We spent the week-end of the 9th-10th of November at Mona Museum as guests of Anne and Hugh. Here’s a great view of the whole place from the road to the central highlands.

We stayed the night in this, very luxurious apartment. They’re called pavilions and are all named after an influential Australian artist or architect. We were in Walter, named after Walter Burley Griffin. On the Mona website it says Walter’s main influence on David Walsh was to show that even the most lofty designs yield poor results without the chaos of iterative redesign. Make of that what you will. It was quite lovely; all very modern.

Here’s the view from the very finely appointed, but largely unused, kitchen.

And this was the view from the balcony in the morning. There were lots of birds to be seen and heard.

We didn’t use the kitchen, instead having a wonderful dinner at the new restaurant on site, Faro which is situated right on the water with lovely views. And fantastic food; here we are at the start of the meal.

Next day we had breakfast in the original museum restaurant, The Source. All very opulent looking these days.

In between we had lunch both days at another bistro in the museum grounds that was nice and casual with lots of people. Overall there seemed to be more people on this visit than on my other two; and more locals who are admitted to the museum free of charge. There was music and a full bar in the basement level both days. It’s a really vibrant place nowadays.

I love the device that lets you record your visit; which I’m now relying on to write this. It’s called The O. This tells me I first stopped beside the Julius Popp waterfall of words called bit.fall. The installation is connected to a computer that adds up how often words are being searched on the internet and then makes these words from water and lets them fall through the air. As the note says; One word at a time. Made of water. Just like you. Here’s a picture I took on a previous visit in March 2016. It’s mesmerising; you could sit or stand and watch it for a long time. You have to be quick to capture the word you want to record; interesting that I chose this one.

We took ourselves off to the room housing Mummy and coffin of Pausiris. There’s an actual Mummy plus alongside it an art-work imagining the living body inside. This is a replica of the Mummy which provides an X-ray picture of the body within; blood and sinews starting from the toes, gradually extending to the head. It’s the real coffin of a 70 year old man called Pausiris from the Ptolemaic to Roman Period, 100BCE-CE100. The O tells me these anthropoid plaster mummy coffins are very rare in museums because of their fragility. The coffin has never been opened and there is a real body inside. They’ve done CT scans on it at the Royal Hobart Hospital which is why they know it’s an old man which in itself is unusual at a time when the average lifespan was twenty. It’s all very imaginatively done. Enhanced by the positioning of the two sarcophogi on an island surrounded by black water and inside a very dark cavern into which you are ushered in twos and threes. Eery.

Then we all had a go on the exhibit called Pulse Room by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer who has a degree in chemistry. You hold onto two handles and a computer reads your pulse and sets off the closest light bulb to match your heart rhythm. I thought eventually the whole ceiling full of globes – there are 104 – lit up in time to your heartbeat but The O says the rest of the bulbs are flickering to the pattern of previous visitors. David Walsh saw this at the 2007 Venice Biennale where he said the artist wanted $20million for the artwork and 15th century villa in which it was housed. Instead David bought 100 lightbulbs and later paid the artist $30,000 and a beer. He, David, thinks it reveals pathos. It’s a very popular exhibit and people line up to participate.

We visited a room displaying an exhibit called Queen (a Portrait of Madonna) by Candice Breitz. I’ve seen this before but not taken much notice of it but sitting in front of a wall videos of thirty people singing this Madonna song was fun. It’s a matter of contention whether the artist is sending up, or applauding the artist. Apparently she has done the same thing with John Lennon and with Leonard Cohen. I’d like to see them!

One of my favourite things at Mona is Snake by Sydney Nolan, this is a vast piece – 46 metres long and 9 metres high; Nolan’s largest work. You can’t photograph the whole on your phone. But here’s a bit.

It’s made up of 1,620 separate sheets. and was partly inspired by the Australian desert in bloom after rain; and also by Nolan’s fascination with ancient Indigenous cultures. Here are some of the individual paintings that make up the work.

Snake is in the same space as the painting Sternenfall by the German artist Anselm Kiefer. It’s lead on canvas and maps part of the night sky, naming some of the stars and linking them in constellations. The stars also have numbers – recording distance, colour, size etc. – given to them by NASA scientists. The artist says attempting to make sense of the stars is all illusion. All of the constellations are illusions or ghosts. They do not exist. The light we see today was emitted millions, billions of years ago and was constantly changing anyway. The title means falling stars. Like most things at Mona, plenty to think about.

Artifact by Gregory Barsamian is nearby. This is a huge steel head filled with flashing lights which I’ve never been able to look at too long – there’s a warning about the impact of strobe lighting effects. The O tells me are apples falling from branches, being caught by green hands, turning into hats and yellow birds crashing into antique books that then slam shut. Without knowing the detail you get the picture – of the brain working overtime. I didn’t take a picture – couldn’t do it justice.

I did take a picture of Untitled by Jannis Kounellis and put it on Instagram suggesting the Prime Minister and his cronies would appreciate it. Jute coffee bags and coal. The artist is Greek and likes to use burlap sacks which can be found in every Levantine harbour as well as the world over. As The O says coal in Australia is the subject of extreme political debate. It’s a bit too basic for me as an artwork.

I have always really liked the very small exhibits that you view through very small windows lined up in a row along one wall. Each window reveals an exquisite, tiny artwork. Like this Figure of Bes. This is from Egypt, Ptolemaic to early Roman Period, 305BCE-100CE. It’s a statue of the dwarf deity Bes which protected women in childbirth and ensured the virility of men which protecting them from evil. He also drove away nightmares although he really looks as though he might give them to you! Cute is not quite the right word.

And here is Leda and the Swan, possibly Italy, Roman, 1-100CE. Based on the ancient Greek myth of the seduction, or rape, of Leda, daughter of Aetolian King Thestius and wife of Spartan King Tyndareus, by Zeus in the shape of a swan. Rarely seen in large scale sculptures from antiquity, small depictions of this story are found quite frequently on jewellery, terra cotta oil lamps and decorative relief vignettes like this one in cast bronze. Beautiful.

I didn’t take photos of the other small pieces which included a Votive figure of Bastet (a tiny thing), Eyes and brows, inlay fragments (would have been inserted into the face covering of an Egyptian Mummy – eery) and a Kitten Trophy Rug (and actual kitten pelt – weirdest of all).

That was just about it for looking at art on our first afternoon. A couple of hours is all I can really do. Anne and I found our way down to CinemaMona and watched the last bit of a film entitled I am making art by John Baldessari that we didn’t think was very good art. Then we just sat and talked. Two hours taking in art is about as much as I can do at any one time.

Then we went to dinner. Along the way catching the beautiful outdoor art of James Turrell; Amarna. On the Mona website it says Turrell harnesses the numinous potential of light and space; kind of like what God would do if he decided to build a gazebo. This was billed as a sunset display and we thought that meant a show. Here we are waiting – in the cold wind!

But it turned out that the gazebo changes colour over the hour long period commencing at sunset. It was beautiful.

According to the website Mona sees Amarna as an elevation of the museum’s hitherto subterranean ponderings of the human condition.

If that sounds vague, that’s because Turrell’s art must be seen to be believed. It really does.

This Guardian article reviews all of Turrell’s Mona works including some very fine pictures (better than my amateur ones!) I agree with the review when it says Turrell’s works steal the show at Mona at the moment. I didn’t know that Amarna has been there for a while, being one of 80 Skyspace installations Turrell has built in ‘high altitude and geographically isolated locations’.

Three other works by Turrell are new to Mona. Beside Myself is described in t he Guardian review as bathing you in clarifying light. I’m not sure that’s accurate. You are certainly immersed in light but I don’t think clarifying is the right word. You feel discombobulated walking along this passage which is on the way to the restaurant. Attendants are on hand to warn you not to go too close to the edge which would be easy to do, because walking through this light makes you lose all sense of where you are.

The colours are changing constantly as you are walking along and this adds to the simultaneous but contradictory feelings that you are floating on air at the same time that you are wading through something dense. Very strange feeling.

On the Mona Blog which is here, James Turrell says he wants people to treasure light just as we treasure physical things, collect them, pay a lot of money for them, even trade them, but I’m interested in this other kind of treasure. He goes on; I hope I’ve given light this physicality, so it has as much a stance as any material. I certainly think he has achieved that in these exhibits.

On our way out of the restaurant, having imbibed significant quantities of wine, Joe gave us a Kung Fu demonstration at the end of the walkway. Can you see him?

We didn’t experience Unseen Seen which is was contained in a sphere in the restaurant, only because we hadn’t got organised enough to do it. But the next day we booked in early to get to Event Horizon before the crowds gathered. The booking system for special exhibitions is great. All done through The O. I’m very pleased we got to experience this work. I didn’t know anything about it and so didn’t know what to expect. We had to take off our shoes, put on white socks and then walk upstairs and into a completely white space. As we stood within it the space changed colour; over and over again. Here’s Anne looking back towards the stairs through which we’d come.

While immersed in the colour I felt as though I was lost in a blizzard; with it very hard to work out where walls and ceilings were. The guide thought I must have read some commentary by the artist. Not so – it’s just what I felt. It is in fact very hard to describe the experience – you just have to go with the flow as colour envelopes everything around you. As with a florescent light, your eyes look black and weird. Having now read some of what James Turrell has said, I think he accomplishes what he has set out to do which is to make you see colour and light as a physical thing. Here’s a picture of the four of us, standing at the top of the stairs as we prepare to leave. Some have suggested we look like a cool rock band!

This new Turrell experience was at the start of our second day at Mona Museum and was in the new section called Pharos. I’m still a bit unclear where this starts and finishes. I think it includes this expansive place which you reach through a tunnel; there are now a whole lot of them offering different experiences. For instance in one you were bombarded with loud music. You’re a long way underground but I didn’t ever feel claustrophobic.

The tunnels are terrific – they really highlight the geology of the place.

There’s water coming through the rock here.

On the other hand, Pharos might be just this bit, where the installation 20:50 by Richard Wilson is housed. This consists of used sump oil and steel which is used to create quite a surreal effect. Here it is from above.

And here it is with a visitor, which breaks the illusion. Can you work out what you’re looking at? The O says experiencing this work is meant to be disconcerting, disorienting. An underground art gallery turned upside-down….The view is compellingly beautiful. Like the stillest lake, perfectly reflecting its shoreline. But unlike a reflection in water, or in a mirror, the reflection here is entirely on the surface; a seeming void below.

Further along in one of the tunnels we found this sparkling cave in which to have a sit down. Some frivolity for us.

This is what I was looking at.

And here’s Joe – just ‘cos it’s a nice photo.

Nearby was White House by Ai Weiwei. This is a wooden structure of a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) residential house. It’s painted white which is the colour of mourning in China. And it’s upright poles are all inserted into crystal-glass spheres so that it seems to be floating. David Walsh says; A beautiful thing, and consistent with Weiwei’s subverting of historical values. I thought it’d be nice to subvert his subversion by putting his house under the ground.

It has no nails but is constructed solely by way of traditional joinery which means it can be easily dismantled and re-assembled. Timeless craftwork.

Finally, time to check out some old favourites from previous visits. I really like this painting, which has an ethereal quality to it. Dandelion by the Japanese artist Tomoko Kashiki. She depicts figures in dreamlike realms, slightly blurred, as though moving in slow motion; suggesting at once movement and the memory of movement. As The O says it does conjure up the figure of Narcissus but this young woman doesn’t seem vain but, rather, vulnerable: adrift in this imagined floating world.

I find it rather extraordinary that the following three works are by the same artist – Léopold Rabus from Switzerland. First this very delicate Petits oiseaux sur une branche (Little birds on a branch). It’s so delicate and looks as though it could feature on any Victorian drawing room wall.

Then there is this, Personnes derrièreune serre (People behind a greenhouse). I thought it was a crude depiction of a brief and loveless sexual encounter. Not likely to be found on a Victorian wall. But The O tells me the couple, weirdly entwined so that the man appears to have no head and the woman-girl seems unnaturally contorted, were in fact painted from a crime-scene photo of murder victims lying on the ground. I prefer my imaginative response.

And a third work by the same artist is this Maison en cheveux (House of Hair). He took as his inspiration the Swiss tradition of collecting hair from a deceased family member to make floral compositions or other symbolic objects. He wonders how something that was regarded as normal comes to be seen as outdated and inappropriate. I just thought it was a cute little house. I think Mr Rabus is drawn to the macabre.

A series of drawings by Léopold’s father, Alex Rabus, are nearby. They are very macabre renderings of aspects of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. Very Freudian, macabre drawings. His mother, Renata Rabus is also an artist and has some exquisite embroidered artworks on display at Mona.

Then it was time to come up to the surface for some fresh air. Obviously there is much more to be seen. You could spend a very long time there. But a few hours is all I can manage in one go. The whole museum immersion experience was exhilarating but exhausting. Having been a little disappointed on my second visit in 2016 I think Mona has got its mojo back and is well worth as long a visit as you can manage.

Here, to conclude our visit, is a view from outside.


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