03 May 2014

The 24-Hour Experience, part 4

24-Hour Experience
29–30 March 2014

The lead up to 1 am gave us time to lie on bean bags and seats in the Federation Square atrium, be grateful for chocolate and wish we'd nicked some wine from dinner. It was good for us who were getting sleepy, but was a bit of a downer for the new starters. My favourite bit was a teenage girl, who was out for drinks, asking me what drugs we were taking to do this. She didn't believe that it was just chocolate and adrenalin.

But it was nearly time for an underground adventure that promised a hardhat and the use of torches because we were going to something called The Trench!

Hour #14 Under the City 1 am

Photo by Ali Alexander

The sound and video installation in the "trench" was beautiful. It was about drains through the city  – water and sewerage – and the people who work in them. The calming soundscape of water echoed and bounced off the walls of the large concrete room, but it wasn't a trench. It was a large room, a couple of flights of stairs down where we didn't get hardhats or need our torches. It's so wrong to be disappointed by something that was really good, but we were tired and excited about going into an underground trench. 

Hour #15 Beaufort Wind Lounge 2 am

This was a two-parter. While half of the group went into a wind tunnel installation in BMW Edge (no pics, but it was very lovely), the others sat in bean bags and were served green tea and Japanese treats.

The tea ceremony didn't start well because we upset the artists by moving all of their placed-for-the-piece-to-work bean bags. But we moved them back and understood that they they were in small groups so that everyone could have a very beautiful and intimate sung tea-pouring ceremony. Which then proceeded to prove that the world is split into two groups: those who like squidgy, flaccid, sweet-but-savoury Japanese desserts (like me) and those who don't (I had an extra one to make up for them).

And 2 am may be the strangest hour. Adrenalin is both running out and kicking in. It's an hour for activity and laughter rather than gentle contemplation. 

Hour #16 Theatre Is My S(k)in 3 am

No pics for this one. We were crowded into one of the gallery spaces in the atrium and listened to an artist who has worked as a stripper and lap dancer. 

Her story was genuine and fascinating, but there seemed a sense of disbelief that no one was terribly shocked by it. The time of night was spot on but, even though I understand putting it in a posh art space, the story didn't connect to the space.

But we got whiskey. And I have never enjoyed a whiskey more than I did then.

Hour #17 The Rest is Silence 4 am

This was what we'd been waiting for. 4am. It was time to go the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Donor Tissue Bank. We were walking through the back streets of Southbank to go to a morgue!

This was the event that drew the most people to the Experience with more people joining us on four-hour tickets. The staff who met us there were astonished at how many people turned up.

Out of respect to the place, we were asked to make it no-photo zone.

This wasn't a performance. The staff who work there ran through what they do when a body comes into the Homicide Room (this is where crime and accident victims are brought), then took us through the Tissue Donor Bank (where human tissue is collected and stored).

For all the marvellous concepts and artists and everything else wonderful about this experience, this was my highlight.

It was just like a crime TV show, but so much better. We stood behind a glass wall looking into the room where bodies are assessed and post mortems are carried out. The staff wear wellies, it's sterile like an operating theatre but there are lots of knives and hoses.

The staff wheeled in an empty gurney and assessed the 'body'. This included a forensic pathologist coming in after being at the opera and another member of staff calling the family to ask about tissue donation. It wasn't gruesome and there was never a moment when the 'body' wasn't treated with respect. 

Next we had to put on the sterile gowns, shower caps and booties (putting the booties on at 4.30 am was a real test) and it was into the Tissue Donor Bank where we saw frozen skin and powdered bone and were allowed to ask anything.

Even though I have tissue donor ticked on my drivers license, I had no idea what it meant. While organ donation has to come from a live (brain dead) patient, tissue (skin, heart valves and bone) can be collected up to 24 hours after death.

Burns patients need hundreds of skin grafts. People having orthopedic surgery need extra bone. Heart valves go to people having heart surgery.

If any of my family and friends ever have to wonder, I am a donor. I have no concerns about what happens to my body after I die and hope that it can be put to as many good uses as possible. 

Some of us stayed longer and talked to the staff about their experience of working there and of having a large group of enthusiastic and over-tired arts-goers coming to see them at 4 am. They also asked us about our experience and best answer was: "I expected it to be about death, but it was all about life".

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