13 Jan – 18 Jan, 2016
MONA, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
In 2011, I visited Tasmania for the first time. In many ways it was still uncharted territory and one of the few things I knew about the place was that Hobart was the late Joachim “Blacky” Fuchsberger’s adopted home.
While descending the thickly forested and snow covered slopes of Mount Wellington and en route to quench the resulting thirst at the Cascade Brewery, I made the acquaintance of an elderly, artistically inclined Parisian couple. Having just returned from the old world and my first visit to the Louvre reporting on the experience, I answered the question about my favourite part by trying to convey the excitement I felt while ascending the stairwell linking the Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquities in the museum’s Sully wing and finally seeing Anselm Kiefer’s permanent contribution to the Louvre’s décor, the first since Georges Braque painted the ceiling of Henry II’s former antechamber in 1953.
Caught up in relating and reliving the memory to my duly unimpressed companions, I followed up by a worldly anecdote about Sylvester Stallone acquiring a painting by the aforementioned German Expressionist, which started to shed its straws not long after he took possession.
Sly, in a bid to secure his art investment and enraged by the fact that the artwork was falling apart, then proceeded to glue the bits of straw that the painting was shedding back onto the canvas, which became part of his morning routine.
The Parisian monsieur reparteed nonchalantly, that Monsieur Stallone would have a lot of gluing to do at this newly opened museum down in Hobart: Apparently the owner of this new ominous place had created a peripheral, purpose-built pavilion to house one of Kiefer’s massive iron, lead, and glass sculptures (i.e. SternenFall/ Shevirath Ha Kelim). One of Kiefer’s many living and constantly devolving artworks: Bathed in natural light, shards of glass protrude from the towering decomposing lead-framed bookshelf and splinter on the floor evoking nightmares of Kristallnacht-esque proportions.
According to the Parisian mademoiselle a “machine qui produit des matières fécales” (which turned out to be Wim Delvoye’s “Cloaca Professional” – a digestive machine that turns food into feces by processing it through a number of machine-like assembly stations before producing a realistically looking and smelling emission) was also to be found at this mysterious museum.
After further chit chat and yours truly awkwardly smiling while the couple started discussing the hermeneutics of desire, it is needless to say that I skipped my visit to the Cascade Brewery and, after doing a bit of research, boarded a ferry and was off to see this new museum.
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is not a museum in the conventional sense. An overall good thing, it is a collection of one individual: David Walsh, who privately funds it.
What Walsh and his team of thinkers, curators, experts, and choreographers have created is many things. A concept. An experience. A ritual space. A feeling. It has become a brand. Serious. A secular temple. Playful. Iconoclastic. Cool yet unpretentious. Engaging. Mysterious. Inviting to enjoy art as a pleasure. Not a mere showcase for a collection but subtlety choreographed to create an idiosyncratic, engaging whole.
MONA is located within the Dionysian Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula about twelve kilometers north of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
It was quite fittingly described as a “subversive adult Disneyland” based on the twin themed cycle of sex (new) and death (old) when it first opened its mirror front entrance in January 2011.
When you approach MONA island and climb the 99 stairs, the single-story MONA building appears at street level to be dominated by its surroundings, but its interior possesses a spiral staircase that leads down to three larger levels of labyrinthine display and performance spaces carved into the banks of the Derwent River.
Cue rabbit hole, tumbling down, et cetera. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson would have been delighted.
The strength of MONA’s collections and exhibitions are that they have an almost tangible effect on both your mind and body – they grab your attention and are fun. Fun without the dictatorship of a voice of authority.
MONA hosts the outdoor MOFO festival in January (Australian summer), and the wintertime Dark MOFO fest in June, with extensive public art exhibitions amid a fairground setting of food and drink, live music, performances galore and all sorts of entertainment. Both festivals have become Tasmania’s most highly anticipated annual events.
MONA’s events are usually held in and around Hobart city during the two festivals, but 2016’s eighth installment of the festival was the first time that it was held on the premises of MONA at Berriedale. A Great Gatsby--an extravaganza of sorts, a lavish garden party designed to “drum up a sensory discombobulation to shake you down to your very cell structure.”
In 2016, MOFO included performances across the whole MONA site, including the Nolan Gallery, the Organ Room, the stairwells, the Moorilla Barrel Room and the underground Void, plus the big outdoor stage and lawns. Art and performances were to be found in every nook and cranny--especially where you least expect it. I found myself trapped in an elevator amidst the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Choir singing at me.
MONA’s eclectic festivals are curated by none other than Brian Ritchie, Hobartian resident and Violent Femmes bassist, who regularly joins in on musical performances and opens people up to music they otherwise would not be exposed to and is complemented by free and ticketed satellite performance across Hobart, one of which started off my “Weekend at Walshy’s”:
A Samuel Beckett triptych at the Theatre Royal eased me into the proceedings of the weekend. A darkly funny trio of works (the bleak soundscapes of “Footfalls,” the creepy “Eh Joe,” and the regret tinged human frailty of “Last tape”) that had me watch three performers basically doing nothing other than listening. While bringing little new light to oeuvre of Beckett, the manifestly detailed performances, lighting design, and stage minutiae by the State Theatre Company of South Australia added enormously to these pieces all the while making the delivery of ageless, universal truths look easy.
Back at the MONA site the Friday evening cosmic headliner were the Flaming Lips, who managed to get their elaborate costumes, stage props, and lights to Hobart just in time for the performance after being stranded by the grounding of the Bass Strait Ferry in Melbourne.
Serenaded by their lush, multi-layered psychedelic rock and confetti cannons firing away, balloons galore, intricate video projections, oversized trippy puppets framing or carrying Wayne Coyne, they created merriment en masse and the audience lapped it up as they carried him around in his man-sized plastic bubble while he was musing on the need to be. MONA’s French cuisine inspired restaurant, The Source’s 5-course degustation MOFO meal sustained me throughout the performance, with the sweeping views across the placid Derwent River and the witty banter of the unobtrusive service adding to the ambience.
The following days saw performances of DJ Krush (whose atmospheric soundscapes under the incorporation of nature sounds proved to be a perfect fit for the Saturday evening at the festival site), folky singer-songwriter and Sub Pop label artist Mirel Wagner; the award winning, cunning linguist Kate Tempest and her extraordinary lyrical prowess; the Antwerp-based classical avant-garde collective HERMESensemble and more than 190 mostly subtle other offerings, including pop up performers inside the museum. It was evident that all performers loved to be part of MOFO.
With all the performances one could almost oversee that MONA is currently showcasing Gilbert and George’s first Australasian retrospective, which showcases ninety-seven of their brightly-coloured, anti-elitist pictures from 1970 to 2014.
MONA’s after hours “Faux Mo” party took up residence in a defunct city office block, which was turned into a haunted party house / nightclub of sorts: The building, which is marked for demolition, became a debauched disco lair housing a kaleidoscopic array of performances from hip hop to all out rock ’n’ roll, DJs, an arcade, artworks, professionally manned bars, chill out areas, mazes interspersed surprises and oddities in all shapes and forms.
Curated by Hobart locals James Walsh, Aedan Howlett and Jamin, in collaboration with Brian Ritchie, Faux Mo highlights included the cartoon beats of DJ Yoda, no wave darlings James Chance and the Contortions and many of the performers of the MOFO fest including Japan’s godfather of atmospheric hip-hop, DJ Krush in a more intimate setting, rounding off MOFO’s celebrations with his jazz and soul sampling on Sunday evening.