Increasingly tourism – sights and sounds of a new place are not enough. We want immersion – contact with the locals, art, a journey outside ourselves curated, not just by a new environment, but by cultural intervention. The changing relationship of contemporary art with its viewers stayed with me in my travel toward the WILD AT HEART art experience offered by MONA’s Dark Mofo (winter solstice festival) – and highlighted just how significant the cultural intervention of MONA in Tasmania has been.
Arrival into Hobart was beautifully evocative in the rain and mist. First stop was the recommended Riverfront Motel, across the lake from MONA, with a lovely view of the Museum and the stunning lake that evoked the paintings of Alexander McKenzie. MONA does food (and accommodation) with as much style as the art and ideal lunchtime sustenance was available in the wine bar. Descending the stairs into MONA’s underground spaces for Marina Abramovic’s survey show snaked through spaces new to me. It has been some two years since my first visit and new encounters included an evocative tunnel, which emerged past the library into an atrium space with views outside and a purpose-built pavilion which housed a stunning Anselm Kiefer installation. The Marina Abramovic survey was compelling viewing – her artistic career, milieu and narrative is personally and professionally intriguing.
Leaving the museum at closing time an orchestral sextet was setting up inside, and the James Turrell installation outside sheltered a large group of Hobart burghers, engaged in drinking champagne, suitably rugged up, watched the colours change under the atrium roof.
Food is an integral part of modern Tasmania, and my friend Roz MacAllan had recommended (for a Sunday night) dinner at The Glasshouse behind Hobart Ferry Terminal. Superb service, views out over the darkening water lent ambience to an ideal array of food and wine, and our early dinner meant time for an excursion into the Hobart Dark Mofo events.
Dark Park was our destination but we stumbled across the beam of light we had seen shooting into the sky as we had headed for the city centre. This was Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s PULSE COLUMN. The half hour queue in the cold – to stand at the base of its pyramid and direct its beam/s into the sky – did not compel us, but next door was a Patricia Piccinnini and Peter Hennessy exhibition. A free ticket and an advised twenty minute wait was ameliorated by a drum of burning coals.
Inside a large, Biennale-like subterranean space offered the largest survey of Piccinnini’s work I have seen. A single but huge work by Peter Hennessey preferred the meet and greet on entry, a tribute to the rubbish gods. It seemed, in its anarchy, to introduce the apocalypse of a different world, then conducted by the Piccinnini narrative. Fungal forms grew organically, small side rooms narrated the stories of other relationship/s, a sea of poppy like stems (with strange floral blooms) filled the large space with a film holding conducting sound and colour into the space on the back wall. These different elements – with industrial machines (in the former newspaper premises) housed many of the works.
The Dark Park precinct was dominated by the Fire Organ which belched as we drove by. Signage conducted us into another huge space (past a series of curtains) into the Anthony McCall, SOLID LIGHT WORKS. This play space offered drawings with light, full of young people joyously interacting with these works. Sadly it was 10 pm and other exhibits were closing, but our short excursion into Hobart’s Dark Mofo was enough confirm for us its veracity as a mini-Biennale.
Monday meant the beginning of our curated tour to Cradle Mountain. The WILD AT HEART contingent met at the Riverside Motel and set out at 9 am. First stop was Bothwell, a beautiful small town. In the St Michaels and the Angel Catholic Church local ladies put out an amazing spread for morning tea, there was an historic sandstone toilet block, charming grass cemetery and craft shop where crocheting and embroidery were set out with quite edgy items (like skull lanyards and beads). Our instructions directed us to the service station and the gun shop out back, where we were given a bullet. Each. The Gun Shop proprietor is very friendly, assures us that David Walsh is a “good bloke”.
We set off, way back from the bus, to Poatina, an ex hydro town where “Fusion owns the community”. Built in 1964, it is a snapshot from that era – preserved from development by the Christian organisation who use its functional housing and remote location as an asset. We have the recommended Banoffi pie and coffee and set out for the next part of the journey. It is here that we lose the thread of the itinerary, and miss the last stop, heading for Cradle Mountain Hotel where we arrive as darkness falls, just after 5. The road is wet and the trip has been shrouded in grey, with ice drifts beside the road in places. Picture post card views jostled with quaint old buildings.
A tent was erected in our hotel room, and all electrical goods removed – a torch is distributed. Our performers, dressed in scout outfits, direct us to dinner in the Woodland Lounge. Food is plentiful (vege and wallaby stew), a potato, with marshmallows to toast over the roaring fire outside.
Bob Brown opened the Ash Keating painting exhibition, Remote Nature Response. These evocative landscapes of darkness and mist are displayed in rooms that could have been purpose built. The film about their creation portrays their collective unity – where they take on an holistic quality they don’t offer independently. Choc Cherry Trifle is proferred in jars, then hot toddies (albeit with curdled milk).
On Tuesday as soon as it is sufficiently light to head outside, we go for a walk (an antidote to the previous long day in the car). The best option was a walk along the road in open country, with lots of dead trees – and bleak alpine environments. After check out we arrived at Peppers at Cradle Mountain. The Dove Lake walk was stunning – with coffee and lunch courtesy of WILD. Our two hour walk around Dove Lake began with the with luke warm pea and ham soup and damper in hand. This beautiful walk is an easy and irrevocably scenic circumnavigation of the lake, in bleak conditions, with clouds down over the mountains and light rain – an ideal scenario for the von Guerard landscape. Accompanied by constant waterfall noise – background, and growing louder as we got closer, it is suddenly and spookily silent when we head down the hill from the other side.
Back at Peppers we prepare for our booked spa and sauna experience. This curated aspect of the event included “spirit animal therapy”, from filling in the entry form until the other side. Afterward I felt, as an owl, that I could slick down my feathers and channel a suitably silent, watchful presence.
David Walsh appeared at the Tavern just prior to dinner. We had amused ourselves by spotting “Davids” all over Tasmania – there seem to be a multiplicity of men with long greying hair, glasses, looking geeky in black. The evening event was stagey, in some ways predictable – from the opening ceremony with animal spirit counsellors, a bell ringing to mark the move to the next space, the naked faun dancing over the bannister in the tavern. The food was meaty, more bestial than elegant. Starters were pork crisps, olives stuffed with goats cheese, champagne with orange and lemon cordial, then whisky cocktails, beetroot juice and blood shots, all before entry into the banquet hall. Dirt and “blood” stained plates and cutlery awaited us and the sit down dinner included a carnivore table presented like a medieval feast, heads on ducks, large slabs of venison, beef marrow, quail with claws included. The herbivore table featured pumpkin and bowls of cheesy polenta. The journalist from Australian Travel magazine beside me who had just flown in an hour before was, understandably enough, not sure what he had landed amongst.
Then the ringing of the bell, trooping around the building, upstairs, for dessert. A scoop of vanilla ice-cream in a cup, topped with salted caramel administered off the body of a naked woman. More stairs, down a corridor, another dessert experience. After waiting for the previous group to vacate, we were ushered in to an area with low light. Jellied breasts and penises were on the table in front of us. The rules were,“No Cutlery, No Hands”. The best method was to bite the object off the board and pass it down the table. It tasted bland … at best.
After that, back to the Tavern and more cocktails, where we were offered the 40 min round trip to Waldheim Chalet. This slab hut, built late in the 1800s, was left to the Tasmanian government. An Austrian man and his wife, who fell in love with Cradle Mountain, were pioneers. This place was cold, dark, yet ambient, its diorama offering an insight into just how adventurous this couple had been. Back at Peppers, the WILDNESS was winding down. While WILD had not convinced us artistically, this style of interactive cultural tourism feeds an interest that will only grow.
By Wednesday it was a relief to be over the WILD food – and Peppers was been re-inhabited by its genuine staff. The post script to my WILD encounter was via airport security in Launceston, when my handbag went through the X-ray machine a few times – the bullet the culprit. My bag was searched, the bullet extracted, and the good will of the staff ignited by relaying the Dark Mofo origins of the bullet.
The rhythmic music that had been part of the WILD, a swelling regular beat, was echoed in the aircraft engine as I flew home (owl-like) from Tasmania. Wild At Heart took me to Cradle Mountain and into the heart of a local Tasmania. Methodology may have added to the puzzle – which didn’t reveal more than the sum of its elements.
Dark Mofo’s Wild At Heart (14 to 17 June 2015) was curated by the Unconscious Collective (Michelle Boyde and David Patman with Danielle Brustman, Matt Warren and Jason James, featuring guest artists Jonnine Standish HTRK and Regional Curse.) UK culinary artists, Bompas & Parr. Wild fare hunted and prepared by Tasmanian chef Ross O’Meara.