In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a majestic, enormous martial hall housing the chosen dead.
I didn’t know this fact when I entered Valhalla, Callum Morton’s new work for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. I knew that the desolate, pock-marked, concrete crumble was a three-quarter scale replica of Morton’s childhood home and I knew that some lifts would be involved. But when I pushed open the frosted glass door, I saw a janitor lying motionless and spread-eagled face down, as if he’d been bludgeoned from behind. I was so shocked that I froze and forgot to take a photo – and by the time I’d gathered my senses he’d already stood up to start mopping the floor, push lift buttons and swing backwards in a plastic chair.
After that, I stood in the corner and watched the reactions of the other people as they entered the claustrophobic corporate-style marble foyer. People faced the lift doors in silence, carefully avoiding eye contact with each other or held whispered conferences in pairs. Everyone’s reflex was to stare up hopefully at the flashing lift lights at the sound of the lift’s ‘ding’. It was amusing to observe that even though people knew that the lifts didn’t exist, everyone still reacted to the space as if it was their reality. I met some other visitors outside and we all started laughing at our experience.
Read The Age’s interview with Callum Morton here
The beginning of Peter Greenaway’s multimedia interpretation of Leonardo’s Last Supper certainly replicated my experience in Milan. Lining up, waiting, herded inside, more waiting…
When we entered the dark room of the North Melbourne Town Hall the famous painting was projected onto one end, and the other painting in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie was projected onto the other end. In the middle was a plaster sculpture of the table of the Last Supper, complete with torn loaves of bread, half-empty plates and wine goblets.
‘Was this it?’ I wondered. ‘I paid $10 to gaze at a projection of the Last Supper for 20 minutes to the sounds of scraping strings?’. Fortunately this wasn’t the case, and in fact the next 20 minutes brought elements of the painting to light (literally) that I had never noticed before. The effects imbued vibrant colour and movement to the crumbling, faded original. The people seemed at times to be made of plaster, wood and flesh and the mood shifted from gloriously light to darkly ominous. Hidden details and expressions were revealed.
For me the lights and music really emphasised the spiritual significance of the painting and the drama of the moment when Christ announced that one of the apostles would betray him. I also admired the extreme closeups of the painting which revealed the superb detail of Leonardo’s work underneath the flecks of plaster and paint, and the almost grandiose journey sweeping above the topography of the painting.