Sunday, 7 July 2013

A day trip to Mona

Yesterday my beloved and I jumped up early, while the stars were still up and the cheap skates were trying to play golf by torch light before the links were open, and headed off to Tasmania for the day to see the Museum of Old and New Art- MONA.
It’s been on our to do list for quite a while but finding a whole weekend and the money for such a splurge just kept escaping us. This was a brilliant solution. No car hire, no accommodation costs and a direct bus to the gallery and pick up in time for our return flight which also meant cheaper parking costs at Melbourne airport. While we have several friends and relatives in Tasmania, to squeeze in time at Mona and time with them would diminish both experiences.  
I love visiting Hobart in the middle of winter. It is a chance to experience the full on cold of a southern winter, see the snow capped mountains and return home to only slightly chill Melbourne. It was max 6C in Hobart yesterday.

We were amongst the first arrivals for the day so staff were full of enthusiasm and good cheer and we were advised to make the most of our status by visiting the sarcophagus of um ?(sorry!) in a separate darkened chamber. It was The Indiana Jones part of the tour where only two people at time can enter a very dark space with a walkway surrounded by black slightly odoriferous water. The concrete pathway was about 900mm wide in reality yet seemed distorted in all the blackness and it felt precariously narrow and then petered out to only stepping stones which were uneven heights (only 3) which strangely seemed even more precarious. The sarcophagus and a matching one were lying side by side in the dim light one digitally animated to show images of the mummy and xrays through the bindings to the underlying organs and bones. I guess if it were shown in the raw light of day apart from the deteriorating effect of light on it, the whole experience could be a bit ho hum. By slowing down your approach and turning off some senses while alighting others it did what Science Works does not do-focus attention.
The whole gallery is built in an enormous sandstone pit beside the Derwent River. A minimum of light is used throughout partly because there are extremely valuable Egyptian artefacts and partly for theatrical effect. The architecture is astounding and we could not help but think of what a great place it would be to play nerdy electronic war games, up and down the hefty beamed walkways and tunnels hewn out of solid rock. It would also make a great nerd film set.
The current exhibition is The Red Queen and refers to Alice Through the Looking Glass  who when confronted by the Red Queen is caught up in a discussion of adapting or keeping up. The art refers to adaption mostly through genetics and mutation and points of difference in humans. Mona is often referred to as the museum of Life and Death and  there is certainly a sense of dipping into death and corporeal experience in the darkness and under the ground which will stay with me for a while.
There was one very powerful piece where a granite labyrinth  adorned with binary numbers which at first seem like timeline numbers going back to primordial days leads to a central tiny space with a mirrored ceiling.  I have always loved the prayerful purpose of a labyrinth in which you quietly wander toward the centre to yourself and then turn around and return to community. It was hard not to draw analogies to Persephone and the underworld.
One other piece that moved me partly because I got it wrong was a giant Buddha made of reinforced aluminium. I was staring in awe at this gigantic shiny Buddha made out of reinforced cast aluminium and full of respect for the artist who I thought had transformed an army tank into this beautiful Buddha. Then I heard the conversation behind me as the attendant explained to somebody else the process of making the twin of the Buddha I was staring at, out of incense ash from temples. The piece I was looking at was simply the mould to shape the dust which was headless due to building constraints or something and it was slowly collapsing in on itself. The artist is Zhang Huan. Awesome is a much misused word but it was awesome in concept and execution.

I cannot show you any photos of the art work even though I was free to take them for my own use  but which does not include internet sites. Mona is a wonderful gift by David Walsh to the people of Tasmania. I didn’t love everything on display and some things filled me with horror or revulsion. The whole atmosphere of darkness and some areas of electronic noise and strobe lighting were very disconcerting and disorienting. One particular series of works the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger, I found very uncomfortable at a visceral level but the slightly waving images suspended in frames around which you had to walk in very poor light made me feel so vertiginous  that I had to hurry out.
My overall experience will stay with me for a long time but strangely there was no dizzy euphoric sensation which I realise for me hits me when I am confronted by colour. By having to negotiate a space in poor lighting when I am already hindered by poor night vision shut down some creative force in me. There was no room left to think which I think is a little like the way the brain exists only in survival mode when traumatised. I have lots to think about for a long time and I will treasure some of the works I saw. I will certainly be back to do it all again in another year or so as long as David Walsh doesn't go broke paying back his gambling tax.
Bye Mona.





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