Friday, March 8, 2013

Tasmania, Day 3

Friday, March 8, 2013

We went out to MONA - the Museum of Old and New Art.  The museum is the brainchild of David Walsh, a mathematician who, word is, made a fortune using his mathematical skills in "gaming" and thus is giving the community a chance to view his art collection by establishing MONA.  Whether this is a philanthropic gesture or a tax write off has yet to be decided, because the issue is being handled by the Australian internal revenue department.  

But it definitely is an interesting museum!

And, because this is a private collection, visitors are asked not to post photos of the collection.  We are allowed to take photos for person use as in looking at the photo.  We are not allowed to take photos and post them on websites (or blogs) - and of course not to duplicate, sell, profit from, etc. such photos.

So these two exterior shots are my photos.  The rest of the pictures come from online.  Because once someone else posts such photos, they become public domain.  And then I get to use them.  Cool thing, the law.  Anyway.......

For starters - the exterior of MONA is small and made of super shiny metal, so that it reflects the surroundings in a kind of warped way - almost like a funhouse mirror, you know?  Except that the exterior metal is in sheets, so it works something like a cross between a kaleidoscope and a warped mirror.

Next surprise - the museum itself is built into the bedrock.  The shiny metal building is just the entrance and ticket office.  Yes, it's like some spy movie - you enter at the top floor, and take a round elevator down into the center of the earth.  Okay, so it's only three to five storeys down (basically three storeys, but there are two mezzanines, so it more accurately is five storeys.........and yes, the interior is as convoluted as that explanation) - but it feels like you're going into the center of the earth.

Because you come out of the elevator and the walls are stone.  Not mined/shaped/cut/cemented stone.  No.  The walls are STONE.  The bedrock stone.  The building has been cut into the bedrock, the walls are gorgeous striated beiges and umbers and siennas, I'm guessing sandstone but I'll have to wait until my dad sees the photos and he'll ID the stone for us.  So it's like being in a giant square cavern, or maybe a mine, way way down into the ground.  There are some walls that are obviously cement, and the stone walls do have some metal and cement reinforcement - but it truly is kind of eerie.

The exhibits - well, as the name says, there are some pieces that are old art.  Egyptian mummies in ornately painted coffins.  Fragments of Egyptian stele.  Scarabs.  Faience ware.  We're talking REALLY old stuff here.

And then there's the new art.  Some totally weird and in-your-face-confrontational-shock-you pieces that make you wonder if this is really art, or just garbage.  You know the kind of stuff I mean?  Some things were definitely there for shock value, although if we stood and tried to find some kind of meaning, well, sometimes something came up.  Prejudice.  Sexism.  Intolerance.  Bigotry.  Lynching.  Assault.  Homophobia.  You know, issues like that.  After getting over the shock of mutilated mannequins with fake blood, there usually was some kind of meaning.  But whether this is ART or not is always subject to debate.

Instead of grouping the artwork by category, or chronologically the way many museums do, the art is exhibited by theme.  Sometimes the theme is apparent, like geometric patterns in traditional ethnic and modern art.  Sometimes the theme is more obscure, like the concept of shamanism.  (I thought that was more a take on animistic magic, but, well, that was my interpretation.  Which in some ways might be close to shamanism in some cultures.)  Anyway, in that aspect it was kind of like the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, where the pieces are displayed in a different way than we're used to, and sometimes we don't really understand the logic behind the exhibit.  Again, it takes some getting used to, and I think it's designed to make the observer think. 
Another "different" aspect of MONA is that the art doesn't have labels.  You can choose to experience the art without any information.  Or you can carry around an O-phone (or O-pod) - sort of like an i-phone or iPod, with headphones - you click on the letter O at the bottom and it picks up nearby exhibits, so everyone can read on the device - all the usual label stuff, plus background information or explanations, sometimes narrative by either the artist or the curator, stuff like that.  It actually provided more information than the usual exhibit descriptions and labels for artwork.  On the other hand, it was really funny to see some of the older people trying to figure out how to use this little technological device, because they had zero clue how to make it work.  I'll admit, there was a bit of a learning curve (since I've never owned an iPhone or iPod Touch) - but it was a handy way of getting info about an exhibit.  AND you could either Like or Hate a piece of art, or an exhibit as a whole - just a + for Like, or x for Hate - very Facebooky, if you ask me, but still kind of cool.  And then you get statistics - what percentage or number of other visitors liked or hated the same piece of art.  So, depending on how you like the whole +x thing, you might enjoy that.  Or not.   But that +x became almost the logo for MONA, and until you experience the O-pod, you really have no clue about it.

So, things I liked:  there was a large cement truck made out of ornate metal grillwork outside, all nicely rusted, looking like a cement truck from the Victorian era when the houses had the lovely ornamental metal lace or wood gingerbread.  It was intriguing, to see this huge truck that was both macho male TRUCK and also delicate filigree feminine - sort of a yin and yang truck.


Inside, there was an interactive exhibit - there were handles to hold, and somehow the handles picked up each person's pulse and transferred it to a large overhead light bulb, the bulb flashing out the pulse.  Then, when another person came up to the handles, the previous person's pulse would move forward to another light bulb, and the other person's pulse would light up the bulb - so that there would be a progression of people's pulses beating in flashing light.  The light bulbs created a line overhead and then went into a room full of flashing bulbs, each with its own rhythm, flashing out someone's pulse.  VERY cool!!!!  And I have zero idea how this was executed by the artist (with obvious scientific skills)!!!!

One of the favorite exhibits was a fountain - only it was more like a shower than a fountain, because the water came down in almost a curtain.  But instead of being constant water, the water came out in words - seriously, the words were almost like bullet points of current events and headline news.  There was a long mechanism that shot out water, and was somehow programmed to create words by different lengths and speeds of water - and this was one of the most fascinating exhibits!!!  It was mesmerizing, and there were people sitting or standing and watching - seriously, it was amazing!!!  We could also watch it from upper levels, so that we could see the words coming out and falling down to the drain - and of course, at a certain point, the pieces of the letters merged and just became long drips of water.  But so cool!!!!!  The walls in back of the fountain were the bare rock, and the water letters were lit from all angles so they were very silvery when they came dropping out, looking almost like liquid silver!  I think this was probably one of the absolute best things at MONA, and I could have watched it for hours.

The exhibit that made me come out smiling and laughing was just, well, odd and funny.  The artist asked about 30 self-professed Madonna fans (fans of the singer Madonna, not the concept of Mary Madonna fans) to sing, a capella, and be videotaped.  The exhibit showed these 30 people, each filmed separately, but now singing in unison - and all of the Madonna songs of one particular album.  (I don't know which - the songs I watched were "Over the Borderline" and "Like a Virgin," so I know some of you know which album this would be.)  So - most of the singers were off-key.  And of course trying to be totally dramatic and following all of Madonna's moves.  Including the construction worker dude, wearing a safety vest, but changing into various gloves and scarves and props.  Or the young man with so much make up that he looked like a parody of a farce of a drag queen.  Or the earnest young women singing with their eyes closed.  Or, my personal favorite, the young woman wearing white fairy wings and a feather crown.  But somehow, all those off-key voices, the flat notes and sharp notes, mostly blended together and sounded okay.  One young woman was actually quite good, and when she did a little embellishing you could hear that she was in tune.  But the whole thing was just funny and happy and the people were having a great time - and that was sort of the point of the whole exhibit - that a celebrity is only a celebrity by virtue of having fans, a following, and that pop culture is actually the interaction between the celebrity and the fans.  It was just FUN!

 Okay, one more description, so you can get an idea of the bizarreness of some of the "art" - someone created an artificial digestion machine.  Yup, this was a series of hanging glass amphoras, which pipes and tubes connecting them, where food was processed and "digested" and came out, at the end, as what we know as the end product of digestion.  And while the repeating glass shapes and pipes and tubes made an aesthetically pleasing pattern, the smell was, well, what we know as the end product of digestion.  So imagine a group of people trying to look objectively at this strange contraption, while all the while it smells like a sewer.  Uh huh.  That was the "art."  (I personally would have added a second contraption that would be the mom or teacher machine, who constantly sprayed room freshener.  But that's just me.)

It was a fun day - MONA overlooks some inlet, the setting and grounds are beautiful, there are a variety of cafés as well as a posh restaurant, and you can also sit outside and have a picnic.  It's a lovely place, and worth making a whole day trip.  We drove, but there's also an optional ferry or coach from downtown Hobart.

And, well, making you think can't be all bad, right?  ++

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