“We could not bury her in the dark ground,” and they had a transparent coffin of glass made, so that she could be seen from all sides.
Little Snow White, by the Brothers Grimm
Looking at some images by Mark Dion for his project Neukom Vivarium, I thought about how man has modified the space; the manipulation of landscape, the limits of nature against the development of cities or environment itself, but most of all, thoughts about death and how decay still produces a sort of anxiety on us.
Neukom Vivarium was conceived as a multidisciplinary work of art which began in 2004. Located at the corner of Elite Avenue and Broad Street in Seattle. Featured a sixty foot long log in an eighty foot long site specific greenhouse . The log was taken from the woods and replaced in this space as a lying body above a pool cover with tiles illustrated by potential log inhabitants (bacteria, fungi, plants and insects). Along the log a series of microscopes with magnifying glasses allows visitors to look at living forms that grow within it. The greenhouse possessed an irrigation system and optimal climatic conditions in order to preserve it and allow life to flourish.
Mark Dion´s work often shows nature as something fragile and precious. The costs and effort that required the execution of Neukom Vivarium, emphasizes the difficulties man has to face in order to reconstruct something that took nature years. In this way it also refers to the impact man’s actions have on ecology, a landscape takes eons to build itself, even though it can be torn apart on an instant by man.
Neukom Vivarium as both a beautiful and terrifying piece invites us to question about what does it mean to live forever? What are the risks and economical costs to maintain an existence of something in this world? Is it worth to continue tracing different routes in the map to rescue some of the mystical aspects that use to give sense to our lives?
Nature is horrifying as well, there is chaos, there is noise and there is violence within it. For all these reasons, man has built limits that will distance him from it. Speaking about the greenhouse as Mark Dion pointed, the idea of Snow White in her coffin, is almost impossible to leave behind. The greenhouse functions as a container of death as a process, it is in a way a vehicle in which death will transform into life again, a metaphor for life cycle.
The forest is a savage space apart from civilization and man´s control, the choice of Dion to take the log into the city functions in an opposite way in which Snow White goes to the woods which was as sort of escape from authority. In this case the log inside the greenhouse will be controlled, kindly and correctly, but still its changes will be regulated by an authority.
Zygmund Bauman, suggests that contemporary man has somehow lost his enchantment towards the idea of eternity, lost the desire for state of quietness, and so looks for spontaneous attractions that would justify his actions through life. On the other hand, as we think about nature, we lately try to preserve its beauty or the idea we have of it, even it means to keep it without life. In that sense, nature is seen as an object, as an immense garden that can be built in order not to let all its wild qualities threat man, but allow its beauty to comfort us.
Dion´s project embraces the idea of art as a way to approach nature, even if this will mean the complete domination and acceptance that man is no longer part of it. In other words, man no longer belongs to nature but seeks to own nature.