Last weekend I wandered the muted rooms of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Well, I say ‘Hobart’s’ because it’s located in the outskirts of the city. But technically it’s not Hobart’s. It’s David Walsh’s. He’s the one who conceptualised and funded it. He’s the one who gathered experts to work with him in designing and curating the spaces. It’s both a creative and a business endeavour – a kind of entrepreneurialism that should inspire us as writers.
I haven’t giggled, blushed or been forced to question things so often in a gallery as at MONA. What Walsh achieves in this space simply couldn’t be matched by a Government-funded museum. There’s – well – funding for a start, but that’s not all that makes MONA able to achieve more than the older institutions. The gallery’s financial independence gives it curatorial independence. There are recently cremated human remains [Julia deVille’s Cinerarium. There are a lot of girl-bits and boy-bits. There’s a toilet where you can watch yourself defecate [Getlin’s Locus Focus]. And there’s a poop-machine which gets fed real food, digests it and poops its on a round glass tray [Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca]. There’s even a bar inside the space – sanctioning drinking well beyond the opening-night party. Seldom can all of these coexist in a gallery space funded on traditional models.
It’s not that the major institutions aren’t trying – they are. But decades of respect to convention can but form crustacean-like blinkers. Walsh has shown what can happen when we think from outside the box (or the book / newsroom as the case may be for us).
If I may compare a giant to our humble emerging-writer endeavours: MONA is to museums what ‘entrepreneurial journalism’ is to writing. It’s an opportunity to leverage the great things about a medium, and give it a zing that institutions simply can’t endorse. It permits a creative freedom.
I confess it’s hard to let go of the notions of validation that I covet through an editor choosing to publish my work. I’ll never be able to release it completely because it’s a process that I have great respect for. But the entrepreneurial writer in me has been encouraged by MONA’s creative success. And it’s reminded me that there’s nothing intellectually or creatively ‘dirty’ in putting a business model around your own creative endeavours.
Oh, and in a nice little twist for us as writers, there’s a library in MONA [Wilfredo Prieto's Untitled (White Library)] which looks and feels like any other library, except that all of the covers spines and pages of the books are blank, as are the pages of the newspapers sitting on the table. Make of it what you will.