This post features reflections on my recent visit to The Museum of Old and New Art or MONA in Hobart, Australia. I discuss the ‘O,’ a custom-designed mobile experience for museum visitors that replaces traditional wall-mounted interpretation texts.
Last month I travelled to Tasmania to checkout MONA’s latest exhibition, The Museum of Everything. The show features an array of works by artists who ‘fall outside the confines of the art world proper, the work of ordinary people, working far from the cultural metropolis’ (MONA website, 2017). After visiting MONA for the first time in 2014 and LOVING IT, I was super excited to return to see their new stuff.
MONA is the lovechild of David Walsh, a professional gambler and art lover who opened the museum in 2011. Built underneath a cliff-face that overlooks the River Derwent, the museum has exhibited an array of controversial and thought-provoking art including Patricia Puccini’s Skywhale, Egyptian mummies and a giant cloaca (poop) machine. Yes, you read that correctly.
The MONA building was also designed to naturally flood as the River Derwent rises over the next 50 years. When questioned about this in a 2014 Guardian article, Walsh said:
“It will be an evaluation of whether it has actually achieved anything. If everyone says, ‘Ah f*%$ it, let’s leave it – let’s just let the ground floor flood,’ that would be a good result because it would mean whatever the structure or system that makes choices – which I assume will be someway democratic in 50 years – has expressed its opinion.”
I feel like this quote somehow embodies the museum’s ethos. Regardless, MONA has been a monumental success for the Tasmanian tourism and the Australian art world.
At the museum, there are no wall-mounted texts in the galleries. Instead visitors are given a mobile iPod devise containing a custom-designed audio-visual app called The O. As people walk through the galleries, the O uses a wireless positioning system to locate artworks in close proximity. The app features content such as curator’s discussion of works, artist interview, music and David Walsh’s rambling thoughts. Each artwork features three levels of content which can be grouped into:
“Art wank’ (look for the cock-and-balls icon, you can’t miss it); ‘Gonzo’ (Walsh and curators go Hunter S. Thompson on yo’ ass); ‘Ideas’ (little chunks of info, for those with a short attention span); and interviews with artists… Once you’ve visited the museum, you’ll be able to continue using the O app at home. Like Tinder, but with more art and stuff.” From the MONA website.
Visitors can also select whether they ‘love’ or ‘hate’ a particular artwork (check out the pic above). Whilst walking through The Museum of Everything I used the O continuously. I tried out the object summaries, curator’s wank, Gonzo and ideas. I found the title ‘curator’s wank’ kind of misleading as the content was pretty standard and straight forward curatorial information. There were certainly more personal references and a much more conversational tone to what you would normally have on wall-mounted exhibition texts but overall, I wouldn’t say the ‘curator’s wank’ was fundamentally different to anything I had experienced previously. Or maybe this is because ‘wank’ is the standard talk in galleries, lolz.
I really enjoyed the ‘ideas’ option on The O, especially the music tracks. I always listen to music while walking through exhibitions and it was cool to have someone else’s thoughtful selection of beats to guide thinking in new directions. I also found the music encouraged me to connect more emotionally with the art.
The thing I loved most MONA was that it encouraged me to make and explore relations between myself and art from outside the traditional thinking of major institutions. As I live in England, a country that seems to have such a class system and establishment, it felt refreshing to experience art from a new and fundamentally different perspective.
The Art Processor website goes into the geeky technical make-up of The O here: http://artprocessors.net/projects/mona/