I’ve been accused, obviously in the past, by both strangers and friends, of ridiculous and unknowable underdressing.
It’s dark as a pint of stout and only just past five bells here in Hobart. As luck would have it, I’ve located a stool in the front bar of The Telegraph, and let me assure you, I’m suitably clad for the climate.
It’s July, but the side door is wedged open, tempting a decidedly crisp draught to gush into the pub, and phantom about us, like an anonymous, yet Arctic ghoul from the Harry Potter series.
Ordering a Cascade Pale Ale and a pizza, I note that Old Mate behind the bar is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. A quick scan of the dark, convict interior tells me that he’s not the only one. If my Mum were here, she may well now be in an involuntary foetal position, wailing for a Bundy and a blanket.
Scrutiny of the pub’s décor also tells me that stripping away the uptartedness, this is an old world, maritime boozer. I can almost hear The Pogues, playing Rum Sodomy & the Lash.
Already, I’m happy in Hobart.
With the MONA ROMA ferry hurtling up the Derwent there was music thumping across the deck. I was instantly smitten hearing Joe Tex and his 1977 classic “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman).” I mean, who wouldn’t be?
Australia is wobbling on the edge of drought and, even here in Tasmania, the hills are brown and thirsty. It’s a massive harbour, and is more Port Lincoln than Sydney with its expansive stretches and rustic, inviting appearance.
How tremendous to invest an afternoon in this most modern and confronting of museums?
The architecture is instructive for we are sent, mole-like, to the depths, and in exploring the exhibits, are to ascend, towards the light. This establishes a central theme of the vast collection, for it is about decay and marginalisation. MONA is more Nick Cave than One Direction. I’m eager.
It’s also surely a first-world indulgence that we have the luxury of introspection and probing questioning. Each room has a theme and the first two I visit are declared as opposites: faith and satire. I take an inner breath. Here’s two ideas I hold important. Are these so incompatible? Do I have to surrender one? I fear satire may be just in the lead.
I pause at an ancient TV which is looping endlessly through the clip of a band unsuccessfully trying to master the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen.” The singer holds a sheet of lyrics in front of her agonised face, while the drummer and guitarist are bravely attempting the same song, but in violently clashing tempos.
Each musician is an octogenarian.
It’s funny and probably cruel and I wonder what I’m supposed to think.
There’s a large cement cavern, vaguely reminiscent of London’s Tate Modern and its turbine hall, with its evocations of empire and space and dark. Along its length is Sidney Nolan’s installation, “Snake” comprising over 1,600 individual paintings across 46 winding metres. When it was conceived and assembled Nolan was already elderly, and I gasp at the colossal nature of his singular, ambitious vision.
A major departure, as near as my innocent eye can tell, from European galleries, is how this collection celebrates unheralded, everyday artists. Many of the works are Art Brut and Outsider Art, often by commoners and folks suffering mental illness, especially in the London-based Museum of Everything. There’s an insolent rejection of high culture, and a preference given to solitude, and the voices of the disturbed.
My audio companion instructs me in the work of a Prussian butcher who was fascinated by the cosmos and space travel, and created accordingly. Until recently he received no acknowledgement. How great, how vast, how rich is this planet?
I like that, at least in these very minor ways, there’s an arc towards democratisation.
I swing back through the galleries, past the dinosaurs assembled from found objects such as cable ties and one, a large asaurus of some note, built from both blank and pre-recorded cassette tapes, including incurably hideous disco tapes, but none by Joe Tex. By hang tight folks, if vinyl can make a comeback so can dinosaurs and tapes, like Ripper ’77.
I also take in a smiling hermaphrodite illumination and other happy collisions of ideas and amateur execution, including an entire darkened wall of vaginal casts, and its accompanying eight-minute audio commentary. I wonder if it has been commissioned by my favourite conceptual artist, Maude, of The Big Lebowski. I hope so.
Suddenly, the bright, southern day is rushing to the east. I’m back on the ferry and the Tasmanian velvet is pushing in, all over Salamanca Place.