Five prejudiced affairs with Mona (or, Anica and Mona, sitting in a tree)

1. The art of knowing whether you are flirting
or
The art of consuming modern art

You never know what to expect, when you first walk in. Something, nothing. Something that turns out to be nothing? Nothing that becomes something? But that’s part of it, it’s part of what you crave. The not-knowing, the possibility, the risk, the anticipation.

Or, you walk into it, always, knowing that you want something. Anticipating. Breath-held wonder and the greed for Meaning. For something Beyond. For Something.

Forgetting that you always bring something, too. Into that space filled with sound and furious signifiers. A look, a wink, a glance, a colour, an ellipsis of thought…

And sometimes it feels like there is a lot of empty space here. Whatever that means. It doesn’t mean space with nothing in it. It just means space where what’s in it isn’t something you know how to find. But that’s part of it too. And if you don’t crave that, then there’s no room for you to become anything else.

Every visit, every interaction has a memory of the last, and the last-but-one, and the very first, and all those between. And not just your own, but everyone else’s too. Whether that makes you feel good or not. You can never be independent of it. You don’t even have to listen carefully to hear it. There’s nothing new here, and nothing old either – everything exactly as you see it as you come to it at this moment: the wink, the shadows, the abstract moment, the ambiguous words.

You ignore what doesn’t speak to you. Dismissive. (And yet you still think you’re better than the girl beside you who snaps a photo, winks a wink, pretends to see something, sees nothing.) You sidestep around the arti/fact for a moment, you make it what you want it to be, you read it, you act on it, you understand it, you live by it, you love by it, you are – for those moments and their repercussive pre-dawn awakenings – defined by it, and it by you.

And then you turn a page, a corner, a blind eye, and you discover a new star (or disavow an old one – all your past loves are eventually Plutos).

I stop near the end, as always, to check that my heart is beating. As always, it’s not. As always, I pretend I don’t care.


Pulse Room, 2006
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael

 

 

 

 

 

2. Don’t touch

There’s water dripping through the walls here. I’ve never noticed before. I’ve read about it, in all those things that people write, but I’ve never seen it. That interests me. To know about a thing and to touch a thing are not the same at all. At all. Peter Carey, in the voice of Lucinda, once said as much. I bookmarked it – a real bookmark, subcutaneous in the skin of a book, not a click on a word that once meant something real. Before ‘bookmark’ was a verb in my vocabulary. When it was still a noun I could touch. I held that page, with my bookmark, and came back to it over and over. And over. I could still find the page, I think, just with the curve of spine from so many visits.

Lucinda’s knowledge was about sorrow – about suffering and conceiving of suffering. Mine is about something else. About seeing what you want instead of what’s there. At least I think it is.

(Well, wouldn’t you touch that wet wall?)

3. The idea of absence

This place is just filled with your voice – literally, literarily. It’s all you. I can’t imagine how it feels to experience this place without you. On my own, with anyone else.

I think I’ll visit here when you die, and I’ll forget what it means to die: it won’t make any sense because you will be here and everywhere and I won’t understand the idea of absence.

That’s assuming that you die first. And I don’t know why you would. Maybe I’ll die first. And if that’s what happens, then I’ll come here after I die. I’ll haunt your words and your presence here and then you won’t know what it’s like to be here without me.

4. The blind leading the blind (after Peter Buggenhout)

A great hulking thing hangs above me. I think maybe it’s art. Or maybe dread. Or maybe love. It is huge and blackish in the blackness, embarrassed by its own size. An apologetic, deformed monster trying desperately and writhingly to disappear backwards into cracks nonexistent: a mutant spider, an octopus, without the proper experience of its species, to disappear into cracks. For every limb it squeezes into one corner, two more vomit themselves out of another: messy, dripping, scrabbling for purchase on the surfaces, alive yet utterly inert. Grasping at the ceiling, ashamed of its own clumsy bulk, its corners are impotent and its curves broken. Its rusting creaking groaning strength is a kind of unkind joke against its ludicrous body. It is Kafka’s Gregor, horrified by its own existence. I am afraid to stand beneath it. It is some kind of nightmare – to itself?

And also I want nothing more than to be closer to it in the half-light, for it to somehow ingest me, excrete me, validate me.

5. Why shouldn’t we?

I finally manage to book in for one of Tattoo Tim’s tours of the Wim Delvoye exhibition – his third-last tour. He’s had a few days off, and he says he hasn’t been so nervous in a long time. He’s buzzing. He greets us all individually, welcomes us, tells us that he’s not here to explain the art, but just to tell us a story. His story is his way of giving us the gift of recognising what he calls the ‘beautiful absolute irrelevance of our existence’. And somehow I think I understand what he means.

He talks to us for seventy minutes, in between the pigskins and the sharp points of the laser-cut steel. He is funny, self-deprecating, self-important, performative, honest, naive, cynical, charismatic, entrancing, exploding with energy. I suppose he has a lot of time to come up with clever things to say, sitting for five hours a day on his plinth with his tattooed spine towards his audience, his eyes on his one small white speck in the middle of the black window shade. During the tour, we never once see the tattoo. But we see the impact of it on his life, on his experience of being in the world. And it’s bizarre and mundane all at once.

Everything he says to us is engaging. But at the end, in the dark room standing against the projected reality of Delvoye’s Art Farm, where the tattooed pigs grunt and shove and scratch and sleep, he gets to the part that hits me most. He orates a kind of fanatical frisson of absolute adoration for Mona, and that’s part of his story now too. He tells us, from the outside, that ‘everything has changed here in the last 14 months’ – this city isn’t the same one it was before. I could not be more convinced by his arguments.

At the end of Tim’s tour, I’m shaking. He’s articulated a passion for this place that I’ve heard around me since the museum opened. I hear it everywhere – in the museum, away from the museum, on airplanes, interstate, in supermarkets, everywhere. It’s an uncontainable and weird sense of ownership, pride, excitement, gratitude, wonderment. I feel it too, and I resent it. I hate feeling so sentimental and I don’t want to be one of the anonymous masses who somehow feel that since it has entered our lives, we now have some righteous connection to this place. Last year I went for the first time to MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Neue Gallerie, The Dali – so many wonderful American museums, but all the time I was holding this secret smugness that I live in the place where there is Mona. I couldn’t wait to come back and visit. It feels unsophisticated to experience so much joy about a place, especially this place. I am embarrassed by my passion for this place. But why shouldn’t we feel in love – what’s so incredibly wrong with being joyful?

Mona has done something to me that nothing in my life has ever done before. It’s connected me to people I don’t know and don’t ever want to meet. It’s torn a gash in the emotional, creative, psychological space/time continuum – a great fissure that allows glimpses into everything we dream of, and forget to dream of, beyond the everyday. The things we search for in love, in religion, in our unknown selves. Meaning, connection, extraordinary grief and extraordinary radiance, and – more vitally – things wholly intangible, but so deep that they lift us away from everything else.

I thank Tim; he hugs me. I walk away fast, because I need to find a dark space to be alone and cry my guts out, because I can’t remember the last time anything made me feel so alive.

When I come back outside into the air, the steady rain takes me by surprise. But I don’t remember, anyway, what kind of day it was when I went inside. It was a million years ago. As always, when I leave here, I’m new. Better. Taller. Hungrier. More alive. More certain. More uncertain.

That’s all.

-Anica Boulanger-Mashberg

Anica is a writer, editor and critic. She has an ellipsis tattoo and if you notice it and identify it correctly, she might fall in love with you. We don’t know how to pronounce her name.

Tim, 2006 – 2012 (ongoing), with various pigskins
Wim Delvoye
Photo Credit: MONA/Remi Chauvin

Something Else for Easter

Easter, 2012. My little girl’s first words when she awoke this morning: ‘One more day to go’. She’s been counting down for over a week. When the counter hits zero tomorrow she will be going, with her nanny, her great nanny, cousins and more attenuated family to Connelly’s Marsh, for the annual Easter Festivities. ‘We will swim every day’, she tells me, ‘even if it’s cold. And on Sunday we will hunt for eggs’.

Her excitement is infectious. I’ve been looking forward to Easter also, even though I’m not going. Connelly’s Marsh Easters are a custom perpetuated by her mum’s family.

I have more than a few issues with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other myths that Grace’s mum thinks are ‘part of growing up’. Are we inculcating kids with a capacity to believe stuff that makes no sense? Are UFOs and palmistry, miracle workers and homeopathy what results if you tell kids that lies are true?

Woody Allen tells a tale in Annie Hall which has no purpose here other than the punch line. A man goes to see an analyst. ‘It’s not about me, doc, it’s about my brother. You got to help him. He thinks he’s a chook’. ‘Well, you’d better bring him in then’. ‘I would, but I need the eggs’.

Grace has a way of dealing with my cynicism about this stuff. ‘I know you don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, daddy, but I do’. I suspect she doesn’t, but she needs the eggs.

Easter. The first Sunday after the first full moon after the autumnal (for us) equinox (except for the fact that the date of Easter is computed using the Julian calendar and it’s thirteen days out, and the equinox is not necessarily on the right day, and the calculation of the date of the full moon is spastic).

Easter. The celebration of our saviour recovering from a (very) near-death experience. One of the most remarkable events of Christ’s remarkable career was being born on a solar calendar and then dying (nearly, and then for good, so far, unless you are a Swedenborgian) on a lunar calendar.

Easter bunnies are fertility symbols, as are eggs. The northern hemisphere spring approximately corresponds with Easter, a time when rabbits breed like rabbits. Our rabbits are pests, of course. It took several attempts to establish a population on the mainland of Australia, but in Tasmania rabbits were already in plague proportions twenty years after white settlement.

Easter, 1990. I was with two friends at the Red Lion hotel, then a rock venue, now an undeserved winner of Australian tourism awards as The Old Woolstore. Don’t think for a moment I’m bitter. After all, MONA got an honourable mention at the Tasmanian engineering awards. Anyway, one of my friends was carping about his inability to meet women. I attributed his problem, and a similar issue I had, to our unwillingness to engage them in conversation. Pressed to demonstrate how such a conversation would take place, and emboldened by alcohol, I spoke to three girls in a group.

One was wearing a large pendant crucifix. I said, ‘If this were yesterday I would be nailed to that cross’. A poor gambit, I know, but my skills with ladies were, and are, limited. One of them, the one wearing the crucifix, gave me a chuckle. And then she gave me a child. A lovely child whom she named Jamie.

Perhaps out of an excess of cadness, perhaps because of the young lady coming to her senses, I had sex with Jamie’s mum only that night and the next morning, which puts me in the unusual position of being able to calculate the gestation period that preceded Jamie’s debut. Jamie is now twenty-one, and I can remember my pale pick-up line from twenty-two years ago. Here survivor bias rears its rational head, I wouldn’t remember lines like that if they didn’t lead to fornication, and then to conception.

Jamie was conceived on either Easter Monday or Tuesday, 1990, the 16th and 17th of April (Easter came late that year, I did not). Between the first of those days, the most likely date of conception, since I was primed by a considerable dry spell before that date, and Jamie’s birthday on January 13th 1991, 273 days elapsed. The mean human gestation duration is 266 days so Jamie was about 87 per cent likely to be born earlier. This is significant because had she been born earlier her 21st birthday would not have interrupted MONA FOMA.

If you’re going shagging this Easter and you lack the decency to commit to basic social niceties like condoms you should reconsider your carnality. Because Easter is a bit earlier this year than 1990, your acts of wanton lust will not impact upcoming MOFOs, but you might have to give future Falls a miss.

Easter, 1972 (approximately). My father was a greyhound trainer. He along with many of his brethren (training greyhounds is a religion, you see) believed that key to making greyhounds try hard, race as fast as they can, is to convince them that the mechanical lure they are supposed to chase is, in fact, alive. To achieve this some of them give a dog a live kill. The procedure: tie a rabbit or a possum to a fishing line on an industrial reel, and allow the dog to chase it while reeling it in. After a few hundred metres allow the dog to catch the sacrificial beast, and slaughter it. On Good Friday that year, when I was ten, I went with dad and a friend to a farm in Sandford, and we tortured and sacrificed a possum. I would like to say that my disgust was palpable, and that it planted the seed of my later vegetarianism. As far as I remember I simply accepted it. Dad, whom I already didn’t trust, told me it was necessary and I must have thought that was reasonable. I also didn’t consider the torture and slaughter of the roast chicken we had (‘we’ doesn’t include dad) the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, that had been raised in a cage with so many others that they had to stand atop one another. And I didn’t consider the possibility that the concealed barbarity, the feast of the chicken, is the most heinous, it being perpetuated as a societal calumny, no individual in the chain accountable, rendering the chain unbreakable.

Easter as a focus of belief seems absurd. Easter as a place-marker for events that shape a life seems reasonable. And Easter as a holiday, as a celebration of values, whatever those values, seems essential.

Happy Easter. May all your eggs be free-range and all your bunnies be chocolate.

-David Walsh

Something for Easter

Eleanor has asked me to write something about Easter. Eleanor is our Blog Mistress.

I was wildly disappointed with Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists. I usually like de Botton very much, and this book was bland and preachy.

I have been prepared lately to consider the uses of religion: for social cohesion, community-mindedness, and a structure for kindness, for instance. My argument so far has been thus: if you pick and choose the bits to believe in – that it’s good to be good to your neighbour, and to feed the poor, but not good to admonish gay people, because come on, it’s the twenty-first century – you prove to yourself that you didn’t need religion in the first place. Moral relativism and responsibility is encoded in us naturally. All you’re left with, without God, is the problems with religion – obviously the wars and stuff, but also sloppy mindedness and waiting patiently for happiness.

So, like I said, I have lately been prepared to consider the other side. Not of course that God exists but that religion might be good for us. Consider: Richard Dawkins said, at a conference I’m hideously ashamed of myself for attending, that gratitude is imbued in us by evolution. Just like being co-operative can be a passive, unconscious ‘strategy’ for our genes to cycle into the next generations. The conference was for atheists. Guess what, stupidity and atheism are not mutually exclusive. Worse than the lynch-mob jeering the placard-bearing Christian soldier out the front of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre was the presentation on ‘Feminism and atheism’. Who cares, went the argument, chicks rule (cheer) and God’s dead (woo hoo). It was hideous.

Anyhow, the reason I’m thinking about whether religion might be healthy somehow is basically because I’m getting old and conservative. (Comparatively). I’m mostly worried about people being nice to each other, except for Mummy Bloggers, who I despise and wish to put an end to, a final end. I also really like watching rom-coms; I routinely veto films in which a parent dies or any pets are sick or sad (emotionally scarred by Dumbo).

I’ve teased (and tested) my friends a bit too, about the possibility of finding Jesus – me, who is known to her loved ones as a ‘fascist’ and ‘zealot’, and also ‘aggressive and arrogant’, when it comes to preaching about why religion isn’t good for us. A particular sticking point for me, at least me in my pre-rom-com state, is ‘tolerance’: if you believe in magic, I will think you’re weird and stupid. Why should I ‘tolerate’ you? Dressing up your belief in magic with words like ‘spirituality’ and ‘fate’ will make me ‘tolerate’ you even less for your sloppy logic, i.e. if you are going to believe in fate, have the guts to call it God.

Apparently, if I do eventually locate Jesus, I won’t have many friends left, not even a boyfriend (‘It’s a deal-breaker’). Those of my friends who were at my eighteenth birthday a decade ago know that I once knew Jesus very well. My mother decided that my birthday party was the perfect time to wheel out the religious poetry I wrote when I was ten: God gave me hands to touch the earth / Beneath the moonlight sky/ And eyes to see the little birds / flying in the, um, sky. Funnily enough, should I ‘fall’ again, my boss David would probably let me keep my job, and might even stay my friend. After all, he employed me and was nice to me when I was in the throws of cult hysteria (i.e. at university) and thought it was funny when I told him that postcolonial and feminist theory were not, in fact, a way of thinking, but a religion.

Clearly we have tendencies in that direction: gratitude, spirituality, a greater purpose for us. That’s ok (see how grown-up I am). We also have tendencies in the direction of violence, sexual exploitation of each other, and not liking people who look different to us; being ferally competitive about our children, or worse, revealing to others the details of their eating and sleeping habits. There was a letter in the Age last week, to the sex therapy agony aunt, that said something like: ‘Help – I’m a feminist, but I want my husband to spank me!’ Clearly grown-ups should, in this order: respect such urges (to be sexist / grateful to God / write mummy blogs) and then, promptly, quarantine them – to the bedroom, in the case of the spank-me feminist. That’s what makes us civilized.

So spanking is akin, then, to celebrating Easter? The safe expression of a baser urge? Not quite sure how I ended up here but there you go, something for Easter.

-Elizabeth Mead

Afterthought

Blog Mistress here – that sounds kinkier than it is, particularly in an afterthought to a blog that compared a good spanking to celebrating Easter. I feel that it’s my duty to let the blogosphere know that the Wim Delvoye exhibition ends on Monday 9 April. It’s an appropriate closing weekend, and not just because there’s a four-day holiday, if you’ve seen the exhibition you’ll know why, if you haven’t, then you should visit this weekend and find out.

Also, I think I tend to agree with Mead in that maybe religion does have something to offer. Although I do firmly believe in her first argument on religion, before she was older and more conservative, that the good bits are nice because they’re nice ways to behave towards your fellow human, and what you’re left with is an excuse for the bad stuff; wars, hate crimes, greed, closed mindedness and rejection of that which is considered ‘other’. But maybe that’s the same for any societal group, religious or otherwise. Anyway, her post prompted me to think about this, in time for Pesach (Passover).

Technically, I’m Jewish, on my mother’s side: Judaism is generally considered matrilineal; if your mum was a Jew then you are too. This makes sense to me because, let’s face it, it would have been a lot easier for people to be more certain of who your mother was than who your father was. Anyway, when both of my grandparents passed away recently I experienced my first Jewish funerals. They were vastly different to any other funeral I’ve been to. There were no hideously expensive coffins, no elaborate bouquets of flowers, no dressing of the deceased in their ‘Sunday best’ – none of which relate strictly to other religious funerals, by-the-by. Instead the bodies are stripped naked of all of their material belongings, wrapped in a plain white shroud and laid to rest in an unadorned, simple casket. Firstly, this seems like commonsense again – I like Judaism’s practicality – because, I’m dead and I don’t give a shit what I’m buried in. Sure, if it makes you feel better about it all then go ahead, but personally I’d rather you gave the money to people who were still alive and could enjoy it and benefit from it (take note future offspring). But that aside, what this process is meant to symbolise is that we are all equal in death, and I like that idea too. Whether you were a king or a pauper you’re one and the same once you’re dead. That’s the nice part of the religious ritual that I took away from the experience. However, after I extracted that I was left with the problems, some of which are what have made me decide to steer clear of Judaism, or any other religion, since I escaped mandatory ‘religion classes’ in (public) primary school and my mother’s fleeting and halfhearted attempts to introduce me to the religion as a child. The women and men were segregated, sitting on opposite sides of the funeral home, the men closest to the deceased. After the burials, first of my grandfather and then a few weeks later of my grandmother, came their respective Shivas, traditionally seven days of mourning, during which there were prayers for the deceased’s soul. The catch, though, is that we needed an orthodox Minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish males who are aged thirteen years or more. Women’s prayers don’t count for much, apparently. We had a tough time wrangling up ten capable Jewish gents at my grandparents’ nursing home. We managed, so I hope their souls benefitted. I left enjoying the really beautiful aspects I took from the experience, while missing my grandparents terribly, but also feeling like Judaism remains horribly sexist.

I also find it weird that I feel odd and put out when people mention the holocaust and being stingy, and when I studied The Merchant of Venice. Oh, and that I don’t purposely buy pig products or shellfish.

That’s a long afterthought. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I agree with Mead, don’t I?

You might not, feel free to let us know.

Either way, go and see the Wim exhibition before it ends.

-Eleanor Robb (aka Blog Mistress)