New Zealand / Australia Diary
Wednesday 2 May 2012

Arriving at MONA

Wednesday dawned dark, cold and wet from the heavy overnight rain. With more damp & bleak weather forecast it seemed to be a good day for indoor activities so Peter & I drove to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art.

The drive took us a few miles out of Hobart, following the Derwent river upstream, and we entered MONA through a vineyard filled with yellowing and fallen autumn leaves. Inside there were a cluster of small office buildings and light industrial units, just what you might expect from a modern vineyard in fact, but also the first indication that there might be Art in the area - two converging concrete walls with a wrecked car caught between them. As the car park was tastefully laid out with low, plant-filled borders the plain walls were as incongruous here as a flower display would have been in a multi-storey car park. Did that make it more arty or less? As with a lot of modern art this sort of question kept popping up during my visit to the museum.

(And why was it a museum and not a gallery? Did this imply a more passive, accepting role for the visitor? Or was it just pretentious? And was that a bad thing? The questions just kept on coming.)

The entrance to the museum itself managed to be both discreet (most of it is underground and invisible from the outside) and brash (the entrance is in a mirrored wall) but once inside things took on a familiar form. We paid the entrance fee (well I did, Peter as a Tasmanian got in for free), left our bags in the cloakroom (I was confused when one of the staff pointed at my backpack and asked if I'd like like it cloaked which sounded like something out of Star Trek) and picked up our guide books. These 'books' turned out to be customised, touch-controlled iPods that could receive & display information about the art works we were close to. For each piece they could show a brief summary, give more details about the piece or the artist, play accompanying music (where applicable), show an essay inspired by the piece (the delightfully titled 'Art Wank'), or something totally off the wall. You could indicate whether you liked or hated the work (there are no other options in Art, apparently), keep track of what you'd seen (it would even remember this for future visits) and probably did all sorts of other clever things that I never discovered. They were a really good way of getting information when you wanted it and keeping out of the way when you didn't, although they came with a lanyard and most people wore them around their necks I found it easiest to pop mine in a pocket.

Part of the huge Snake mural

From the entrance we went down a long, spiral stairway through the veined yellow sandstone that the museum is dug out of, with a transparent circular lift forming the central core. This was almost an artwork in itself, the primal rock pierced by a gleaming, clean & futuristic piece of modern technology, the sense of using contemporary tools to revisit the hidden secrets of the (or our own?) past. Like I said, the whole concept of Art On Display brings up these questions for me and it's easy to get over-analytical about everything.

On an immediate, sensual level the place was a delight. Cool and still within the rock, hushed as people read their iGuides or listened with headphones, dimly lit to emphasise the well-lit works on display and with a very spacious feel due to high and multi-level ceilings. There was a lot to see but the layout encouraged you to meander rather than follow a set path, Peter & I quickly lost each other but met up again & again in different areas.

The Art itself was an eclectic collection, there were a few 'Old' items (some Ancient Egyptian statues and carvings, some jewellery and coins) but most was emphatically 'New'. For me about half was pointless, infantile, stupid or obvious, half of the rest had something of interest, and the remaining quarter made me think, made me smile, or had some sort of unexpected beauty to them. This was a pretty good result from my experience of art galleries and I spent a good long time wandering around and enjoying my reactions. Some of the highlights were:

A small, square 'labyrinth' of very dimly lit walls covered with binary numbers ('0100010') and single words ('VOICE', 'LIGHT', etc.) and filled with droning, electronic sounds. At the centre was a small cubicle in the same design with a mirrored ceiling, making the viewer part of the scene. I'm not sure what it meant (if that was the purpose) but it had a wonderfully solitary atmosphere that was somehow inverted by seeing myself reflected back.

The chubby Porsche

A huge mural made up of smaller pictures, the brighter ones making up a serpentine shape that flowed across them.

A Porsche that had been altered so it looked like it was obese. This was particularly striking at the lighting & setting was very similar to that of a car show, increasing the effect enormously.

A bare room with lots of large light bulbs in the ceiling, pulsing in a way that seemed random but possibly wasn't. I spent a while trying to analyse what was happening but eventually gave up and just enjoyed the flickering light.

A long corridor with curtains along either side. To be honest this might have been just an access route within the gallery but it had a nice feel.

I was looking at a long white wall that contained a series of loops of rope held within a frame when I noticed that just beyond it a young girl was sitting on top with her legs, clad in bright red tights, hanging over the side. Sadly I couldn't get a photo before she moved away but it was a strangely pleasing juxtaposition, and all the more enticing as it was so random. (Unless it was a carefully staged performance, but I don't think so.)

After soaking up the Art we enjoyed a very nice lunch in the museum café and headed out towards the car, only to find that there were various installations and objects outside. With cold, grey skies and a very brisk wind it wasn't a good day for lingering over them but the wind provided a final thing to remember - the fencing on the seaward side was made up of metal slats that rang in a continuously changing chorus of harmonic resonances (if you pardon my prose). This ethereal 'singing' swirled around us as we left, a mysterious & unearthly sound and a siren call to come back again.

With so much stimulation swooshing around in my mind it was nice to come home for a quiet afternoon before heading out for pizza and an indulgent ice cream dessert (for me at least). The final quirk of the day was finding that the beer I ordered ('Moo Brew' - how could I resist?) was made in the vineyard/brewery that surrounded the museum. Spooky.

The Art of parking

Handy objects for the garden

The singing fences

Filigree truck

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