Elizabeth Dement and Mark Dion performing "Cabinet Duet" (2017) by Annie-B Parson at BGC. Image: Alicia Boswell.

On Wednesday, Bard Graduate Center hosted an evening of events with artist-in-residence Mark Dion. Commissioned as part of the Cultures of Conservation Initiative, Dion’s “The Conservator’s Cupboard” installation in the BGC lobby was the impetus for the evening. Two performances complemented the themes of the Conservator’s cupboard: a dance performance choreographed by Annie-B Parson and a screening of Dion’s “Artful History: A Restoration Comedy” made with filmmaker and artist Jason Simon in 1986.

Dion’s cupboard explores the “mental and material landscape” of the conservator, and the sculpture references the conservator’s studio or laboratory. The glass-fronted cabinet is filled to capacity with the tools of our trade and samples of historic pigments, resins, and other objects of our study.

For me, as a practicing conservator, the sculpture resonates with my intimate knowledge of the profession and also evokes the romanticized public perception of conservation. As a true modern Wunderkammer, it relates the exotic materials within its carefully labeled jars to the specialized and opaque types of knowledge we guard so closely in our profession. The installation also touches on the politicized and propagandistic aspects of scientific collecting and cataloguing (specimens, materials, cultures, people) which feature prominently in contemporary critiques of museum collection and conservation practices. Dion installed the cupboard in January, and it is on view by appointment at 38 W. 86th, or you can visit it at any of our lunch or evening events.

The evening opened with the Cabinet Duet (2017) performed by Elizabeth Dement and Mark Dion. The choreography animated the objects through the performers’ interactions with specimens taken from the cabinet itself. Dement, as an ethereal spirit, floated, twirled, and perched on books and jars of pigments, enabling the inanimate objects to take on new roles and meanings. Dion put things back in order again, playing the sober counterpart to Dement’s expressive fluidity. Toward the end, he untangled Dement’s braids and brushed her lovingly with a dust brush as she perched on a mound of clay recalling a museum plinth (her posture recalling Degas’ little dancer).

Film screening, "Artful History: A Restoration Comedy" Mark Dion and Jason Simon (1986). Image Jessica Walthew.

The film, “Artful History” was based on Dion’s experiences working at a commercial fine art restoration studio, and criticized the market-driven restoration practices in the 80s in the commercial sector. After the screening of the 30-minute film, curator Ruth Erickson of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston moderated a conversation between Dion and Simon about the piece and its relationship to video art, documentary, and artist activism.

Thanks to all those who participated and attended for a thought-provoking evening.

Our next event with Dion will be February 8, 2017: From the Wunderkammer to The Museum of Nature: Exhibiting the Anthropocene.