Live birds crapping on David Attenborough, a unicorn's horn, false teeth fished from the Thames … this is a mind-boggling romp through the natural (and not so natural) world
Zebra finches flit about a dead apple tree, planted amid piles of books in a giant aviary at the Whitechapel Gallery. The birdschirp merrily, crapping on the books below. There are books everywhere: books on birds and novels with birds in their titles; books in the branches and underfoot. The branches are hung with pruning tools and pairs of binoculars – all the paraphernalia of the birdwatcher and of the hunter. “Aesthetics is to artists as ornithology is to birds,” the American painter Barnett Newman once quipped. The finches don't care. They'll crap on anything, even the portraits of David Attenborough and Alfred Hitchcock, nailed to the branches.
There is more to Mark Dion's Theatre of the Natural World than birds, though they do show up everywhere. Dead mallard hang head down in a hunter's corrugated iron hide, ready for the plucking. The interior is arranged for a meal. Fur and fowl decorate the crockery. Another hide is disguised as a giant hay bale, furnished with sofa and chairs, and decorated with antlers and a hunting horn. Another, looming above us like a forest watchtower, has camouflage-patterned walls and camo-covered furnishings. It is a wonder you can see it.