Pic of David Walsh by Duncan Giblin, http://www.stormboyphotos.com
It is a pleasure for me to be able to go to a cultural event and not have to write about it.
After two decades as the arts writer for the Mercury, and as an occasional contributor over the years to the Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, 40 Degrees South, Crafts Arts International, Art Monthly, UTAS Alumni News, crikey.com.au, ozbabyboomers.com.au, caraibischeletteren.blogspot.com, and last but not least tasmaniantimes.com, it’s with a sense of gay abandon that I go to an event when I’m not going to write about it.
I’m not knocking arts coverage. At times I revelled in it, quite apart from free tickets to some wonderful events, and no doubt will continue to do so when I choose. But that’s the point - when I choose.
Thus it was with a delicious sense of irresponsibility that I went to two MONA FOMA events in Hobart. To my surprise, I want to write about the experience; not as an arts critic but with the joyful abandon of someone witnessing a spectacle. Two, actually. On Saturday night, I saw Balletlab’s ‘Aviary A Suite for the Bird’ inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Catalogue d’oiseaux’. Then, this afternoon (Sunday 15th) ‘Rod Thomson Playing Olivier Messiaen’ at St Mary’s Cathedral. I’m Messiaen’d out and maybe I’ll stick to this last event.
I’m not a music critic. Thomson is highly regarded as an organist and I don’t have the expertise to comment on his performance or about Messiaen’s works. But I can comment on the event. The cathedral was packed to the rafters - yes, I know, a cliche but all cliches are grounded in reality even if this one is not about being grounded.
Messiaen (1908-1992) was probably the most important composer for the organ in the twentieth century, say the concert notes, and many of his compositions depict what he termed ‘the marvellous aspects of the faith’ and draw on his deeply held Roman Catholicism. And marvellous it was. At times Thomson pulled out all the stops (a cliche again but maybe correct) and at times the organ thundered through the cathedral, which I found exciting, and it flitted through my mind that ‘organ’ was a wonderful name for this instrument.
But it was the scene before me that captivated me. Given the pews were full, people were sitting on the dais in the transept below the altar.
A young woman gave herself over to the occasion, lying back below the altar with arms crossed over her chest. She was oblivious to the extraordinary picture she had created - behind her, in the sanctuary, the central panel of the stained glass windows was of Christ with his arms nailed to the cross. As the performance went on, others lay back until there were maybe a dozen figures on the dais with arms crossed across them, unintentionally appearing as if votive offerings to God.
It was a spontaneous happening, one completely in tune with MONA FOMA.
MONA FOMA curator Brian Ritchie was sitting in the nave wearing sunglasses, while David Walsh was sitting cross-legged on the dais below the altar, with his back against the pulpit. As a teenager, he attended services at St Mary’s but now as an atheist, I wondered what he thought about filling the cathedral? I wasn’t writing about the concert, so I left, and unknown to either, I simply thanked both men for staging the event.
• Duncan Giblin’s pictures from the opening street party, Friday night:
Simon de Little, Saturday: When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my diary