MONA Review Kick-off
Updated 23rd February 2020 – This travel review on MONA aims to give you MONA’s vibe. The review starts from the first time I heard about her, because that is when she started to seduce my curiosity.
Let me explain.
“Probably,” I replied to the first friend, NV, not that I knew anything about MONA. Rather, NV got that response out of me because her eyes were wide and her voice was low, indicating that MONA was a strange case of Enter at Own Risk.
Naturally, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to love MONA or not, but it didn’t matter because I was already intrigued. Then I began wondering whether MONA was on an island. Was she an island? Or some dystopian town nestled in a Tasmanian valley, covered in fairy lights?
However, I held back the questions feeling like I should’ve already known about MONA, given that her sultry reputation preceded her.
By the third friend, my probably became a strong yes although I hadn’t even gotten around to secretly looking up MONA yet.
Simply, the element of mystery and the promise of surprise (whether nice or nasty) had aroused my curiosity enough to convince me that Jim and I had to go…
Booking our tickets to MONA
We first enquired about booking the MR-1 Mona Roma Ferry to MONA and back at the Brooke St Pier Hobart ticket service desk. By this stage I knew that MONA was a Museum of Old and New Art, but even at the ferry desk the mystery of MONA was still all-pervading:MONA ticket lady - time
⇒MONA Booking Tip
ASK YOUR HOBART HOTEL RECEPTION WHICH TICKETS FOR TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND EVENTS THEY CAN ARRANGE FOR YOU. JIM WAS ABLE TO PURCHASE TICKETS TO MONA AND THE MONA ROMA FERRY VIA THE MACQ 01 HOTEL RECEPTION, WHICH SAVED US HAVING TO GO BACK TO BROOKE ST PIER TO PRE-BOOK. ASK ANY HOTEL IN THE WORLD WHAT BOOKINGS AND TICKET PURCHASES THEY CAN MAKE ON YOUR BEHALF FROM RECEPTION!
I got off the Mona Roma (MR-1) Ferry feeling that the “titillating” experience of having “Boobarella” on board (see WHAT THE..?! on the Mona Ferry post) had been a precursor – a scene setter – for the paradigm shift called MONA. I was soon to discover that her entrance lay up the top of the 99 steps ahead. Needless to say, I was buzzing with anticipation – open and eager – for the land of peculiarities waiting for us.
So, we entered MONA with the crowd…
MONA Entry – Curiosity No. 1
The first thing that captured my interest was that we were already on the top floor. Instead of looking up, we were peering down to the levels below. Apparently, we were going underground to explore MONA like miners.
“It would have been cheaper and easier to build upwards,” commented Jim. “Imagine the excavation cost alone.” But as we were soon to discover, that would’ve been too easy for MONA.
Evidently, owner David Walsh – “professional gambler, art collector, and businessman” (Wikipedia) – didn’t want to spare any expense, effort, or daydream bringing her to life. The result was that MONA was a generous and well-executed indulgence of the abstract and of the concrete.
Furthermore, I began to realise that I couldn’t guess what we would encounter because MONA was proving to be an eclectic hybrid full of strange ideas that sent your mind and senses off on unpredictable tangents.
In other words:
- take what you typically imagine when you think museum and gallery (did I hear a yawn?), and then
- mash the two together like potato and peas, and then
- flambé the stereotypical presentation and decor, and then
- liberally sprinkle the joint with irreverence, intrigue, perplexity, and confrontation.
MONA Entry – Curiosity No. 2
T H E
D E V I C E
The second thing I found curious upon entry was the O Device. The MONA staff member manning the Devices stand couldn’t download the MONA app onto our phones following our unsuccessful attempts (OH!!!!). So, we took the O Devices and headphones that MONA provides.
In short, the O Device broadens your experience by allowing you to view each creative display accompanied by commentaries, articles, music, and images, without any physical signage. It does this by detecting where you are and the works in your vicinity, so that when you move around, the information on hand adapts.
Although I liked the effect of not having signs to visually detract from the aesthetics of the artworks and interior design, the lanyard and device were cumbersome when, for example, going to the loo, taking off my jacket etc. (OH!!!!)
Furthermore, it was a preoccupying task trying to work out how to navigate through the O Device commentaries and articles, which were crazily pro or savagely con (sometimes profanely) the works (OH!!!!).
Also, we couldn’t fully appreciate a work’s accompanying music while reading all the extracts about the display. The reason for this was that there just wasn’t enough time to stand at one piece for that long due to MONA’S size, plethora of contents (OH!!!!) and ferry return appointment time. You’d need more than a day trip to explore MONA that comprehensively.
In fact, after an hour of exploring MONA, we headed back towards daylight to the entrance service desk to change our Mona Roma MR-1 ferry return time from 3pm to 5pm.
⇒MONA Timing Tip
IF YOU REALISE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO NEED MORE TIME TO EXPLORE MONA THAN FIRST ANTICIPATED, HEAD TO MONA RECEPTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TO PUSH YOUR FERRY BOOKING TIME BACK. SEAT RESERVATIONS ARE FIRST COME FIRST RESERVED, SO THE EARLIER YOU CHANGE YOUR FERRY RETURN TIME THE GREATER THE CHANCE YOU’LL LEAVE MONA WHEN YOU PREFER.
MONA Entry – Curiosity No. 3
Thirdly, the thing that grabbed my attention upon entering was that you could take the circular glass lift down to the bowels of MONA or the stairs that spiralled down around it.
“Want to take the stairs?” asked Jim.
We didn’t discuss why neither of us wanted to take the glass elevator, but I was thinking that it reminded me of the elevator in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Or the Get Smart telephone box lift crossed with the circular Cone of Silence. No-one would hear you screaming.
Important note: no MONA spoilers ahead
Before you find out about some of the displays that we saw there, please note that:
MONA IS ALWAYS BRINGING IN NEW WORKS OF ART AND MUSEUM PIECES, EVENTS, LIVE MUSIC, AND SENSORY EXPERIENCES TO SURPRISE, SHOCK, EXPAND, PUZZLE, AND INVOLVE YOU. THEREFORE, MY FOLLOWING MONA PHOTOS, HIGH-LIKES, AND LOW-LIKES ARE INDICATIONS OF THE TYPES OF DISPLAYS THAT YOU MIGHT FIND, AS OPPOSED TO BEING SPOILERS.
IN OTHER WORDS, MONA IS ALWAYS EVOLVING AND YOU’LL NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL ENCOUNTER THERE.
MONA High-likes Review
You hold two handles and the rows of light bulbs on the ceiling gradually synchronise their flashing with your pulse beat. Each person’s pulse seemed to create a unique light sequence until it aligned with his/her beat.
It was interesting to watch how fast and how slow the lights pulsed with children and older people respectively. A few times the lights went dead while trying to find a person’s pulse. This caused a few oohs and OH!!!!s, but then the lights finally corresponded with the beat.
The Word Waterfall captured our attention and admiration. Amazingly, words formed from falling drops of water. Awesome!
Time Manipulator Movie
This was a bizarre and OH!!!! so effective time manipulation movie about a girl used for cold-hearted scientific experiments.
It enthralled me how varying the movie play speed and cutting out of specific film frames totally altered your perception of how the girl was feeling and how we perceived her experiences.Often, the time moved in irregular sequences – producing mind-blowing effects – and conveyed how the time speed in which we observe things greatly affects our perception. For example, at one part the girl was putting on make-up in the mirror. However, the slow and irregular movie frame sequence warped her movements, turning the girl into what appeared to be a drug-affected has-been.
Consequently, the film filled me with a strong mix of awe and unease, which was brilliant. Actually, I’d have to say that this movie art piece captivated me the most out of all the displays. It was pure genius.
Enormous Head Sculpture
When you peer inside, you see a take on the workings of the mind in action and the repetitious sequences of thoughts and memories that we have. This piece uses lighting and the mechanical, cyclical patterns of moving objects to simulate the repetitive replay of thoughts and create the intriguing illusion of watching reoccurring thought patterns. It struck me how imprisoning the thought process was within this cranium. Didn’t take a photo, DOH, but here’s a relatively less impressive example of MONA’s beautiful, striking art…
I noticed motionless Tattoo Tim way up high on a landing because I happened to catch his eyeballs swivelling in my peripheral vision. How and why he could stay as still as a statue for hours on end day after day baffled me. He himself is a living work of art (i.e. the tattoos covering his body).
The Abyss (as I call it)
This huge optical illusion structure was very impressive. You walk out to the centre of it and feel surrounded by black liquid reflecting light or is it a black abyss that reaches to the centre of the earth?
Pharos Light Tunnel
The Tunnel played on my vision while I was trying to stay on the luminous path that’s a bedazzling illusion. Although feeling a little ungrounded, I enjoyed the light-filled, challenging experience.
The Fat Car
The Fat Car is a sculpture that likens the obsession with material possessions to an obsession with food. It conveys that society places too much weight on owning material objects and that excessive accumulation is unhealthy on all accounts. You can see I’m sporting a little spare tyre to match, after Christmas and New Year over-indulgence. (I’ve since off loaded the tyre! OMG, I really didn’t need that material possession.)
The Museum of Everything
Just when you think you’ve seen everything, then you discover The Museum of Everything at the bottom of MONA. It’s a museum within a museum resembling an entry into a yesteryear Coles Funny Picture Book.
Needless to say, there are all sorts of (mostly somewhat) fascinating, weird types of works in here, such as the “paper planes on steroids” (my terminology) in the photo below.
And dinosaurs made out of recyclables…
Faro Tapas Bar, The Void Bar, and Restrooms
- Faro Tapas Bar – after being at the bottom of MONA in often subdued lighting and without any natural light for a while, it was refreshing to enter the bar encased by huge windows and surrounded by a natural landscape of land and water. As a result, I could feel my breathing lighten and open up in this relaxing, uplifting space.
By the way, I loved the Manchego croquettes, with lemon emulsion and pickled chilIi ($5.50AUD each) and Jim enjoyed the raw fish with pickled fennel, yogurt, and fermented cucumber ($24AUD).
Furthermore, it was here that my glass of sparkling wine inexplicably glided 45cm across our table by itself and we both saw it. Plus, the waiter confirmed that this was not part of MONA’S illusionary displays!
To find out more about this unexplained, yet verified experience, visit my MONA WHAT THE..?! post.
- Void Bar – cool bar located at one of the bottom corners of MONA, and situated at the right place at the right point in your MONA exploration. Right there is where you need to order a drink and sit down after the barrage of stimuli on your senses and perspectives, and you’re perhaps feeling altered somehow after being underground and a bit disorientated after the maze of many small and smallish rooms in the Museum of Everything.
- Void Bar rock face – The huge rock face besides the bar that leads to Pharos is delightfully imposing, rustic and rich. Imagine a corridor of sheer rock face, so high and so deep underground!
- Toilets – It was delightful to open the door to the unisex toilet room and discover that each cubicle was also a powder room with its own cool, stylish hand basin set-up.
MONA Low-likes Review
The Shit Factory
After nearly two hours of walking around with heightened senses, Jim and I needed a break and a drink. We noticed a throng of people spilling out from around a corner.
“That’s a bar over there,” I said.
Jim headed for the bar. I headed for what I would soon discover to be a gorgeous self-contained restroom.
When I returned, Jim had no drinks.
“It isn’t a bar,” he said with a look of disgust.
“What is it then?”
“A Shit Factory. You don’t want to see it. You really don’t. Ohhhhh. It shows you the making of shit.” Subsequently, Jim screwed up his face and held up his curled hands like he’d touched and smelled shit. “If you see it you’ll want to vomit.”
Although I was curious, I was feeling a bit weird and overheated. Therefore, I nodded; seeing the creation of shit would probably tip me over.
Meat hooks and ropes piece – “Untitled” by Jannis Kounellis
I wasn’t very taken by the large, plain structure on a wall that contained a number of hanging ropes and meat hooks. Apparently, the full artwork comes complete with huge hanging bodies of beef when MONA’s in the mood.
MONA broadened my concept of an art gallery and museum, especially with the juxtaposition of old and new pieces, but sometimes the new art seemed out of place and/or a bit junky/gaudy.
For example, a stand-alone sculpture called Lincoln consisting of a pile of smallish wireless and juke box type objects with an Abraham Lincoln style hat on it.
I liked how it conveyed that the Honest Abe of today is made up of “truth” from the media, but the sculpture sat in a huge, bare walkway, looking cheap and nasty.
On second thoughts, that’s probably the message that MONA was emphasising by placing the piece there!
The Sassy Girls
Another instance, was in a very small room in The Museum of Everything where posed four ostentatious, sassy, creepy girls on high shelves. I wondered why they had the whole room to themselves, forcing me to give them the over-attention they seemed to be seeking. Then I realised that perhaps that was the point that MONA was making!
No doubt everything about MONA has a point if you take the time to ponder over it.
Who’s a sexy, creepy girl?
The Layout of The Museum of Everything
It consisted of many small rooms with entryways that weren’t consistently positioned like those of a house. There was no identifiable central hallway, which created somewhat of a maze-like effect.
Subsequently, at the end of our visit, I lost Jim in there and panicked because the ferry was due to leave in 10 mins. I darted through the rooms and became unpleasantly disorientated because the doorways only lead to more rooms and no visible exit.
With heart thumping, I found an attendant who told me how to escape from The unsettling Museum of Everything.
MONA Travel Review Conclusion
I hope that my review has given you a feel for MONA and, although the displays are constantly changing, you get the vibe of what she’s on about and whether she’s for you.
Obviously, many aspects of MONA have the WOW! factor. On the other hand, for me, some of them have the WHY? factor, which invited me to contemplate the deeper reason as to why these displays were chosen. This is one of the motives of art, is it not?
Take note that we arrived at MONA about 12.30pm, but by 1.30pm realised that there was much much more to MONA than we had expected and immediately re-booked our 3pm MR-1 Ferry return to Hobart for 5pm. Even then, we didn’t get to see everything by a long shot.
In my opinion, a super quick look including stopping briefly at the bars, might take about three hours. A thorough visit is 6+ hours if you can handle it.
Basically, if MONA clicks with you, you’ll want to stay there for a good five hours or so.
Ultimately, if you’re a serious lover of old and new art, I recommend that you book a room at MONA Pavilions and visit MONA over a two day period (and dine at The Source Restaurant on the top of MONA ) to really take in everything that sultry MONA has to stimulate your imagination and evoke your emotions.