Misadventures and Persistence

Dear Colleagues,

I recently visited two current exhibitions at the ICA. The first was Mark Dion’s “Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist.” From the show’s website:

Since the early 1990s, Mark Dion (b. 1961, New Bedford, MA) has forged a unique, interdisciplinary practice by exploring and appropriating scientific methodologies. Often with an edge of irony, humor, and improvisation, Dion deconstructs both scientific and museum-based rituals of collecting and exhibiting objects by critically adopting them into his artistic practice … His projects and exhibitions offer novel approaches to questioning institutional power, which he sees as connected to the control and representation of the natural world.  

The exhibit asks questions about the temporal and human-made lenses by which we interpret what we observe.

  • How do we assign value to artifacts?
  • Why and how do we make categories and design hierarchies about the “natural world”?
  • Does the global shift to the Anthropocene make these categories more or less relevant?
  • Why do we separate “human history” from “natural history”?


While the exhibit left me unsettled, I was nonetheless reminded – and comforted – by the work we do every day at Gann — our incessant pursuit of asking questions and never taking the “known world” for granted. Too many schools still settle for teaching “what is” without asking why we have confidence in the facts as we know them. I hope we will always cultivate a critical eye with our students.

I felt more grounded after I visited a second exhibition, Nicholas Nixon’s “Persistence of Vision.” From the show’s website:

This exhibition surveys the artist’s prolific career and is organized around Nixon’s remarkable ongoing project The Brown Sisters, a series of group portraits of his wife Bebe and her three sisters, Heather, Mimi, and Laurie taken annually since 1975. The Brown Sisters will be presented in its entirety, and each portrait will be paired with other photographs made by Nixon in the same year, drawn from various bodies of work, including schools in and around Boston, people with AIDS, couples, and landscapes. 

In Nixon’s images, we are confronted with the one lens that we seemingly cannot escape: the passage of time. Yet somehow Nixon’s work allays rather than exacerbates anxiety. His images invite reflection about relational ties and the value of everyday moments. For me, they suggest that our individual strengths emerge from family and community – and that we comprehend that cause-effect relationship more completely as the years pass.

May our students always care and connect with their families and their communities; may those intertwined narratives strengthen them throughout their lives; and may they offer and receive compassion every day!

Note: while the Nixon exhibit just opened, the Dion exhibit is closing December 31st. Catch it if you can!