Thursday, March 24, 2011

Descent into the Underworld - MONA

Entrance to Mona - still awaiting permission to give you a glimpse of what's inside

MONA stands for Museum of Old and New Art and is David Walsh's private collection housed on a little promontory overlooking the Derwent on the former Alcorso Estate. [Claudio Alcorso was an Italian businessman and another of Tasmania's great benefactors from the previous generation who also began one of its first vineyards]. The building constructed on the site of Alcorso's former home, is a lot more interesting than it looked from the highway, with a variety of finishes, levels and labyrinthine spaces  inside.

No windows though. It seemed significant to me that after entering at ground level, you proceeded to go down and down, into amorphous dark recesses not unlike entering deep into the unconscious of  another's mind.You do wonder why he kept this or bought that. Sometimes this is explained in the little high tech GPS like gadget that you are given which tells you about the work you are looking at.

There  are few pretty things here. Objects and artifacts reach out from the darkness to catch your attention for a while. The black tomb. A sarcophagus or two, a bright shiny coin, a bright red sports car that looked like it had been made from marshmallow. Furniture. Some exhibits flash and move. An interactive installation  speaks of love when you open the drawers.  My sister observed quite different things, so perhaps it reveals more about your own mind, than that of its curator. A Freud Museum writ large.

Strangely, the scenes of violence and dismemberment did not seem as shocking as those depicting defecation.  Perhaps television is to blame for this desensitisation. The Cloaca machine on the other hand, although a big hit with visitors, was vaguely offensive to me, despite its clinical and thoroughly hygienic and far too realistic demonstration of the digestive process. I didn't stay around for the big event. I expect that shows how repressed I am.The brochure does warn that some people may feel outraged and confronted by some exhibits and shows which areas have strobe lights or require parental guidance. I also felt uncomfortable about showing too much interest in some of the screenings while other people were present. You sort of felt you should be doing it in private or at least with consenting adults or very close friends.

There was a moment when I was looking for the way out when I was seized with a kind of panic. Although the exits are shown on the brochure, I couldn't read it in the dark and for a while I was afraid that we were all destined to become part of the collection at the whim of a deranged curator as in some kind of horror movie, but eventually, when I realised they were not those human statues you sometimes see in the mall, the staff proved very friendly and helpful and pointed me in the right direction.
I felt disoriented when I finally swam up to the surface and emerged blinking in the light. It was like having been to the pictures in the middle of the day, complete with a faint sense of guilt that you have done or seen something you shouldn't have, like wagging school or taking a sickie. Again, that probably says more about me than MONA. My sister from whom I had managed to become separated during our visit, wasn't all that talkative either - lost in thought perhaps, reflecting on what she'd seen and what it all meant.

It is a strange voyeuristic experience being allowed even a small glimpse into another's way of thinking and feeling. In contrast to many other other artistic endeavours here, which often strike me as being somewhat precious, this did challenge quite a lot of my preconceptions about what constitutes art. Thank you David, for a thoroughly original experience and especially that it was free of charge. It was also thoroughly professional.
Now dear readers, I challenge you to go  and see it yourself.

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