Commissioned by David Walsh for MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), Berriedale, Tasmania
Concrete, concrete render, steel, aluminium, gold, lead, mirror, LED lighting, cuneiform artefacts. sound tracks x 3
9.05m x 7.72m x 2.7m
Construction by Hansen & Yuncken; Architectural drawings & advice by Michael Schrapnel, Dock 4; Sound production by Paul Roberts; Sound engineering by Aegres; Lighting by Donn Salisbury of WSP and Lincolne Scott, & Adam Meredith
Photography: Brett Boardman, courtesy MONA; Bo Wang, Josep Espuga and Brigita Ozolins
The urge to discover secrets is deeply ingrained in human nature; even the least curious mind is roused by the promise of sharing knowledge withheld from others.
John Chadwick, The decipherment of Linear B.
Kryptos was commissioned by David Walsh for MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art) in 2005. The work responds to specific objects in Walsh’s collection that depict cuneiform, one of the earliest known forms of writing. These objects, which originated in Bablyon and Assyria (now present day Iraq) have been incorporated into the installation.
Kryptos is built into MONA. It consists of three chambers, the walls of each decorated with binary code and words, created from almost 3,000 laser cut numerals and letters. Other elements of the work include 3 separate sound tracks, underfloor lighting, and the cuneiform artefacts which have been brought together to create an experiential environment inspired by the beauty and mystery of language and codes. Kryptos is about the present and the past, old technology and new technology, death, light, darkness, secrecy and transformation. The binary code that dominates the installation is a translation of sections from one of the oldest works of literature known to us – The Epic of Gilgamesh - which was written in cuneiform on small clay tablets around 2,700 BC.
Documentary video by Adam Meredith
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The ideas for Kryptos developed from an engagement with the history of writing and cryptography, in particular the stories associated with the decipherment of hieroglyphics, cuneiform and linear B. While ancient forms of writing were not meant to be indecipherable, the skills required to interpret them parallel those of cryptographers. And while the text of each of the cuneiform artefacts included in Kryptos can be translated wholly or in part, each object retains a distinct aura of the unknown and the ineffable. It is this idea of the unknown, the mysterious and the indecipherable that Kryptos aims to evoke.