James Turrell yes, Matthew Barney no

We had reached Treasure Island, a caravan park between Hobart’s two main attractions: MONA and the Cadbury factory. The white chimneys of the chocolate factory could be seen to the left on the next headland. In the buildings beneath, oompa loompas toiled in secret. No tours anymore due to boring old health and safety regulations but the rest of my family did enjoy an educational talk on how the caramel is inserted into the belly of the famous koalas.

I was informed that chocolate is a health food. “There is a cup and a half of milk in every block, mum.”

In fact, we were all enjoying a healthy snack as we drove into Treasure Island. Mike went down the hill to check out the camping spots by the water. On the headland to our right was MONA (David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art). We could see grapevines, a car park, a wall and a strange metal platform on the summit.

Between us and art museum was another facility. What could it be? I checked out the security fence, the barbed wire and the several large vat-like objects and all of a sudden I knew.

“Tell me that’s not a sewage treatment plant,” I said to myself. I was very familiar with the treatment plant near our house in Altona (see previous post ‘How to make a forest’) and recognised various common architectural features, including the discrete signage and the tanks.

At that exact stink moment, a man buzzed up to us on his a ride on mower. He worked at the Island.

“Does the plant smell?”

“Not really. Only for 30 seconds at a time,” he said.

“So it’s a bit like a fart?” Mike said.

“Yeah, a really long fart.”

We drove back up the hill, away from the plant, and put the tent up. Our spot was exceptionally beautiful. The Derwent River sparkled below us. At dusk, fish leapt from the water. Gulls, ducks and oyster-catchers flew past. I couldn’t’ smell anything except for the bacon that the French backpackers were frying at the camp kitchen.

Up on the hill at MONA, the weird platform had started to glow. It was the most extraordinary lilac. Then it went green. Then dark purple.


The next day we went to museum. Unfortunately, American artist Matthew Barney’s ‘River of Fundament’ stuff occupied the entire bottom floor. None of us could connect with it. The film that the stuff had been part of wasn’t on that day. Who cared? It was almost six hours long and I’d read it featured a lot of poo. Site specific, sure, but not really my thing.

However, keep an open mind about art. Be receptive. Don’t judge too quick. I began to lecture my family.

In 2003, I had seen a Barney retrospective at the Guggenheim and I thought if I shared a few highlights they might show more interest in the gold turds on display in Hobart.

I mentioned the trough of dripping Vaseline that spiraled down the famous white space, the room lined with black rubber that contained live pigeons and their shit, the enormous video screen playing footage of a thrash metal band and the image of Barney in a kilt with a bleeding rabbit hanging from in his mouth. And then there was the movie with the grid iron players arranged in the formation of fallopian tubes and then there was footage of the artist in a luge and did you know that Matthew Barney is married to Bjork and she is this really cool singer from a country called Iceland…

No one even told me to shut up. They just walked away.

I was left alone with a mummy and sickle and a bit of rope.

We cheered up watching the video installation of 23 Madonna fans singing the entire Immaculate Conception album but the true joy arrived for me later that night when I walked back up the hill to MONA.

The platform we had noticed the night before was actually an installation by American artist James Turrell. Skyspace comes on at dawn and dusk. It had just opened the week we were there and I lay back on a bean bag and watched the sky turn green and then brown and then black in reaction to the changing colours of the ceiling that surrounded it.

God it was so beautiful. Turrell had framed the sky. Ambitious, gorgeous, the sky was peacock blue, then it turned brown like a bit of milk chocolate and then I remembered what had happened the night before our holiday, how the plaster in our bedroom had sagged dramatically and how it was now being held in place by a large piece of wood and several long poles. I sincerely hoped that we would not be greeted by a more organic ‘skyspace’ when we got home to Melbourne.




About rachelbuchanan2000

Journalist, historian, mum. 'Stop Press: the last days of newspapers' (Scribe, 2013). Creative fellow, State Library of Victoria. Project: 'The Melbourne Sirius' an artist newspaper (2014). First book, 'The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget' (Huia, 2009). New project, about doctors and doctorhood, is on the go now.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s