited to take the flora on a stroll through the park.

At Art Basel/Miami Beach, Tanya Bonakdar (B10) is showing Costume Bureau (above), an installation of the costumes Dion wore during four of his past major projects, priced at $50,000, as well as drawings based on his various Miami projects, ranging from $2,000 to $3,000. Dion’s work is also on view in the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation’s show “Forms of Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art” (until 18 February 2007).

Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables

%305 667 1651; for other listings, see p10.

Appeared in TAN Daily - ABMB, 60 December 2006