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THE PHAROS WING AT AUS­TRALIA’S MONA MU­SEUM IS A BE­WIL­DER­ING SE­RIES OF LU­MI­NOUS IN­STAL­LA­TIONS DE­SIGNED TO KEEP VIS­I­TORS IN THE DARK

Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _Jes­sica Wynne Lockhart

The art in­stal­la­tions in a Tas­ma­nian mu­seum’s new wing are de­light­fully dis­ori­ent­ing

Tas­ma­nia’s pri­vately owned Mona mu­seum (aka the Mu­seum of Old and New Art) is de­signed to dis­con­cert vis­i­tors – and its new Au$32-mil­lion ad­di­tion is no ex­cep­tion. Sim­ply reach­ing the wing – named Pharos, for the an­cient Egyp­tian light­house – is an ex­pe­di­tion akin to that of Th­e­seus set­ting out to slay the Mino­taur. There is no sig­nage or clear path from the main en­trance, where vis­i­tors de­scend a spi­ral stair­case that winds deep into the mu­seum’s belly. At the back of one of the lower-level ex­hibit halls, a glass panel con­ceals a light tun­nel, dubbed Be­side My­self, cre­ated by Amer­i­can light artist James Tur­rell. At the cul­mi­na­tion of this tun­nel is Faro, the new wing’s ta­pas bar. But don’t ex­pect the con­fu­sion to sub­side there. Ob­scur­ing the restau­rant’s floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows is a white, six-me­trewide sphere. Eas­ily mis­taken for a sim­ple sculp­ture, the orb har­bours a door that leads to an im­mer­sive kalei­do­scopic ex­pe­ri­ence cour­tesy of Tur­rell. “You can have lunch there a mil­lion times and never un­der­stand what’s go­ing on in­side the sphere,” says cu­ra­tor Jar­rod Rawl­ins, ex­plain­ing that the goal of the mu­seum’s founder, David Walsh, “is to make sure you don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing or where you are.” Walsh worked closely with Mel­bourne ar­chi­tect Nonda Kat­sa­lidis on the project. “A lot of mu­se­ums are big spa­ces where you move from one white room

to the other,” says Kat­sa­lidis. “With Mona, you go through lit­tle aper­tures and break out into huge spa­ces, like pop­ping out of a rab­bit hole. It’s a jour­ney of com­pres­sion and ex­pan­sion.” Un­like the orig­i­nal struc­ture, which is largely un­der­ground, Pharos al­lows Mona to show a lit­tle leg as it can­tilevers out over the River Der­went. Like rest of the mu­seum, how­ever, each space is cus­tom de­signed for spe­cific artists. For ex­am­ple, Faro’s 14-me­tre in­verted parabola was in­spired by Tur­rell’s affin­ity for 18th-cen­tury French ar­chi­tect Éti­enne-louis Boul­lée. In a steam­punk atrium, mean­while, the con­crete walls are re­flected in the sur­face of Richard Wil­son’s 20:50, a work that fills the room to waist level with oil. An­other hall­way leads to Tur­rell’s Event Hori­zon, a cube-shaped room washed in colour-shift­ing ul­tra­vi­o­let light. The whole ex­pe­ri­ence ends abruptly in a dead-end pas­sage­way re­ferred to for now as the “tun­nel to nowhere.” Come 2019, when Al­fredo Jaar’s The Di­vine Com­edy (three cham­bers based on Dante’s poem) is un­veiled, it will be a tun­nel to hell. Ai Wei­wei’s White House is also set to be in­stalled in this next ex­ten­sion. Al­though th­ese plans are clearly laid-out, the ex­pe­ri­ence is guar­an­teed to be just as dis­ori­ent­ing. “Peo­ple re­spond to the build­ing as much as to what it con­tains,” says Kat­sa­lidis. “You never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen next.” mona.net.au

The sphere that dom­i­nates the Pharos wing’s ta­pas bar is ac­tu­ally the shell of an in­stal­la­tion by light artist James Tur­rell.

ABOVE: James Tur­rell’s Be­side My­self is a tun­nel of light that con­nects Mona’s two wings.

RIGHT: Two more of Tur­rell’s works fol­low: Un­seen Seen (top) is an in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence of light and sound hid­den in­side a gi­ant orb. Event Hori­zon (bot­tom), in which pa­trons must don white socks, is a seem­ingly end­less field of un­du­lat­ing colour.

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