Concrete, concrete render, steel, aluminium, gold, lead, mirror, LED lighting, cuneiform artefacts, soundtracks x 3. Viewed in May 2012.
Brigita Ozolins brings MONA’s eponymous “old” and “new” together in Kryptos, an enchanting, multi-faceted and surprising installation commissioned by David Walsh. The work sits on the second of the three basement floors that make up the museum, and its plain unmarked doorway is easily missed by those who are hurrying towards the more infamous pieces covering sex, death and shit, such as the artificial digestive system of Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca Professional.
Kryptos consists of a series of chambers, constructed from concrete and render. David Walsh jokes in his “Gonzo” introduction to the piece that if it hadn’t worked out, he could simply have “plastered up the door and no-one would have been the wiser”.
As you cross the threshold, a minimalist soundscape clears your head, enveloping you and absorbing you into the experience without external distractions. The work consists of three separate soundscapes, which shift and blend as you progress from the outer chamber, in a circle, into the interior chambers and ultimately into the heart of the work. Sound art and noise are an under-appreciated element in both modern art and music, yet they are used effectively in Kryptos to create an eerily compelling space.
The primary visual features of this work are the binary codes that litter the walls and the underfloor lighting that lines the floor’s edges; these elements work with the sound to create a futuristic space. The artist’s representation of the “old” becomes clear only with further research: this work is a response to four ancient artefacts in MONA featuring cuneiform, one of the earliest known forms of writing. The binary digits encode texts such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian piece of literature. Ozolins contends that despite being able to translate these texts, we can never understand their true significance to their originating culture. It would apparently be possible to translate the binary codes into English, for which we’ll take the artist on her word. She states in her audio introduction that “Kryptos is about that mystery” and the simultaneous states of being both “accessible and inaccessible”.
Lacking context, the observer may be perplexed by this artwork, which means only that it ironically succeeds in its mission of explaining the inexplicable nature of texts taken out of their context. Regardless, the modified iPods given to MONA visitors provide both Walsh’s introduction and Ozolins’ discussion of the piece, and these details are also accessible via the website after your visit.
A final surprise lies in the central chamber at the heart of this work, but it would be a shame to ruin this. I highly recommend experiencing Kryptos when you visit MONA. Soak up the enigma for an extended period while reflecting on the unique intersection between the old and the new that David Walsh has gifted to the visiting public.
See Kryptos at the Museum of Old and New Art (Hobart, TAS): http://www.mona.net.au/mona/museum/