Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have been back from our Australia trip for about two weeks. Those weeks have been spent quietly slotting back into a daily routine. I have been getting a fork into the vegetable patch, strolling around the neighbourhood to spot the small changes that took place while we were away, catching up on a couple of Forest Green Rovers FC games, and recovering from the jet lag. Once again I feel so relieved that, having retired, I can do all this without the worry of having to catch up at work while negotiating jet lag muzziness.
Though these two weeks, the memories of Australia have lived on pretty vividly. They are reinforced by each retelling of our exploits down under to friends and relatives. We’ve had some very good holidays in recent years but our Australia trip was one of the best.
One of the most exhilarating days that we had in Australia was that we spent in Hobart visiting the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). This was set up by and is run and financed by David Walsh, a millionaire Tasmanian who made his fortune through gambling. He is passionate about art and giving something back to Tasmania. Visiting the gallery is free for Tasmanians and it has become a huge tourist attraction.
The visit started on a purpose-built jetty from which Youngest Son (YS) (who paid for the excursion), Long-Suffering Wife (LSW), and I boarded a strangely shaped and coloured ferry. As we boarded we were invited to load up a MONA app on our phones and, as we started to look through the web site pages, we could see we would be in for a fun time. This feeling was underlined by the presence of a full size cow sculpture on the boat and seats that looked like sheep.
The journey itself, up the Derwent River, gave us a new, interesting view of Hobart’s industry and huge river side mansions. Then, as we approached MONA on its own island in the middle of the river, we could make out a series of balconies, walkways and low-slung, rather strange looking buildings. As we left the ferry and entered one of these I was reminded of Thunderbirds and Tracy Island; it all felt slightly off kilter and unreal.
Inside it quickly became apparent that the bulk of the cavernous space for the art, the bars and the selection of restaurants is carved deep into the sandstone rock of the island. There are spiral staircases, long corridors, small and huge rooms and, everywhere, fascinating sights. I loved, for example, the slot machine beer dispenser which took one’s money and took its time to decide whether to dispense a lovely, expensive craft beer or a can of bog-standard Fosters lager. I didn’t try it but was entertained by the relief or the frustration of others who did.
As we moved around, so all the art was labelled, described and explained by the location sensitive app on our phones. This provided various levels of detail – as much or as little as you wanted – on whatever was nearby. I experienced something similar at the Opera exhibition at the Victoria and Albert just over a year ago but nothing as slick, comprehensive or amusing as this.
Screenshots From The MONA App
And so onto the art! Incredible!
The first exhibit, Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris, required application for entry on the MONA app. When my turn came I was let into a dark room, alone, and made my way around a platform with black water on either side. In the middle of the room was, on one side of the platform, an Egyptian mummy in its shroud. On the other side was a CAT scan of the same mummy that presented layers of the mummy progressively so that the mummified flesh was peeled back gradually to reveal organs then bones. Some of these were damaged and indicated the cause of death and that, plus the irregular drips of water in the silent, dark room, made this lone experience really eerie and memorable.
Perhaps the best exhibit was Artifact by Gregory Barsamian. I think it was YS’s favourite too. It was a large bronze head on its side with several portals so you could see inside. From each portal one got a different view of what resembled a rotating machine with birds, balls, hands, heads and wheels all moving around in sync in a quiet whirlwind of stroboscopic light. It was riveting but I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing then and can’t hope to describe it adequately now. It was astonishing and brilliant.
That was unsettling but even more so was the tattooed man, Tim. The gallery has bought the tattoos on the back of this man and he is paid to sit all day, silently and still, to exhibit it. It raised some deep ambiguity about ownership, slavery and art.
Other exhibits were also designed to keep one off balance. Near Artifact was a bowl of water on a chair with a large sharp knife and two red and orange goldfish in it. It was a simple piece (by Jannis Kounellis) but unnervingly reminiscent of blood in water.
Another exhibit (Kryptos by Brigita Ozolins) was a room set up as a small black maze with niches holding ancient vases. When one got to the middle of the maze there was something unconscious that prompted one to look up. Above was a mirror reflecting my upturned face; it scared the living daylights out of me.
I could go on. There was the room half full of dense, black oil by Richard Wilson. There was a grave stone at which we could throw glass bottles. There was a huge room of tables with moving pellets, stroboscopic lighting, vast noise and hundreds of digital displays filled with alphanumeric characters (Supersymmetry by Ryoji Ikeda). There lovely set of pieces by an Australian artist called Patrick Hall with opening drawers with recorded sounds, words and inscriptions. There was a room with smelly hanging bowls linked by tubes and being fed food so that they reproduced the workings of the human digestive tract from start to finish (Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye). There were skeletons making love, corridors with ever changing wall colours, a fat red car and hundreds of other works of art that surprised, enthralled and unsettled.
Fat Car By Erwin Wurm and Cloaca Professional In Action
It was simply the most engaging and enjoyable art exhibition I have ever seen. It was huge but my attention didn’t drop once over about 4 hours. I’d love to go back and I recommend it to all.
Views Around MONA