The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).
Mona is an excavation of the underside of human nature. And now we’re building a new wing, called Pharos, to round out the metaphor. A crack of light… And a nice spot to sit down, because people are always complaining there aren’t enough chairs in the museum.
What is the nature of this light? A glancing blaze of consciousness, refracted in this thing we call art. Specifically, major new works by the great light artist James Turrell, and one each from Jean Tinguely, Charles Ross, Richard Wilson and Randy Polumbo.
The four Turrell works will push our perceptual limits in different ways. A Light Tunnel will guide you into the new wing, and provoke the sensation of floating in space, before delivering you to Pharos’s central place of repose—where you can eat, drink, and enjoy the view of the Derwent, until long after the rest of the museum is in darkness. While you’re there you will want to visit Turrell’s Ganzfeld work, named after a perceptual deprivation experiment undertaken in the mid-twentieth century by German psychologist Wolfgang Metzger. Apparently, sensory deprivation amplifies neural noise, in your brain’s attempt to find the missing signals—leading to a loss of depth perception, and possibly hallucinations… If you prefer to take your neural battering lying down, try the Perceptual Cell, and choose the ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ setting. The Dark Space will have padded walls, and will—in Turrell’s words—make you ‘see yourself see’. Like all his work. Which is why we love him, and part of the reason we wanted to build Pharos in the first place.
In some ways this is a legacy. Mona is transient, challenging, reactionary, adventitious. Pharos is considered and permanent. In an interview a few years ago I noted that Solomon Guggenheim had his legacy stripped from him and I claimed that I wasn’t concerned that it would happen to me. Apparently I am.
Pharos—named after Pharos of Alexandria, the lighthouse built for Ptolemy I Soter in about 280 BCE. And a monument to an uncertain legacy.
The Richard Wilson work will be something to behold—and smell: a reservoir of recycled engine oil that reaches halfway up the waffle-recessed walls of the gallery space, creating a vast reflective surface of perfect stillness.
Beside it, a useless metal monster will clank and whirr away your peace of mind. Tinguely’s Memorial to Sacred Wind or the Tomb of Kamikaze, first made in 1969 for the Universal Exhibition in Osaka, is an elaborate machine that achieves exactly nothing—a conceptual counterpoint or complement to Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca in a way that hasn’t become completely clear to us just yet.
Randy Polumbo, a New York-based artist, is creating a silver, LED-lit grotto of flowers made from glass-blown dildos. All your favourite things, basically. You access it through our new tunnel network (yes, that’s right, our new tunnel network) and can hang around there with your friends talking about how much you like flowers made from dildos.
Finally, Pharos will also house a solar spectrum installation by Charles Ross—twelve of his iconic light prisms will be installed in the walls and ceiling of a sky bridge viewing platform, each aligned to catch the sun as it moves across the site. Expect huge spectra projected throughout your brief (or so it seems) turn around the grounds of our museum.
The spectra will expand and contract into washes and bands of colour as they move through space, propelled by the turning of the earth. Ross’s goal, he says, is to create a global nexus so that as a spectrum sets in one location it is always rising in another.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose.
Pharos renderings courtesy of Fender Katsalidis Architects