Tasmanian Tales Part I (+ vlog)

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11.08.2017

Tasmania, You stole my heart.

With all the surprise rainbows, sparkling gemstones, easy friendships, spectacular sunsets, intriguing history, and sporadic sightings of whales, I can’t say much more than “I adore You for all that You are and all that You’ve let us experience.”

— DAY ONE —

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Our 65-minute flight that departed Melbourne just shy of 6 am, blessed us with a beautiful in-flight sunrise and a subsequent landing on a freshly glowing, windy island that was Tasmania.

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Rainbow count: 1

“A sky of purple hues means good news,” said Roger, the driver of the shuttle bus which transported us straight into the heart of Hobart, where our hostel, The Pickled Frog, was located. (This was also where we saw the first of many rainbows during this trip!) The hostel, complete with friendly staff, good wifi (with a fitting password, “froglegs” hahaha), a warm fireplace, a ‘what’s up in Hobart’ blackboard, a pool table, a lounge area, a kitchen common room, and cosy, heated rooms, was adorable and comfortingly homely in a land that was foreign to both of us.

“We’re in Room 12, you’ll take bed C and I’ll take bed D?”

“Okay!”

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Just a block or two down Liverpool Street was Eumarrah Wholefoods, a health food store, which I immediately called ‘a store of treasures’, and which quickly became a favourite of mine. It resembled my go-to store back in Melbourne, The Source Bulk Foods — their products were impeccably arranged, and they had adopted the ‘buy as much as you need’ method of shopping (complete with scoops and paper bags), which You know I love love looove!

Pro tip: If You’re into pistachios, I’d highly recommend their pistachio-cranberry energy slice! 😉

Address: Eumarrah Wholefoods, 39 Barrack St, Hobart TAS 7000, Australia

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We continued further East, down Murray Street, to the wharf for we had to make our way to MONA — either by boat or by bus. After the slight drizzle of the morning, the water was calm, the skies were blue as could be, and the air was cool and crisp.

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We were told that the next departure of the ferry to MONA wasn’t until an hour and a half later, so we opted for the MONA ROMA bus, which took us on a 20-minute journey, ten kilometres northwest of Hobart’s city centre, through suburbs and down a narrow winding road that came to a halt in an eclectic* space’s carpark. So there we were on the grounds of MONA, which sits on an area of excavated sandstone by the Derwent River at Berriedale.

*Eclectic — There were rusty huts, loose pieces of torn cloth strung on clothes drying racks, and tennis courts that didn’t quite fit where they were situated… yet, knowing this was part of the oddity of MONA itself, all of it somehow… worked.

“There’s something to everything,” Sarah uttered, with half the intention of cautioning me, and half of expressing the bubbling excitement in her heart. :’)

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The museum, a private art collection, belongs to a multi-millionaire called David Walsh. It is the largest of its kind in the whole of Australia! (Monanisms is the name of the permanent collection and the museum’s own book.) The collection is extraordinary and the number of pieces seems beyond counting (get this, Sarah and I spent a good 7-8 hours here and I reckon we had only barely skimmed the surface!). There are permanent, evolving, and changing exhibitions over three gigantic floors — each floor was at least 10-15 metres tall, and for each visitor to remember their time at the museum, they are provided with an oPod (aka. The O), which was an iPhone-type device with the museum’s app in it. The app provides visitors with information on the works (there was one funny moment when it warned us: “Warning! Sexy stuff ahead!” hahaha), and visitors would then have the option to record and email (themselves) what they had viewed during their perusal of the museum.

I’m no professional art critic, but one doesn’t need to be an art critic to know how an artwork makes them feel. I found it confronting, beautiful, haunting, intriguing, uncongenial, spectacular, uncomfortable, and spell-binding all at once. How? I am no wiser. But that — all of that — described exactly what MONA was to me.

When Sarah and I visited, MONA had installations (the light one was my favourite! Go to 2:14 in the vlog!), paintings, sculptures, skins, photographs, videos, pictures, casts and carvings. There were also sound rooms, movie theatres and many smaller rooms within rooms. Some of the art dates back thousands of years, while others were modern. The materials — WOW — used seemed to include just about everything from agar agar to wax and metals, melted cigarette lighters to cast bronze, and even from stones to canvas, paper and polystyrene!


Here were a couple of artworks that stood out to me:

#1: The first of many was bit.fall by German artist Julius Popp. It was put together using a computer, electronic devices, a pump, 320 magnetic valves, a stainless steel basin, and water. Go to 1:02 of the vlog below to view it in action!

“Like all of Popp’s work, it is concerned with the relationship between humans and technology. Bit.fall works using two related cycles: a water cycle (a tank, pump and valve) and the internet news cycle. Water gathers in the tank and is loaded with information via a computer programme that searches online news sources for words of statistical significance; each drop of water forms a pixel, or bit, of information. Timing is important. As the water falls, the word has already begun to dissolve. You read it but do not have time to fully process its meaning: here comes the next word. And the next. It’s a lovely metaphor — the relentless wash of words over our consciousness in the age of ‘the internet’. Popp’s hypothesis is that human nature is being changed by the flow of information — for the worse. In particular, we are becoming apathetic ethical agents: Human brains have a specific speed, and once you go beyond that, they get lost. We are getting too much information too quickly. How should we be able to emotionally process information that we get from Iran or Afghanistan or Pakistan or India? How should we deal with it? We have no means of taking action to change anything personally. […] In sum, the freedom brought by access to information at some point began to eat away at us.”

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#2: Drawing with the Comparator Mirror, by using a pencil to copy a photograph. It’s challenging because one would not see one’s subject superimposed on the drawing surface to trace, as one would with camera obscura. Instead, one would constantly move one’s head back and forth over the edge of the mirror, alternately seeing one’s pencil drawing and then the photograph one was copying.

 

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#3: A Defecation Machine (a ‘gastro-intestinal’ machine) called Cloaca Professional by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye.

Delvoye took eight years to develop this exhibit, after consultations with experts in fields ranging from plumbing to computer technology to gastroenterology.

The machine is fed and maintained at body temperature while food travels through a kind of mechanical and chemical assembly line involving ‘organs’, enzymes necessary for digestion, farting, and a smelly solid end product (it legitimately smelled like poo!). I quote Delvoye himself: “When I was going to art school, all my family said was that I was wasting my time, and now I have made a work of art about waste

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#4: A REAL MUMMY. I reckon that shall suffice for justification? Haha!

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#5: Nature Molle Soft Life by French artist Michael Blazy. One of the main reasons this one drew Sarah and I in as much as it did was because of how much it tempted us to touch the ‘table cloth’ that was made out of ‘agar-agar’ and glue. Of course, it wasn’t allowed, and that didn’t sit quite well with our childlike selves that wanted to experience and know of the texture of everything and anything around us. Hahaha. What can I say? This was the exact instinct that helped us acclimatise with the world around us as growing toddlers.

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#6: A 15, 145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion by Henry Joseph Darger.

This was one of the more confronting and haunting pieces that I saw in the museum. The visual subject matter of the work ranged from idyllic scenes in Edwardian interiors and tranquil-flowered landscapes populated by children and fantastic creatures, to scenes of horrific terror and carnage depicting young children being tortured and massacred.

“One idiosyncratic feature of Darger’s artwork is its depiction of apparently transgender characters. Many of his girl subjects are shown to have penises when unclothed or partially clothed. Darger biographer Jim Elledge speculates that this represents a reflection of Darger’s own childhood issues with gender identity and homosexuality.”

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On the night of the second day on the heart-shaped island 240km south of mainland Australia, I wrote postcards to Shu of Singapore and Mimi of Cambridge. To describe the enigma that was MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), I used these very words: "an adventure which was intriguing, confronting, haunting, confusing, incredible, and inspiring." It was delicate yet intense, calm yet dramatic… an absolute paradox in every sense: the exhibits that repulsed me the greatest were also the ones that pulled me in the most. I wanted to find out more, yet the fear of what I didn't know or couldn't understand made me hesitant. Still, I went forth. Think clay vaginas of 70 anonymous women, a defecation machine ('fed' every 4 hours) producing 'man-made faeces' that actually smelled like the real shit (ahha), the manic work of schizophrenics that portrayed what their world looked like, a tortured artist's lunatic view of his own suffering: "THIS IS THE DIRTY LITTLE VIVIAN BRATS WERE ARE CHOKING TO DEATH TEE HEE", a confronting perception of death through the eyes of a mummy that once lived, a cupboard full of shelves, that, when pulled out, played recordings of strangers' voices professing their deepest, most genuine love for You… You'd, against logical thought, almost believe them. It didn't feel like the dimension of life I was used to. (To be continued…)

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And a couple more that I loved:

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Midway through our perusal, Sarah and I took a lunch break at MONA’s very own The Source Restaurant, where I had a dish of a quinoa salad complete with broccoli and almonds among other delicious additions. It was right as we sat down that I glanced to my right and squealed, “rainbow!” It probably isn’t a secret anymore now that I may have a little obsession with rainbows. 😉

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Rainbow count: 2

As a fellow museum-goer, John W., had written in MONA’s guest book, “Whatever you think of the art, it’s an experience!”

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We made our way out of MONA just as the final rays of sun started disappearing, boarding our 5pm ferry back to Hobart soon after. It was a quick ride of MONA-esque music (think Dare (Soulware Remix) by Gorillaz), aggressive wind-blown waves, and utmost appreciation for the day was very very close to perfect.

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— MORE PICTURES —

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— VLOG —

 

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