While I waited at Hobart Airport for the plane out, the scent of hot fast food reminded me of the acrid, sour, rotten kitchen smell of Cloaca Professional, the eating machine at MONA.
I happened to be in its room, trying to understand how it worked while half expecting to be completely repelled by its smell, when a MONA staff member informed me that “he”, the Cloaca Professional, would be fed in about 15 minutes, if I was interested. At 11am, a handful of us watched as the MONA employee, now dressed in a white lab coat, began to feed it by putting pieces of a pie and salad into what resembled a sink at its front. She gave it water and we watched it suck the food up through tubes and its first stomach fill. Once the pie was finished, he was given a chocolate macaroon.
The Cloaca Professional, an artwork that performs the functions of the human digestive system at human body temperature, is housed in a wedge shaped, dimly lit room with more than a little of Frankenstein’s laboratory about it, just around the corner from Sidney Nolan’s huge but innocuous Snake. He’s fed twice a day and he and the bacteria in his “gut” breakdown and digest the food and he shits into a small bowl sometime in the late afternoon and he fucking stinks.
Analogies between the eating machine and MONA are easy to draw. It’s big and detailed and complex, but it’s all a bit of a joke. It’s both serious and not. But it’s kept alive, if you will, fed meals you and I can purchase from the MONA cafe upstairs – twice, daily – and, so, it’s not a joke at all. But directly opposite the entrance to the eating machine’s room are toilets for men and women.
I left MONA feeling physically and mentally exhausted and thinking that there should be a name for it, this fatigue-by-art. I thought maybe that feeling might be the point.
Another of MONA’s artworks, a nightmarish piece of incredible detail titled The Fairy Horde and the Hedgehog Host, is a thing of weird and abject beauty. Tiny carcases of dead things have been carefully pieced together to create a sculpture. I feel like this, on the other hand, is maybe more to the point. There are holy books with bombs in them, a chocolate sculpture of a half-exploded Palestinian suicide bomber titled On the Road to Heaven the Highway to Hell by Stephen J. Shanabrook. On his or her “O” Device, a visitor can rate each of these artworks in one of two ways – they can either love it, or hate it. This is the museum of the old and the new, of tetradrachmas and Internet search terms printed in falling water. MONA’s logo is that of an X and a +. I feel these are even more to the point. But not the point at all.
“We want you to look at each object for itself, and for the way it interacts with the works around it, and nothing else,” David Walsh writes in his “Gonzo” commentary on Picasso’s beautiful Weeping Woman in the Theatre of the World exhibit. The work on its own – and the work as part of something larger.
MONA is a monstrous piece of architecture carved into a hill by the Derwent River, a place that apparently has the cleanest air in the world. But dichotomies are simple, dangerous things, and I’m trying to sound like I understood the museum when I didn’t, so I’ll stop now. Besides, MONA is a lot of fun. A lot. That’s probably more to the point.