Mark Dion @ The Talbot Rice

With my context course I went to see the Mark Dion show at the Talbot Rice, “200 Years, 200 Objects.” Context this semester is about integrating writing better into our practice, so it was a good show to look at for that. The exhibition was quite simple, 200 objects found in the archives of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The objects collectively tell the story of the pioneering mental institution, exploring the individuality of the patients and people who worked there, as well as addressing difficult aspects of the history of mental care.
We discussed the use of text in exhibitions in general, and in this exhibition in particular. Often, it seems like exhibition texts do not make the kind of contribution that they could to the exhibition that they are are part of – in reading long texts on the walls of galleries, I often find myself wondering why it wouldn’t just be better to go home and read a book on the subject in a more comfortable space. I have actually give up on entire museums because I’ve felt that they were really just books mounted on the wall (Karl-Marx-Haus, circa 2006, I’m looking at you.) There is often no reason to stand and read the text in that space. I think that for an exhibition text to be really successful, it should be well integrated with the work that it is in relationship with. The current show at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Mark Dion’s “200 Years, 200 Objects,” I think is a very good example of an exhibition with a text that actually has a productive relationship with the works on display. In a way, the text itself *is* the work, and the viewer is forced to interact with the text in the space if they are to understand the work of the exhibition. The exhibition is, largely, a practice of curation and narration, with the text playing an absolutely integral role to the experience of the works on display, showing how they are contextualised historically, and how they are interpreted by the artist.

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