News & Commentary, Visual Arts

David Walsh's excellent literary adventures

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What does Australia’s greatest contemporary artist do next? Make a literary splash, on walls and in print.
God who lives in Hobart 
Someone asked me the question and I answered: ‘Australia’s greatest contemporary artist is … David Walsh.’
That’s the David Walsh who is the creator and owner of MONA in Hobart. (“God,” to quote his MONA car space designation.) If contemporary art embraces the eclectic practices of combinatory installations and multi-disciplinary delivery systems, and has made a fateful pact with money and fame, then MONA is the greatest auteur artwork in the country and its creator the greatest artist.
As MONA shows, David Walsh is very alive to his own instincts and interests. One of them is books and reading, as manifested in the library at MONA: ‘As a kid [David] had no friends, so decided to dedicate his small life to reading, in Dewey order, the entirety of the Glenorchy City Library.

A couple of years ago at MONA, I spied Walsh, like a live exhibit in a glass enclosure.
God’s trophy Island
Having authored a book, now, in a characteristically lateral move Walsh has taken on a literary asset. In the next issue of Island, Tasmania’s 36-year-old literary magazine, to be published next week, Walsh writes: ‘My lust for literature, and my lust for collecting, has led me to seek a trophy journal.’
It was Island’s editor, Matthew Lamb, who tapped Walsh. Earlier this month, Lamb said, ‘It became clear to me that MONA is built primarily on ideas. And those ideas derive, in no small part, from David’s love of reading, of writing, of books, and of libraries.’ He also wryly adds, ‘Did we bend over and take one from Walsh? That’s not entirely true. We were standing up against a wall at the time. I like to think, in that way, we have retained our dignity.’
Each issue will be like a miniature fringe exhibition of ideas, words and images, with MONA submitting bespoke content and ideas for Island to consider, maintaining its autonomy.
God shows faith in Print
Amazingly, Walsh and Lamb (Lamb and Walsh) are not only making Island a print-only magazine, they are doubling its print run.
In an email exchange, Lamb explained: ‘Island is not just a magazine, it is a literary magazine. For good or ill, literature, broadly construed, does not make for good click-bait. Ideas are not memes. Writing is more than data. And culture is something other than a para-social echo-chamber. That’s not a standard we should be measuring ourselves against.’
Being an analogue fan, I say, bring it on: check Island out. (Disclosure: Yes, I have subscribed, put my money where my paper heart is.)

The public art of reading
Coincidentally the City of Hobart has just launched their latest Soapboxbillboard project, Read More Books, with Island magazine, featuring three local bookish types like … David Walsh.
Also, the great Amanda Lohrey (recent novel A Short History of Richard Kline) and literary wunderkind Rohan Wilson whose debut novel The Roving Party was an award-winner, and whose follow-up is yet another prize winner, also set in Tasmania’s brutal past, To Name Those Lost.
The billboards in downtown Mathers Place — 2nd disclosure: I drew the portraits on the posters — have the three authors offering book thoughts:
David Walsh (raffishly): ‘I once read a book and it got me on a billboard.’
Amanda Lohrey (insightfully): ‘Reading is a conversation with your best self.’
Rohan Wilson (passionately): ‘Read more books. It’s the only thing that will save you.’

Poster photos by Domas Rukas
Books as art, reading as performance
As Island produced these posters, I asked Matthew Lamb how he made the art and reading connections. He wrote:

‘The City of Hobart approached us with the problem of how we could make literature more accessible to public art. Our response was that reading is already perhaps the most pervasive form of public art, so pervasive perhaps that it is taken for granted and almost invisible.
We want to remind people that even if they are reading a book in the privacy of their own home, they are still participating in a broader literary community. But if you happen to see somebody reading a book in public, then you are also witnessing public art in action.
If you are the one reading the book, then you’re participating as a public artist.
Libraries are permanent art installations.
Book shops are art galleries …
Not just because they contain the promise of reading, but because books are artefacts, they are art objects, and their covers are works of visual art. If you are sitting in a café reading a book, holding it up for all passers-by to see, then you are effectively the display case for a work of public art.’

All of which is music to my bookish ears, and close to my paper heart. If you happen to be in Mathers Place, perform reading under a poster. Read more books in public, show off your art object!

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