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"Waiting for the Extraordinary"

Thursday, September 29, 2011
12:00 AM
U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer, room 1010, Ann Arbor

An original exhibit by artist Mark Dion.

In “Waiting for the Extraordinary” a new site-specific installation commissioned by the U-M Institute for the Humanities gallery, Mark Dion focuses his enquiry on Michigan Chief Justice Augustus Woodward’s territorial act of 1817, establishing a “Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania.” Woodward harbored a dream of classifying all human knowledge and had discussed this with his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson. His plan would remain a blueprint for the university well into the 1830s, eventually replaced by a German model of education more in line with the U-M we know today.

Woodward’s handwritten list from the period outlined thirteen different professorships, or “diadaxiim,” which followed an idiosyncratic system of classifications. He invented outlandish words for these, mixing Greek and Latin, resulting in alliterative designations such as Anthropoglossica (Literature), Physiosophica (Natural Philosophy), Iatrica (Medicine), and Polemitactica (Military Science), to name a few.

For the Institute for the Humanities project, Mark Dion imagines what objects would best represent these classifications and sets out to find them in the many departments and collections within the university. As he embarks upon this ambitious and idealistic quest, the result is as much an expedition as a scavenger hunt, in part Aristotle as well as Don Quixote. In a week’s time, he locates a magpie, a meteorite, a celestial globe, a flask, a bugle, and then a heart.

Each artifact is first reproduced using 3D rapid prototype technology at the U-M Duderstadt Center, coated with phosphorescent paint, and then exhibited in a manner suggestive of post-nuclear hallowed halls.

But first, visitors to the gallery take a number, are seated in a waiting room, a carbon copy in itself. It is the familiar experience encountered in every institution, at the dentist’s office, or the DMV. We are waiting, just waiting…for something extraordinary…to happen, transform us, alleviate the banality.

Mark Dion, the 2011–12 Paula and Edwin Sidman Fellow in the Arts, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and lives in New York and Pennsylvania. He holds a BFA and an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford School of Art. Dion has received numerous awards, including the 2008 Lucelia Award, Smithsonian Museum of American Art. His most recent commissions include “Ship in a Bottle,” public commission for the Port of Los Angeles (2011) and “Oceanomania,” Institute Oceanographique de Paris et le Musee, Monaco (2011). He is represented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, NY.

Read about and watch interviews with Mark Dion on PBS's Art21 at