On my visit at MONA and David Walsh’s autobiography

David Walsh, A Bone of Fact

Published 2014 by Picador, 384p


Tasmania is one of my favourite places; it is different from the rest of Australia and reminded me a lot of my home. The time I spent in Hobart and Launceston was an amazing experience. And the climax of my journey was when visiting MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art.

MONA is different of other museums; it is shocking and chaotic at first sight and it makes you think and wonder but it is extraordinary. The collections are a mixture of old and new art, most of them controversial and quite intimidating. David Walsh is a mathematician who made a fortune of gambling so he became an art collector and built MONA to deposit all his acquisitions. The first thing he bought was a Yoruba door from South Africa because he wasn’t permitted to export money and then, in 2011, he opened the museum.

The museum is placed underground and there are no labels to describe the artworks. All visitors are given iPods with indoor GPS.

White walls and labels in museums

It’s bullshit because we don’t encounter an artwork with the same background or tastes. We are part of the experience of art, and we are not neutral.

Because I’m trying to democratize the museum experience I want user-provided content. The modified iTouches makes lousy input devices, but we do send your tour home with you if you give us your email address… I want you to be lost, to trust randomness and have faith in technology.

Walsh says in his book.

Most of the art objects consider death and sex but also nature, evolution, contemporary society and definitions of art itself. Visitors are shocked by the in-house cemetery where you can store your ashes for $75.000 or by the machine that makes human-like faeces.  Walsh wants the MONA visitors to realize and accept, through unexpected experiences, the human slaughter on animals, the consequences of violence, sexuality’s creative effects, death as a natural repercussion of life living.

I visited the museum, loved it, bought the 2nd edition of Monanisms (an enormous art album containing the highlights of the collections in the museum) and then ordered online Walsh’s memoir, A Bone of Fact.

Almost 400 pages, art book format, on Walsh’ life, formative experiences, marriages, gambling, museum and philosophy – that is A Bone of Fact. Reading it I understood why MONA looks the way it does. Walsh is intelligent, has irony and a very good sense of humour.

Here’s the thing. I’m trying to write like Kurt Vonnegut. I can’t, of course; I’m not good enough… I’m going to mix up bits of sensible stuff and silly stuff, just like Kurt and Kilgore in Timequake.

Sometimes chronology and facts are mixed or imagined but enough information is revealed to picture an asthmatic, timid boy in his childhood and a smart, stubborn and independent David Walsh at his maturity.

As nerds do, I read a lot of science fiction when I was a kid. But we weren’t called nerds then, we were called weirdos, except when they wanted help with their homework. I started with the obvious authors: Asimov, as I mentioned, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Silverberg.

Literature is often a device for rendering the novel comprehensible. Literature is the fourth dimension, a metaphor that shows us the shortcut to understanding an author’s ideas. Or, conversely, it can be a device for obfuscating the obvious. Art, in general, breaks down the framework of shared reality. Or, if it enhances that framework, then we call it beautiful.

Movingly he speaks about the death of his brother and the impact it had on him, then he moves to describing the psychology of a gambler, defines love and sex and presents his philosophical views on religion, evolution and future. Explanations are given on quantum physics, animal rights, him being a vegetarian and atheist and not to forget the information on investments and gambling strategies.

It’s fair to argue that I built Mona to absolve myself from feeling guilty about making money without making a mark.

Walsh is an autodidact; very frequent he cites Wikipedia which he finds “the most elegant expression of the value of democracy, and the most worthwhile endeavour of humanity” and he believes that Intelligence is one of the primary mechanisms for modifying the universe.

In a process of pulling himself apart, David Walsh looks at his life trying to keep the things that bring balance. Now he has a family and feels personally complete and then it is MONA that certified his beliefs as true and applicable.

I’m more interested in art as a modality for communication than a tool for discovering reality. Because art overwhelms (when it’s worthwhile) all the senses, it’s a high-bandwidth process. Words don’t constitute a theory, nor is a perfect understanding of words necessary to convey a theory, but words, and other discrete ways of transmitting information, are inefficient but precise. Art is arbitrary and it doesn’t present one view of the world, but it communicates efficiently.

It’s also interesting that art, science, literature and other ways of making sense of the world often engage new ideas simultaneously.


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