'The Lifted Brow Does Dark Mofo: How David Walsh Saved Hobart', by Zoe Barron

image

Photograph by Jean Poole. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Licence.

Between June 12 and 22, Dark Mofo dominated the city of Hobart. This is the first in a series of reports from our correspondents who were there.

image

Friday 13.07.14: Articulated Intersect

Did you see the big light in the sky over Hobart the other night? says the café chalkboard at the corner of the Elizabeth St Mall. Apparently David Walsh was trying to get in touch with Batman. He’s going to teach him how to save a city.

Articulated Intersect is a collection of eighteen of the most powerful searchlights in existence, arranged in groups of three around the Hobart waterfront. On the first night of Dark Mofo, they are most of what the news media talk about. The lights are on the front pages of all the papers and street press magazines. On TV, reporters discuss art awkwardly, with all the wrong intonations. ‘Apart from boosting visitors to the state, one of the key motivators of Dark Mofo is to get Tasmanians out of their lounge rooms,’ says the ABC, before interviewing Rafael Lozano-Hemmel about his work. ‘They’re very powerful lights,’ they ask. ‘Do they use a lot of electricity?’

The lights are controlled by white levers and people line up with their children, eager for a turn. This is ‘to amplify the presence of the citizens on a grand urban scale,’ explains Rafael Lozano-Hemmel. ‘What we want to create is a personalisation of space.’ I have a go, but I have no friends or children with me, so my arrival at the front of the line is a little uncomfortable. ‘Kngk!’ goes the lever when it hits its limit, which has been made fairly narrow to prevent the lights from shining into buildings, people’s faces, flight paths. ‘Kngk! Kngk!’ The massive beams of light also make a sound—one not unlike a lightsabre—when they intersect with other lights, and I get a bit carried away.

The lights run from dusk to dawn and only move if there is someone on the lever. When I’m up shivering for a 3am toilet trip, I look outside to see them still moving, still amplifying Hobart’s citizens into the cold, low clouds.

image

‘Do you agree?’ I ask my friend Kelly, after showing her my picture of the chalkboard. ‘Do you think David Walsh has saved Hobart?’ Kelly has recently opened the Alabama Hotel on Liverpool Street with her partner Aiden, who is an artist. Kelly makes a little tight-lipped nod on the way to the coffee machine. ‘Pretty much,’ she says.

Her hotel is boutique and beautiful. There are pink plastic flamingos hanging in the stairwell, succulent plants on the windowsills and balcony, and a mixture of sofas in warm little clusters in the common area. She lights it up red at night to celebrate Dark Mofo, along with a bunch of other hotels and businesses in Hobart.

Before they moved to Tasmania, Kelly and Aiden lived in Fremantle in WA, where I live, and then in Melbourne. They moved to Hobart because, Aiden says, ‘It really is the last bastion.’ When I was here a year ago, he reckoned it was good Hobart got ignored, because that meant it got left alone. I wonder if that’s still the case.

Kelly says they probably wouldn’t have opened the hotel if David Walsh and his weird-ass art museum hadn’t come along. She’s been here for six years, while MONA has been around for three, so she’s really noticed the changes. ‘It brings a different kind of visitor,’ she says. And maybe it’s coincidental, she continues, maybe it’s conveniently coincided with the food and booze scenes taking off, but Hobart has changed a lot since MONA.

Sunday 15.06.14: Mick Thomas + Jeff Lang + Gin Club

Jeff Lang’s got fat. Or maybe it’s just his too-small grey suit with a grey flat cap, a combination that makes him look a lot like Porky Pig. Anyway, I’m feeling uncharitable because his show has quickly become long and indulgent, with him and the band pretending to be teenage rockers, only more talented, and spending a bunch of time tearing their poor instruments apart. I thought I saw David Walsh around, but I’m pretty sure he left after Mick Thomas from Weddings Parties Anything, who played simple folk padded out with long stories about simple things. Thomas seemed real and he entertained me. I’m not a musician, after all, just an audience member, so I don’t really care what kind of tortured sounds Lang’s guitar can make. I should probably stop reviewing music gigs.

Tuesday 17.06.14 – MONA til Midnight

After MONA til Midnight, Ella says we are all invited to a penthouse party hosted by a festival curator or something. I am with a group of people from Perth, of which Ella is one, and we have been invited to the party by her fancy Sydney producer friend. I have been engaging intermittently in the Cool Dance with this friend, in between trying to decipher what the fuck is going on with all the Southdale Shopping Centre signs around the museum, which were definitely not here last time I visited. We figure out it’s a joke, and spend a great deal of time trying to pick out what’s real and what’s made up. The Red Cross Blood Service display with the Coca-Cola logo in the corner: made up. The forms behind the sign that you fill out before donating: real.

‘How did they get permission to use all these logos?’ we wonder, gazing at the great big Hugo Boss and L’Oreal and Victoria’s Secret banners and billboards. The ATMs at the entrance—which have ads encouraging you to gamble away the money you’re withdrawing—don’t actually work, the front desk is a tourist info centre, and the café has been converted into a Starbucks. Later I find out that they are burning Korans and bibles in the fireplace.

‘It’s an art experiment,’ explains Ella’s fancy friend. ‘They haven’t got permission; they’re just sitting back and waiting for the lawsuits.’

I spot David Walsh in the wine bar. He has a jacket on with two different coloured arms. I wish very intensely for a minute that I were his friend.

image

On the way out, I open one of the oranges they had been giving away at the entrance, along with Southdale Shopping Centre balloons and t-shirts, and share it with all the people in the glass elevator. We have just taken turns using the third toilet cubicle on the right, in which you can see your own anus, and I have narrowly stopped a drunk kid from popping the balloon tethered to my backpack. He came at it with his teeth.

We split into two different vehicles and drive back to Hobart. In the elevator to the penthouse, we agree that we’ve never been to a party in a ‘penthouse’ before, then get way too excited when we discover that this elevator has a glass wall too.

A tall, square-faced man with close-cropped hair answers the door. His body language tells the story of the incredibly awkward situation we have just created with our presence. ‘Hello,’ he hesitates in a thick French accent. Through the door, a small group of fancy people sit in a darkened room, eighteen searchlights fanning back and forth through the floor to ceiling windows behind them. Ella spots her fancy friend, and now we are half in the party, half in the doorway. ‘Uh, but, we are just finishing the party,’ says the French man.

‘We can just go,’ says Ella.

‘Have a drink,’ says Ella’s fancy friend.

‘I am sorry, but we are finishing the party in just ten minutes,’ says the French man. ‘Really. It is finishing. The party, it is finishing.’

Wednesday 18.06.14 – Michael Goldberg: An Inn for Phantoms

It’s cool that Michael Goldberg takes black and white photographs of the shadows museum exhibits make and everything. And after looking for a while, I do start to appreciate the patterns of light through glass boxes, and the strange new shapes and landscapes the shadows form on the walls in the photographs. But I spend a lot more time in the other rooms of the exceptionally creepy Narryna Heritage Museum instead. Maybe I’m meant to.

The house is set up to simulate an experience of early colonial life, with looming furniture and headless mannequins in authentic period dress, the rooms quiet and still and untouchable. ‘PREPARE to meet thy GOD’ says a framed picture above a lantern. I take a photograph of it, vaguely aware that I am taking a photograph of an object, and not really challenging the relationship between light and space, or our perception of the building. I’m just taking a photograph of a creepy thing.

‘Do you think David Walsh has saved Hobart?’ I ask Cindy in the car on the way home. Cindy is an old family friend, whose children I played with when I lived in Tassie as a child. She’s lived in Hobart for more than ten years. She believes ‘saves’ is a strong word, but she’s taught David Walsh’s child at kindy, and she appreciates both him and all he’s done for her city. ‘He’s a very unusual man,’ she says.

Friday 20.06.14 – SUNN 0 ) ) ) + EARTH + Veil of Darkness

EARTH leave the stage and the venue begins to fill with dry ice. Through the mire, roadies stack subs in a semi-circular fortification. A glimpse of a black cape. Some brief cheers from the audience and many hands moving to ears, securing earplugs. In a text, my friend Elizabeth called the space we’re standing in a ‘dance floor’, but this is very misleading. People are standing stock still, and continue to do so as the crushingly loud drone begins, sustains and continues. Occasionally one or two people hold up a hand, fingers arranged into a stiff claw formation. Otherwise, there is no movement.

‘Usually a band will put 70, 80 DB over the desk,’ Ella’s fancy friend had explained to me on Tuesday night. ‘Yeah. Sun have requested 120.’

I told my partner Tim about this and he said that burglar alarms are usually set to about 110, 120 decibels, because at that range the body ceases all logical thought and triggers every fleeing instinct and hormone available.

That’s 120 high-pitched decibels, though. 120 decibels of bass is a very different, very heavy experience. It’s almost as if I can feel my internal organs vibrating, along with the back of my throat, my shins, my nose hairs. I am grateful for my earplugs, but felt that if I removed them, the evisceration of my hearing would be a not unpleasant experience.

By this time, the copious wafts of dry ice have leaked out of the main room and bothered fire alarms that haven’t been locked out, and a fire truck is parked jauntily at the curb. Its lights—the same colours as those onstage—flash into the foyer as firemen wander through the building. I feel David Walsh is here somewhere too, his wild, mottled grey hair waving in time to the drone.

I go to the mezzanine, which turns out to be a moral decision, because every time I move around I feel as though I am ruining people’s religious experiences. From here I can see individual spurts of dry ice, the pattern of blue and red lights, the devil-like height of the musicians in their hooded black capes. One of them has started singing, low and monk-like, and soon he is the only one onstage. This goes on for a while. Sometimes he throat sings, sometimes he screeches like an angry pig, but mostly he just growls. Eventually the other men return and start playing their instruments again, and it is funny how normal guitars look in the midst of all this. I am sitting down, boxed between people having religious experiences, and feel strongly that I should not move, lest I disturb them.

Then it gets somehow louder. ‘I wonder how long I will last before I need to get some clear oxygen,’ I write in my notebook, and spend the rest of the gig crumpled forward, my hands clutched tightly over my ears.

image

‘Do you think David Walsh has saved Hobart?’ I ask James, one of Cindy’s children. It is the next day, and we are standing on the deck of his sharehouse in West Hobart. James is in risk management. He likes fishing and isn’t looking forward to the crowds at the Mofo Winter Feast tonight. He shrugs. We talk briefly about Hobart’s economic struggles.

Sunday 22.06.14 – Nude Solstice Swim

The day before the winter solstice, staff at Australia’s Davis research station in Antarctica spend about eight hours drilling a 1.5m x 1.5m swimming pool into the 1m thick sea ice. On solstice morning, they go in one by one, with a rope tied around their waist, and they don’t scream or anything, just make shocked little noises as their bodies vanish into water the texture of a margarita.

We scream. We go running naked into the Derwent, our several hundred strange white bums and red caps all bobbing up and down together; we scream when we hit the water. It is a victory cry, a joyful hoot, a grand, united scream of pain. Hundreds of us, in matching red caps, dropping our matching white towels, like a nature documentary on some hilarious species of flightless bird. Our windmilling freestyles towards the buoys and the sherbet orange-pink horizon, breath returning, the cold pure sensation now, our white skin blanched pink as MONA’s logo.

image

Zoe Barron is a freelance writer, editor and bicycle admirer from Fremantle, WA. She writes regularly for a number of publications, including this one.