The ‘O’ in Mona

March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments

Last week I visited Mona – the Museum of Old and New Art, which recently opened in Berridale, Tasmania, Australia. Mona is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not least the story of its creation by professional gambler David Walsh, but here I just wanted to relate my impressions of The O, the mobile device given to all visitors who walk through Mona’s doors.

– – – – – – – – –

Just inside the unassuming entrance to Mona I was introduced to The O, an iPod touch with a Mona branded protective case. In a quick group lesson we learned how there are no labels to be found anywhere on the walls of the museum, and that these devices provided access to information about the art. We were also given a pair of Mona-branded headphones, which have a retractable cord to avoid tangle problems, and the museum visitor-guide brochure. The front-of-house team made The O seem easy to use, and I happily hung it around my neck as I descended a spiral staircase into the museum.

The O

I had no idea where I was going or what was going to see, and spent the first 30 minutes marveling more at the excavated gallery spaces, than the art.  When I did start to notice the work around me, I didn’t feel the need to use The O immediately. I just wanted to orientate myself in the space and look.  Surprisingly, I caught myself glancing around for non-existent labels, like phantom limbs. It’s confronting to realise how ingrained my museum behaviours are, and it felt deliciously liberating to have them subverted.

Eventually I got around to the business of plugging into The O. I clicked on the pink cross, the device used geolocation to position me in the museum, and returned a list of works nearby. I made my selection, and received a simple summary screen with a thumbnail of the work.

The options on the screen included:

o    Voting on whether I +LOVE or xHATE the work: This was good fun, when I chose to love or hate something a screen returned delivering stats in amusing ways to show how many agreed with my choice. It is also an opportunity for Mona to collect some data about me as a visitor, which in the end made me a little self-conscious about my choices.

o    Artwank: Text in a formal curatorial style. Worthy stuff, but I was having too much fun working it out for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good artwank, however in this context it was too hard to read on the small screen, and my eyes began to glaze over.

o    Gonzo: This is more like it. Personal musings on the art from Mona’s owner David Walsh. He is funny, smart, and his conversational tone was much better suited for delivery on a mobile device.

o    Ideas: Perfect little text bytes to take you in unexpected directions.

o    Audio: In the gallery space I found the audio hard to engage with. The recording was noisy, and the poor quality made it a deal breaker. A good solution would be to have the audio on the Mona website, where I could access it from home. Many museums and galleries offer this feature, but Mona is yet to.

Once I had looked at a couple of works on The O, a message appeared to tell me I could save my tour and access it later online. All I had to do was enter my email address, confirm it, and I was done. This process was a little misleading. It gave the impression that I would be able to access all the content on The O on the Mona website after I had left the museum. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case. As I have already explained, there is no post-visit access to audio, and to unlock extra content online you need to have accessed the specific work on The O.

Another point of frustration was that the content is locked up by the geolocation IA. If I moved away from a work and reset my location, the content from the previous location disappeared, and could only be accessed again if I moved back within range of the work. I am not sure why there needs to be so much locking up of content. It seems to be out of kilter with the spirit of sharing that makes Mona free to enter, and attractive to people who would normally run a mile from an art museum visit.

As I walked around I found myself using The O intermittently. In one interesting instance I was sitting and listening to the Last riot 2 video installation, while reading on The O about James Angus’ Truck Corridor, which I had just walked past. The effect was like a mashup – a new experience made possible by The O. I enjoyed the loud, energetic clash, and it pretty much sums my whole visit. I eventually emerged into the late-afternoon sun feeling altered and elated, perhaps even a little in love with all things Mona.

– – – – – – – – –

The O app was fun, addictive, easy to navigate and provided a seamless wi-fi enabled user-experience. Some of the content could be improved – and set free – but it’s early days yet. Perhaps even more interesting is that I liked not using The O. It’s existence allowed the labels to be ripped off the walls of the art museum, leaving the work without obvious instructions or signifiers. This shone a bright light upon the preconceived ideas I bring to any exhibition space, and how without them my unguided response to an object might be magically different.

My visit to Mona was a delight, and challenged me to engage with the space and art in unexpected ways. Mona did not want to dictate my experience. In fact, I was encouraged to get lost, explore and learn in my own way. The O device was my compass, but I was not forced to use it in any prescribed fashion. It was up to me to take it or leave it, and I appreciated the choice. Sadly, my visit to the website post visit wasn’t so satisfying, but I’m sure that side of things will evolve with user feedback.

If anyone else out there has had a chance to visit Mona and use The O, I’d be interested to know how your experiences compare.


Facebook, a list of positives and negatives

December 2, 2007 § 13 Comments

So all of the sudden everyone is on Facebook – the numbers for users of my generation, the Xers, have gone crazy in recent months. I’ve begun to use it personally and professionally and am pretty much addicted now, and because I’m living in New York it’s been a great way to keep in touch with friends and family in Oz. That’s the genius of it I guess, every new FB member brings another bunch with them, it just grows and grows. I am not 100% enamored though, I have a growing list of personal positive and negatives which I want to share and keep track of myself. I’ll be adding to this list over the coming months, so if anyone reads this feel free to add some, here’s a couple to begin with:

-Friend spam

  1. I don’t want to play zombies, vampires, pacman etc. etc. – it’s not that I don’t like you I’m just too old and don’t have enough time
  2. I don’t want to send notification to all of my friends about every application
  3. I don’t want to buy your artwork in an online auction
  4. I don’t want to ‘send this on to all your friends and see what happens’

-Advertising that you can’t remove on  the News Feed.

-I like that I can share what I’m reading and listening to with friends using apps like Music! and Visual Bookshelf but wish the marketing intend wasn’t so aggressive.

-Cool apps like ‘ArtShare‘* that fill your profile page with stuff that might actually interest you and your friends

-Privacy – Unlike MySpace you get to choose who looks at your profile and sends you those zombie invites. I see that you can hide your profile information on MySpace these days.

-It’s fun to waste/kill/fill time interacting with friends by playing the odd ‘identify the famous actor as a child’ quiz.

-Great to play with your profile and change your picture and update your status to let people know where you’re at.

*I am currently working at the Brooklyn Museum with the team that developed this app so I’m totally biased but nevertheless it’s a personal fave.

Tate on Flickr

May 21, 2007 § 13 Comments

battersea power station, originally uploaded by joelrawlings.

For the first time, Tate Britain is inviting members of the public to contribute to the content of an exhibition. How We Are: Photographing Britain takes a unique look at the journey of British photography, from the pioneers of the early medium to today’s photographers who use new technology to make and display their imagery.

For more info go to Tate online
or straight to the Flickr site


May 20, 2007 § 3 Comments

Stills from Dead Calm, Breaker Morant, Little Fish, Storm Boy and The Proposition
I recently became aware of a project to get Australia’s audio visual heritage online. australianscreen is slated for launch mid this year, the site’s holding page at announces

  • australianscreen is a web-based resource that will offer free access to a vast range of Australian moving image and audio material drawn from the Australian film, television and radio industries.
  • What an amazing resource this will be for film makers, viewers, archivists and learners in all guises.  In this ‘online’ conversational age there is an incredible potential for this project to raise the profile of Australian screen history and culture locally and internationally. Will users of the database be able to contribute tags to the audiovisual material they view/listen to to create a lively folksonomy? It will also be interesting to see if there is any online community building initiative built into the australianscreen vision.

    Photography inside Museums

    March 18, 2007 § 6 Comments

    Ron Mueck's Man in a Boat. Picture: Katarzyna Krzywania
    Ron Mueck’s Man in a Boat. Picture: Katarzyna Krzywania

    I’ve often wondered why you can’t take photographs in some museums or in some exhibitions and not others. The  e-artcasting blog entry “When Cameras Inside Museums Are Forbidden: Web2.0 and Copyrights” shed some light on the mystery.  The answer is pretty obvious really it’s all about lender agreements and copyright.

    Memories of London

    January 27, 2007 § Leave a comment

    Another thought provoking Museum of London  effort,  is  a great idea, basically you can attach text, a photo, video and sound files to a google map of London to create a mosaic of London memories. The site sorts the content by themes such as “Love&Loss”, “Joy&Struggle”, “Fate&Coincidence” and you can add your own themes – how about “Broke&Australian”. The google map keeps crashing for me so I haven’t had a good look at the memories or added any of my own but hope to soon.

    Brooklyn Museum Community

    January 20, 2007 § Leave a comment

    Have you noticed that the Brooklyn Museum has a Community section on their website? The first page says “The Brooklyn Museum believes in community. As we blog to keep you up-to-date, we’d love to hear from you too. Tell us about your visit by commenting on our posts.” The Community section identifies ways in which visitors can contribute to a conversation with BM, eg. photographs, videos, blogs. This Museum’s social (as opposed to scientific) approach to finding out how visitors interpret their space is so refreshing. Other museums, let’s say Tate online  and the Powerhouse Museum, have community building initiatives, ie. use of social software, they may even be developing their presence on flickr and Their sites do not have a clearly marked community section for visitor contributions and clear directions to their content out on the network,  is it time for them to do so?

    Where Am I?

    You are currently browsing the Museum led conversations category at Making Conversation with Museums.