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Gesellschaft der Amateur-Ornithologen

Mark Dion

For his contribution to the 2010 Emscherkunst exhibition Mark Dion had a disused gas tank converted into a kind of bird observatory. He came across the object at the former Herne sewage treatment plant, where the artist Silke Wagner also realised her work »Glückauf. Bergarbeiterproteste im Ruhrgebiet« (see no. 42).

Entitled »Society for Amateur Ornithologists«, Dion transformed the barrel-shaped vessel into a free-standing, walk-in edifice. To one side of the entrance with a roofed porch and stairs a large window opening was inserted into the side wall and two windows installed in the ceiling where previously supply pipes had been connected to the tank; in addition, a small observation platform was built onto the roof. In contrast to the tank’s plain outward appearance, its interior has been fitted with sophisticated furnishings. Reminiscent of a clubhouse, it brings to mind images of 19th-century curiosity cabinets. The artist furnished the space with old carpets and antique furniture, supplementing it with numerous ornithological objects and books he had purchased from various flea markets around the region. Aligned telescopes, books opened up on the bureau and crystal bowls filled with sweets give the impression that a hobby ornithologist has just left the observatory. Visitors are encouraged to use all the objects in the observatory, thus themselves becoming this same »amateur ornithologist« and part of the artwork – like the birds that allow themselves to be observed from this spot and the process of observing itself.

An old gas tank is equipped into a study room with a collection of rarities. With telescopes, visitors can observe the birdlife.

Since its initial set-up, Mark Dion’s installation has changed location on several occasions. In 2010 the object was located by the so-called Herner Meer (Herne Sea), in direct proximity to the Herne yacht harbour. For the 2013 Emscherkunst exhibition it was shown on the lift bridge in Duisburg-Walsum. After the work was presented in 2016 at Hof Emscher-Auen near the flood retention basin in Dortmund-Mengede, it has now been allotted a permanent site in the grounds of the large Bottrop sewage treatment plant. The former industrial object that serves as a camouflaged bird observatory has constantly adapted to changing locations in the post-industrial landscape of the Emscher region without losing any of its impact.

Mark Dion’s work for Emscherkunst 2013 at the Emscher estuary…

… and Emscherkunst 2016 at the flood retention basin in Dortmund-Mengede.

The work of art can be visited only on request

Beautiful from above: The works of art on the Emscherkunstweg can also be admired from the air.

Credits: Film concept, camera, drone & post-production: Gionik Media GmbH, Dirk Gion Opterix, Johannes Kassenberg

Music & sound design: Samuel Brözel


Former gas tank, modified and arranged
Steel, acryl glass, used furniture and carpets, ontological instruments, articles from a flea market
Dimensions gas tank: approx. 850 x 310 x 350 m

Mark Dion

Mark Dion (*1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, US) worked as an art restorer prior to studying art. His keen passion for collecting is reflected in his frequently richly elaborate and multipartite objects and installations. One focus of his work is nature, our relationship to it and how it is represented in exhibitions and other contexts. Again and again, ecological, philosophical and political issues play an important role in his approach.