Mudfest 2011: “The Happening” by Hilary Binks

Posted on August 22, 2011


What ‘happened’ last night…

I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect from The Happening. The 60s graphic of orange-hippy flowers on the Mudfest website told me nothing. The accompanying description (or lack thereof) excited my curiosity; “Colour. Music. Improvisation. Paint. Bodies. Art. Movement. Chaos. Calmness. Kinesis.” Was the audience going to be improvising? Were we even an audience? Maybe it would be some kind of paint party/orgy? The warnings of nudity, alcohol and coarse language certainly encouraged this line of thought. As did the advice: “Relax, respond and join The Happening…anything can happen.”

The website image for The Happening.

I was still confused. Also a little bit intimidated. So I decided to drag a friend along. We were greeted at the door with a glow stick wristband and assurances that it hadn’t started yet. The first room we walked into was decorated with big squares of yellow and orange fabric, gaffa taped to the ceiling.  The bar was made out of a door that was painted green and pink. The drinks had names like Kaleidoscope and Stained Glass Window. Best of all, punch was served out of tiny gumboots with squiggly straws. It felt a little bit like Bimbos, except more home-made and relaxed.

There were about 10 people total, sitting on crates in a circle having a quiet drink. We peeked into the adjoining room where it looked like some kind of arty thing (involving paint) was set up. We went on a quick trip to get cash and by the time we got back… something was definitely happening.

In the paint room, protected by Savers shirts and plastic footcovers, people were hurling, splashing, rubbing and dabbing paint on each other. There seemed to be a sudden influx of people because as we explored we found more and more rooms with more people in them. Fabric was hanging from every surface, making it look like the inside of a tent, or as if all the walls were cushioned. It was kind of like an Alice in Wonderland experience, walking past tiny coloured lights in bathtubs. There was a table set up with pipe cleaners, needles & thread, buttons and gauzy fabric in lurid colours with an unspoken invitation to decorate ourselves. I have just spent the last four weeks heavily involved in costuming for a college theatre production, so you would have thought I had seen the last of sewing, painting, cutting, working unusual materials into interesting shapes. But at some point that night I definitely found myself in the bathtub, sewing lace and buttons onto my friend’s sleeve.

It was at the point when someone said “I like your nose” that I looked in the mirror behind the bar. I had black paint smeared all over my nose and around my mouth, making me look like some kind of bear creature. The Happening had clearly happened all over my face. The shirt that I was wearing had been splattered and inscribed with various colours, words and textures. There were bits of lace, flowers, paint, buttons and even a fairy lights throughout my hair.  We chilled in the faux-beer garden set up outside, adding autumn leaves to the nest that was my hair and sipping more drinks.

Special mention has to go to the band for the improvised music. They created the mood, an ambience that made people want to ‘relax and respond’ through a seemingly fluid but harmonious melody. With the saxophone player weaving in and out of the party, the music seemed to weave together the randomness of all the different environments. The fact that there was always at least one shirtless guy dancing to them does not reflect the band’s talent.

It turned out to be one of those ‘adventure’ nights, a spontaneous decision to relax and go with whatever came across my path, that took me somewhere I wouldn’t have imagined. I wouldn’t really be sure that it had happened at all, if not for the paint stains I found on my hands in the morning.

Hilary Binks attended The Happening on the evening of Saturday 20th August (as part of the University of Melbourne’s biennial Arts festival, Mudfest 2011). The photos in this article were taken by Hilary and her friend using a mobile device.  

For more from the Mudfest 2011 series, click here