Music, News & Commentary, Stage

Dark Mofo: love, death, fire and ice

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For 10 days, in the depth of winter, quiet Hobart descends into the riotous otherworldly haven known as Dark Mofo.
A jangled mesh of public art installations, film, music and general debauchery inspired by the indomitable presence of David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Dark Mofo, only in its second year, has already become a linchpin of the Australian winter arts calendar, attracting thousands of people to the Apple Isle.
MONA is a boundary-pushing, taboo-bending museum in its own right, stretching the notion of what a museum really is and should display. During Dark Mofo the madness creeps out of the museum by night and stealthily consumes the city in its trance.
The festival revels in the primordial motifs of deep red and black, smouldering fires and eccentric musical settings.  Many of the city’s buildings are bathed in red light by night, while Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Articulated Intersect allowed for people to control the movements of 18 spotlights situated around the city’s harbour.
Throughout the course of the festival revellers watched the impressionistic Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, attended the secretive $240 per head Red Death Ball (BYO mask), listened to the David Lynch-approved chanteuse Chrysta Bell, or took the chilling plunge at the winter solstice swim.
The Winter Feast was the centrepiece of the final weekend: “a three-night Bacchanalian banquet of fire and feasting”, echoing the Taste of Tasmania, held on the same ground over the New Year period. Outdoor barbecue firepits were set up along the entirety of the waterfront PW1 warehouse (resplendent in red drapes, bare trees hanging upside down from the roof and an acrobatic stage), near the Ferris Wheel of Death (with a specially composed soundtrack from Sophia Brous). Feasters could glimpse black-hooded choirs traipsing and giant hairy beasts wandering, while columns spewed forth fire simultaneously.
If you’re a fan of scrumptiously cooked meat or alcohol of pretty much any variety, you were guaranteed a gluttonous evening of indulgence. The only downside was the unbelievable snaking line of people hoping to purchase entrance tickets on the door. Some people who had pre-purchased tickets were told that the area was at capacity and were required to wait before entry. The festival since apologised for its underestimation of the crowd in a Facebook post.
And the art was not limited to the harbour. Yin Xiuzhen’s Washing River was an interactive ice sculpture that questioned the environmental health of Derwent. Tasmanian artist Pat Brassington’s retrospective À Rebours was a haunting, surrealist set of images that was most akin in tone to some of MONA’s boundary-pushing displays. The colonial heritage house and museum Narryna was as much a part of the exhibition as Michael Goldberg’s eerie, empty photographs of museum display shadows that hung upon its walls. Vito Acconci’s conceptual imagination of the city’s future connectivity was displayed in the bowels of the Hobart Town Hall. The accompanying public forum allowed for attendees to scribble their thoughts upon the blank walls.
Nick Tsiavos performed two midnight concerts in St David’s Cathedral, the first of which was Maps for Losing Oneself, a re-imagination of Greek funeral songs. Afterlife at the Odeon Theatre was a celebration of the weird and wonderful spaces where post-punk met electronic experimentation. Former Mercy Arms’ member Kirin J Callinan performed a solid main stage set and Kira Pura made an appearance serenading the audience with her “doom pop” from the balcony above, before Total Control grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck and never let go.
Again, not unlike the Winter Feast, the event suffered from its own popularity. Drink lines were long and stagnant; the decadently plush, velvet-lined Forest Stage room was a joy, but it was a heaving tight squeeze, and hundreds more snaked from the doors awaiting entry to the following event Dark Faux Mo.
You can reel off the names and descriptions of Dark Mofo events, but what truly makes the festival a unique experience is the way is seems to envelop the entire city in its glorious madness. There are a multitude of wonderful festivals throughout Australia, but Hobart’s glorious festival of bizarre and eclectic array of art is a true delight.

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