THE MEDICINE CABINET OF MYSTERY was produced as new work for the comprehensive survey of Mark Dion's work «The Macabre Treasury» at Museum Het Domain in Sittard, The Netherlands. The work is a reflection on the phenomenon of collecting itself. The work manifests a collection in its most intimate and personal nature, in the domestic scale. Dion seems to want to remind viewers that collecting does not belong merely to realm of the institution or the super wealthy, but it is a basic human impulse and exists in every imaginable scale.
The work explores some of the central themes of collecting- the importance of collecting and categorizing in childhood, the interplay of the natural and artificial, the role of nostalgia, the presence of the sensual and sexual in the collecting impulse. In this sense Dion also interrogates the issue of the importance of collecting in the tradition of surrealist sculpture. Dion has made a number of works which investigate the place of science, collections and nature in the surrealist movement, particularly The Bureau of the Study of Surrealism and it's Legacy, Manchester Museum, 2005.
The Medicine Cabinet of Mystery makes explicit reference to the Wunderkammen tradition of early pre-Enlightenment collections, in the sense that its approach is an allegorical one in which each object has a symbolic value and represents the interplay between the microcosm and macrocosm.
In this sense the work could also be related to the dime store alchemy of Joseph Cornell, the artist who crafted complex assemblages which were poetic meditations on the nature of memory and cosmology. Perhaps this work could be an Homage since Dion has a great affection and respect for Cornell's oeuvre.
A legendary flea market and junk store shopper, Dion is fascinated by the presence of the curious and poetic in everyday life. His work often consists of a recontextualization of objects rescued from second hand shops which embody the themes of cosmology, taxonomy and natural history.
This work represents Dion's insistence of hybridizing themes of science, philosophy, history and nature. In this sense he resists the impulse to divide the human experience into distinct categories or disciplines of knowledge.