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Tasmania’s Stories

On the Origin of Art is MONA’s boldest show

Edition 178_ David Walsh ... It rarefies how I see the world

MONA owner David Walsh considers On the Origin of Art to be the most ambitious exhibition staged in his subterranean unmuseum on the banks of the River Derwent.

“This one exhibition continues out from how I see the world, it rarefies how I see the world … that’s why I built the gallery — to essentially be an anti-museum and to look at Art a little bit differently,” he told Sharon Verghis of The Australian.

The six-month exhibition, which opened in early November and will run until 17 April 2017, is actually four exhibitions by four guest curators.

It features more than 234 objects sourced from MONA’s collection as well as from other Australian galleries, private collections and 58 institutions around the world.

More items have been borrowed for this show than for all MONA’s previous exhibitions put together.

Walsh is obsessive about many subjects, including Charles Darwin and his thought-moulding 1859 publication On the Origin of Species.

"Darwin inspired the human race: his are the best ideas anyone has ever had, it’s as simple as that,” the man who transformed Tasmania insists.

The exhibition sets out to nail down the reasons for Art, just as Darwin nailed down the reasons for speciation in a creation-dominated, pre-DNA century.

Walsh deliberately looked outside Art academia to find diverse individuals who could contribute to a discussion on the way in which biology impacts on human behaviour and even how humanity's reproductive urges have been the deep motivation behind the drive to create Art since before cave-painting became a social trend.

Linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller and Professor of Literature Brian Boyd were Walsh's chosen four.

The reasons for their selection would fill a book.

The results of their selection are dazzling.

Verghis wrote in The Australian: "The earliest items on show include three prehistoric flint hand axes thought to be 300,000-800,000 years old, from Californian artist and collector Tony Berlant; the most recent include nine new commissions, one of them a yellow and black polka-dotted and mirrored room-size installation from one of the world’s most popular gallery artists, Yayoi Kusama, another new work, Graphos, by one of Walsh’s favourite artists, Brigita Ozolins: 'a bloody good artist and very clever'.

"In-between these two chronological points lies the entire creative history of the world, it seems ... bronze royal heads from Benin, funerary masks from Egypt, terracotta fertility figures from north-west Iran, an ornate Islamic tile work border from Bukhara, butterfly masks from Burkina Faso, partridge tureens from Germany, a feline effigy vessel from central Arizona.

"There are archival pigment prints of seed pods and coral snakes, Renoirs and Bouchers, sandstone architectural reliefs of celestial dancers from India, a gaudy Jeff Koons ('conspicuous consumption, see?'), a bronze lobster from Meiji-era Japan.

"The history of artmaking scrolls by in a blink — we leap from a replica of a delicate atlatl (spear-thrower) from Le Mas-d’Azil in France, c. 13,000 BC — an ancient example of the human urge to 'make beautiful' — to a 2011 music video by Gotye, to ornate shell necklaces made for the show by indigenous Tasmanian artist Lola Greeno."

The Sydney Morning Herald previewed the show under a headline: "Is Art really just about bonking?"

Steph Harmon of The Guardian put that question to Walsh in a slightly different form when she asked about his motives for creating the piece of art that is MONA.

“Let me ask you, if there’s someone who owns a gallery of this scale, compared with someone that doesn’t, which do you think is more likely to get laid?” Walsh responded.

Hermon answered the question with a pointed finger.

“Well, see, there’s the biological advantage,” Walsh said.

If Harmon's review and others published far and wide are an indication, thoughtful Art lovers will be flocking to MONA from around the world to try to unravel the On the Origin of Art for themselves.

Image by Matthew Norton, courtesy of The Australian

29 November 2016, Edition 178

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Facts about Tasmania

Tasmania

Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.

Tasmania

Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.

Geography

Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.

Geography

The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.

Geography

About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.

Climate

Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.

Climate

In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.

Population

The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.

Flora

Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.

Flora

Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.

Fauna

Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.

Fauna

The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.

Fauna

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.

Economy

A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.

Economy

Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.

Economy

The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.

Economy

Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.

Economy

Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.

Economy

The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.

Economy

Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.

Economy

The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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