The Museum of Old and New Art is designed to shock and fascinate. Pet project of mathematician and gambler David Walsh, the museum in Hobart, Tasmania, is known for its outlandish—often provocative—pieces. Consider for instance, the Poop Machine.
Defecation is rarely seen as an art form, but hundreds of visitors file into a room in MONA to watch a pile of fresh poop being excreted by a machine. It’s only one of the many exhibits that Walsh says is intended to elicit a strong response from viewers and force them to question their morals, ethics, even contemplate life. Other installations include a spelling waterfall, a mirrored toilet, and explicit video clips decoding the female orgasm. Walsh calls it a “subversive adult Disneyland”. How could I resist?
My journey began with a walk down three flights of steep stairs to a dungeon-like level where I met my personal guide: a modified iPod that detects the closest piece of art and provides information and audio clips. At the end of the day, the device even emailed me a map with details about my museum experience. Here’s a round-up of the exhibits that had the greatest impact on me. Naturally, they were among the weirdest the museum offers.
The toilet is actually a functional lavatory, but with a difference. It is fitted with several well-positioned mirrors that force visitors to examine otherwise hard-to-see parts of their own bodies. There’s even a pair of binoculars available, in case you want a closer look.
Artist Julius Popp’s Bit.Fall is a waterfall with a vocabulary: the droplets of water spell out words like “police,” “iPhone,” and “Obama”—random words from the Internet—each of which is visible for a second before the droplets fall and touch the ground. Bit.Fall represents the ever-changing stimuli we are exposed to every second, without much time to process what we see or read.
Touch a little piece of Japan’s painful history with a collection of stone blocks that were part of the Ujina Railway Station in Hiroshima. The station was destroyed by the atomic bomb of 1945 but several strong rocks survived. Years later, Japanese artist Masao Okabe created 4,000 pieces of art by rubbing pencils and mud on paper placed on the textured rocks. This technique is called frottage. Visitors are invited to create their own works using the rocks from Ujina.
Don’t get too comfortable on the soft beanie beds on the floor. They’re seats to two disturbing movies that are projected on the museum’s ceiling. Blutclip features gory images of bloody body parts while Pickelporno is an explicit work about the female body and orgasm. Both are difficult to sit through without feeling extremely queasy.
Among the museum’s most unsettling exhibits is a sculpture of the remnants of an 18-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber. Most of his body parts are missing, his innards are splattered around, but his face is unharmed and has an extremely peaceful expression. It’s made of pure chocolate.
By the time I got to this exhibit I was immune to being grossed out. I managed to set aside my gag reflex and really appreciate the scientific installation popularly called the Poop Machine. Cloaca Professional is made of a series of glass vessels that simulate the workings of the human stomach and intestines, complete with gastric enzymes and hormones. At 11 a.m. every day, the machine is fed a meal that is slowly digested over the next few hours. At 2 p.m. sharp, visitors gather to watch the Cloaca expel solid excreta. And yes, it comes very close to the real thing, in shape, texture, and smell.
The Pulse Room allows visitors to see their hearts beat. The interactive art installation captures the pulse of a participant and sets a light bulb flashing at the exact rhythm. When I walked in, my heartbeat was picked up by one of 108 flashing bulbs on the ceiling. As each new visitor entered, my beat pattern kept moving to the next bulb in line, resulting in a hypnotic display. But because this is the MONA , the background score to this uplifting installation is an unconnected sound exhibit called “Suspended perpetual funeral choirs from the future”.
Open Wed-Mon, timings vary with season. Visit mona.net.au for details.
Appeared in the May 2014 issue as “Shock Treatment”.