Oh, MONA.

MONAA few weekends ago, Tim and I went to Hobart for the weekend to visit the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). We have been anticipating the opening of the museum for some years, partly because of the MONA billboard on the Republic Tower on the corner of  LaTrobe and Queen Streets in Melbourne. For years now, odd and frequently disturbing images have appeared, several storeys high, at that intersection, a promise/warning about what we could expect when David Walsh finally finished building his private museum.

The gallery does not disappoint. We approached it by ferry from Hobart and climbed the stairs to the entrance. The gallery is set partially below ground, although one windowless wall faces the outside. The entrance is a building with a reflective surface and a tennis court, across which people stroll. A staff member says the tennis court was built there basically because Walsh likes to play tennis, and since he could build it, he did. It was at that point I realised that, in a fictional world, David Walsh would either be the eccentric billionaire who costumed up and fought crime by night, or he’d be the eccentric billionaire who will take over the world with his cunning technology unless James Bond can stop him in time. Not knowing the man, I figure he could go either way.

Whatever his superheroic/supervillainous tendencies might be, Walsh has an eye for the startling and fascinating in art. He has bought some of my favourite pieces seen either at galleries in Victoria or on my travels. Some pieces are shocking, some silly, some dull, some beautiful: and of course, how each piece falls into which category is totally in the eye of the beholder. That’s one of my favourite things about art—the way it embodies that line of Shakespeares that “Nothing is good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”

MONA was purpose-built to showcase Walsh’s collection, including the massive work by Sidney Nolan, “Snake”.  MONA is unique for other reasons too. Walsh paid for the whole thing himself, then opened it up to the public for free. This means that no-one—no government body, no tabloid paper shrieking about wasting taxpayer’s money, no unhappy customer—can tell him what to do with it or what to display. If you don’t like it, leave. If you don’t think your kids should see some of the pieces, the gallery guide highlights the sections where the more ‘challenging’ pieces can be found,. Everything else is up to your own discretion And it’s not like you can demand your money back if you’re displeased. This is a gallery where every adult is treated like a grown-up who can make their own decisions.

One of the other things I love about this gallery, besides the amazing selection of work, is the way information about each piece is presented. Instead of having tiny placquards on the wall telling you the title and perhaps a snippet from the artist or an art critic, each visitor gets a customised iTouch to carry around. The device tunes into wireless points throughout the gallery to display whichever pieces are nearby. You can tap on an image to find the title, artist and medium and then choose a number of further options.

Some pieces are accompanied by one or more audio tracks, often interviews with the artist. Other interactive options are labelled Artwank (serious essays from art critics), Ideas (snippets of ideas or comments from the artist, David Walsh or one of the other people involved in the gallery) and Gonzo (extracts from emails between the gallery and the artists, or between the David and other gallery folk, or just essays from David Walsh’s sometimes skewed perspective.)

The genius of these elements is the way they provide several voices that offer ways of interpreting the art. You can go the serious approach, or you can find out that Walsh hated the piece when he first got it, or that he bought it on a whim and hates it now but the others won’t let him get rid of it because they like the interview thatt goes with it. The commentator makes fun of art, or sees something unusual, or draws curious, personal conclusions from it. Every voice is different, and every voice tells you that it’s okay to take it seriously, or not. It’s okay to like it, or not. It’s okay to have a different opinion, and to express it.

This makes MONA different from other galleries in other ways, too. It’s not a muted space, full of hushed reverence for the art on display. In fact, it’s full of quiet chatter as people talk about what they are seeing with their friends and even with strangers. By presenting the multiple voices through the iTouch, MONA breaks down the idea that only ‘qualified’ people can have a say.

Without going into detail, the gallery is full of pieces about sex and death, but more than that, it’s full of art about living and life. It is full of ideas about being human, and sex and death are a significant part of that. I didn’t like everything there, but I loved a lot of it. I was challenged, amused, moved—and sometimes completely unmoved.

The final thing for which I adore MONA was the ability to enter my email address into the iTouch so that the gallery could email a ‘virtual tour’ to me. Every item I tapped on and read about (and voted whether I LOVE or HATE) got tagged. A few days after I got home, MONA had sent me an email link to my tour. The link led to a page with every piece listed, accompanied by a photo and the Artwank, Ideas and Gonzo information. I can revisit my tour and pour again over my reactions to Claire Morgan’s exquisite Tracing Time, or Jannis Kounellis’s display of two goldfish in a white bowl of water containing a carving knife, which caused so many exclamations of pity for the fish, despite the fact they were in no danger at all.

The current exhibiton, Monanism, ends in July. I can’t wait to get back to Hobart in the second half of the year to see what else David Walsh and MONA have in store.

Not dead, but very tired.

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. It’s been more than a month since my last blog update. I’m afraid I was preoccupied with editing the second vampire novel (working title Walking Shadows, though I suspect that will eventually change) and now I’m editing a short story for the Twelfth Planet Press anthology. Other, more mundane, parts of life have also intruded, but nobody wants or needs to know about that.

Instead: exciting new things!

I have declared myself a supporter of the National Year of Reading 2012! I hope to be more involved in the campaign, but generally – folks who love to read should do more of it! And they should encourage the kids and adults in their lives to do more of it too! To that end, please feel free to comment with your suggestions of great books to get as gifts for people who seem reluctant to open a book for fear they will be bored to death. For example, to encourage my young male nephews to read I used to get them books by Roald Dahl. One was so leery of books I got him The Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business, because how can any self-respecting child resist a funny picture book about poop?!

I’m very pleased to see that Mary Borsellino’s The Wolf House is now available as a paperback at Amazon.com. Go and buy it, vampire-loving folks, because it’s full of surprises, wonderfulness, horror, sadness and life.

In the app side of things, my app, Melbourne Literary, was recently updated. My husband, Tim Richards, also released his latest app, Melbourne Getaways – the perfect app for those in Melbourne looking for ideas for day and weekend trips out of Melbourne, or visitors to Melbourne wondering what happens outside the Melbourne metropolitan area.  He also updated his Melbourne Historical app, with more of the city’s hidden historical secrets! The apps only cost about the same as a cup of decent Melbourne coffee and contain a wealth of personally-researched information. If you buy and like them, feel free to go and leave a review in the iTunes store, because we’d be thrilled if you did.

Tim has also released a new eboook –   We Have Here the Homicide: A Travel Writer’s Strange Affair With Poland. It’s a book of his published travel writing about Poland and is full of observations both witty and poignant about the country that is just about his home from home.

I hope to be back to a more regular blogging routine now that the edits are away. I have GaryViews to do, and rants about language, and all kinds of things, so I had better be!

GaryView: Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant

Gary and LissaSnippets of conversation overheard during the evening…

Lissa: Thanks for coming with me tonight, Gary. You may have saved my life.

Gary: I thought you said it was just a work thing.

Lissa: It is. And I love my job, but I hate work functions. I never know what to talk about besides work.

Gary: … I know what you mean. I never even had a job to talk about.

Lissa: You and I always have lots to talk about.

Gary: I know.  <smiles>

Lissa: Anyway, I thought you might enjoy checking Dracula’s out.

Gary: I came here once before. In the 80s, to see what it was like.

Lissa: And what was it like?

Gary: Okay. I couldn’t eat anything, and I didn’t understand any of the jokes, and I was by myself so people kept giving me funny looks. But the decorations were really good.

Lissa: Well, we can keep each other company a bit this time.

***

Lissa: Gary, this is my boss, Beatrice.

Beatrice: So your Lissa’s mysterious Gary!

Gary: Ah. Yes. (looks at Lissa) Am I mysterious?

Lissa: Not to me.

Beatrice: But all she ever says is “I’m seeing Gary this weekend” but she doesn’t tell us anything about you.

Lissa: There’s not much more to say, is there Gary?

Gary: No. We get together and watch TV mostly.

Lissa: And talk.

Beatrice: I’ll bet there’s more to it.

Lissa: Gary and I are just friends, Beatrice.

Beatrice: ‘Friends’ is good, but (c0nspiratorially to Gary) it sounds like more than friends when she talks about you.

Gary: (deadpan) That’s because I’m really a vampire and Lissa and I sometimes get caught up in vampire business.

Beatrice: (roars with laughter and slaps Gary on the arm) I can see why you like him, Lissa! Good on you for getting in the mood, Gary!

Lissa: (trying to get the startled look off her face) Yeah, he’s a hoot.

***

Lissa: Gary, stop telling me what’s coming up in the ghost ride. It’s supposed to be a surprise.

Gary: But I can see what’s there.

Lissa: That’s because you can see in the dark. But you’re kind of spoiling the fun.

Gary: But you don’t really think it’s scary do you? It’s just animatronics and a soundtrack and Oh!!

Lissa: (dies laughing) You got scared by the wind machine!!!

***

Gary: I don’t get it.

Lissa: Well, I’m not going to explain it.

Gary: I mean, I know it’s a joke about sex. I just don’t know why it’s supposed to be funny.

Lissa: I don’t either, Gary. Never mind. They’ll be singing again soon.

Gary: The singing’s pretty good. Even though that’s not about vampires either. I really thought there’d be more vampire stuff in the show.

Lissa: They did the song from True Blood. That was cool.

Gary: Yeah.

***

Gary: Is that a chocolate coffin?

Lissa: It is! It’s delicious!

Gary: Smells good.

Lissa: You think it all smells good.

Gary: Yep.

Lissa: Tastes good too!

***

Beatrice: God, Gary, did you buy everything?

Gary: No. Just the programme. Lissa bought me the glass. See. It’s a skull with vampire teeth.

Beatrice: I know! I got one for Jean too.

Gary: That’s Mrs Beatrice, isn’t it?’

Lissa: Gary!

Beatrice: (laughing) I know it’s what you all call her, you know. It drives Jean nuts, but I kind of like it.

Jean: (grabs Beatrice by the hand) At my work, they call you Mrs Jean.

Beatrice: Oh, excellent. I like that too.

Gary: Nice to meet you both. Mrs Beatrice. Mrs Jean.

Beatrice: (roars with laughter) Seriously, Lissa, your friend is a hoot.

Lissa: Yep. (grins at Gary) He is.

***

Lissa: Did you have a good night?

Gary: I did. Thanks for asking me along.

Lissa: Thank you so much for coming. I had a good time too. And Beatrice thinks you’re awesome.

Gary: That’s because she thinks I’m joking when I’m not.

Lissa: Maybe. Still. I’m really glad you came.

Gary: Me too. Even if most of the jokes and music weren’t about vampires.

Lissa: At least you got a vampire skull drinking cup out of it.

Gary: And it flashes! (turns on the light switch at the bottom of the cup. They watch the vampire skull glass flash multiple colours and admire its schlockiness for a while.)

***

Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant has been operating in Melbourne for over 30 years.

*For newcomers, the GaryView is a review of books/films/TV/entertainment carried out as a conversation between Lissa Wilson (librarian) and Gary Hooper (vampire) , characters from my book ‘The Opposite of Life’.

Chronos Awards: Some cool people you should nominate/vote for

Further to my earlier squeeing about the Chronos Awards, there are a lot of really amazing people who are eligible for the awards this year. You should nominate them. And you should vote for them. And if you you don’t know who they are, you should find out!

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it includes some of the Melbourne/Victorian people whose work I have enjoyed in 2010.

Best novel:

Foz Meadows’ YA vampire novel, Solace and Grief, is eligible. So is Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine, which I haven’t read yet but by all accounts is a most excellent novel.

Best short story:

  • Lucy Sussex, Albert & Victoria/Slow Dreams (Baggage, Ed Gillian Polack)
  • Tessa Kum, Acception (Baggage, Ed Gillian Polack)
  • Paul Haines, Her Gallant Needs (Sprawl, Ed Alisa Krasnostein)
  • Felicity Dowker, Bread and Circuses (Scary Kisses, Ed Liz Grzyb)

Cover of Scary KissesFelicity has put a great list of all her eligible work on her blog, as well as suggestions for other people you should consider nominating,so so and check that out for other potential nominees.

Alisa Krasnostein has also provided a helpful list of potential nominees, including Alex Pierce for her work on the podcast, Galactic Suburbia!

If you know of any work that is eligible for the Chronos Awards, tell us about it here so we can read/view/nominate/vote at Continuum 7!!

And finally, if anyone is really keen to read The Truth About Brains without buying the whole book it’s in, drop me a line and I’ll sort something out…

Words are like oxygen