Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The MONA experience was pretty big. It was the main reason for going down and I went with no prior knowledge other than that it was drawing world wide attention and the guy was being sued by the tax office. Not knowing much was a good start. It is completely immersive and the cleaner the slate the better in retrospect. Just go. Then go again.

The guy is David Walsh, Walshie. The things you hear down there which may be variably accurate are that he is a university dropout, very bright, direct to the point of is-there-a-diagnosis-for-this, worked out the algorithm(s) to beat the gambling odds (on line betting on horses and whatever else) and is spending about $100 mill (and that's not the collection as far as I know) developing the winery he bought into a museum, his museum, not answerable to other funders - government, benefactors, arts boards - to show his stuff his way. And he sure does.

He strikes me as being fearless, as fearless as fearless can be. Atheist by declaration (which embraces as much certainty as do the god-botherers), his interest is in the matter we are but won't be for long, if I read him correctly, with no interest in the beyond-the-transience when that which we are dissembles. Dead End.

While dead is the recurring motif there is much more, and even a few laughs. It's probably the only thing worth planning for, death I mean, and Walshie (Australians use familiarity as one way of breaking down barriers - even the flight attendant would look at the boarding card and welcome you aboard by your first name) must be giving it some thought, if not preparing. I did mention in a previous post that you can become a perpetual member with the final reward of cremation and onto the shelf in the museum you go. Well, it's not $75, of course, it's $75K. I missed the K, that special K.

We've got a shelf of dogs by the way - Megsy, Cae, Waldo, Spot, Sissy - in terra cotta pots or wooden boxes, variously labelled. I should make an exhibit - dead dogs  - and sit it side by side with Golly when he goes in his glass display case. What a difference a museum visit can make.

Anyway, for background on the Museum and the man, there's some googlies I've searched out here, and <*not for kiddies* warning> here , and herefrom where this perspective, which is hard to see as the ferry approach just doesn't allow it, comes.

Anyway, death must be on his mind, and he's keeping it in ours.

Nothing is labelled and the first night, fuelled by a couple of rosemary martinis (the bar is the first thing to meet you INSIDE the museum) was an unplanned exploration of the place - three levels of sandstone excavation, subdivided and dressed such that each section is like none of the others, linked, connected, disgorging, embracing, expelling. On the second visit, I took the O. The O is the interactive guide and the most brilliant I've come across. And with the ticket price, as should it be in all other galleries. What crap to pay more to learn more. And locals, Tasmanians, (two heads is the give away says the blurb ) get in for free.

The O (theo) knows where you are (remember nothing is labelled) with its own little GPS, and shows you what's near you, when you ask it, and there's background reading (artwank and gonzo, which is David W's take on things), plus audio for some (interviews with artists, commentators etc) and the option to like it or hate it. I heard that when something gets too many 'likes' it's likely to get pulled. Then if you give your O your email addy, it stores your tour and you can revisit in on line forever (till death that is) including your ratings, and even the sequence you followed with an interactive display of your museum tracks. Bars and toilets not included, praise the lord.

Museum fatigue is delayed (unlike death) by the brilliance of the presentation and the endless variations in levels and space. The closest I can think of is Musée du quai Branly. There's the death room for example where entry is restricted to two at a time, a nearly totally black space with stepping stones across inky black water, ending at the coffin and mummy of Paurisis. And a butterfly poem and a spotlit noose.

To give you an idea of David Walsh, here's what he (gonzo) says:

"Mummies are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself difficult to pin down. Parts of the human brain can function while the rest has failed. Under severe oxygen stress the brain shuts down less essential components. And tax agents are clearly brain dead, but by some definitions functional

But 'brain death' only applies to organisms with brains. When is a plant dead, or a coral, or a virus? To pin this down we need a negative sedition, a cessation of biological activity, the end of life.

So to make death stick we have to pin down what life is. That hasn't proved to be easy either. When i was a kid we were taught about a bunch of characteristics that define life such as 'response to stimuli'. Obviously viable organisms have been found which break each of the rules in turn. The 'Wiki' article on 'life' actually uses the phrase 'all or most' of these phenomena.

The best definition running around at the moment seems to be 'self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution', also from Wiki's 'life' article. This seems to excuse viruses because of the 'self-sustained' bit so that should probably be turfed as well.

So you're dead if you could once undergo biological evolution but now cannot. Don't tell grandma.

The only space not underground is beyond the tunnel, a long cold sewer like concrete people-activated music interactive tube

which leads to the library, then to the corridor where you can charcoal rub sheets of paper on massive blocks of granite from a Hiroshima cathedral and each rubbing, signed and dated, goes into a large bank of black drawers on the wall (here, you do yours together she said to us, in a tender moment of understanding). Next you emerge into daylight and the pavilion built solely for the Anselm Keifer Sternenfall (he wanted a pavilion so he fucking got one says Walshie). For me it didn't really work. There's an arrogance and specialness that robs it of much of its impact.

It's like the old ghost train when you suddenly burst out into the outside, before just as quickly swinging back around, doors flapping, and disappearing again, eyes startled by the light.

Back into the dark and the ride you really don't want to stop.
 are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself diffi


David said...

The more I read about this man and his vision, which you have so eloquently bound in to your mortuary meditation, the more I like the sound (and the look) of them.

wanderer said...

And I have yet to mention the Nitschke suicide machine the original of which is in the British Museum I think. No one else, bar the Poms, was prepared to so contaminate their society (said the no one elses). Sydney for example wimped it, admittedly under strong pressure from political and religious bullies, often the same mouth.

Susan Scheid said...

He is quite the character, and I enjoyed the way you tell the tale. The interactive guide sounds remarkable. Wish the Met Museum would do something like that. Maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous fabulous experience. If you get the chance go