Dark Mofo 2016
Dark Mofo is the winter equivalent to MONA FOMA Festival – an outdoor extension of David Walsh’s subversive Disneyland, the home of sex and death, the Museum of Old and New Art, meant to celebrate the winter solstice and wash away the dust of daily life off our souls.
MONA and its art-led non-festivals have grown in scale and, while the city of Hobart has served as a stage over the last four years, the 2016 incarnation pervaded every fiber of the city.
Backed by Tasmanian government funding, Dark Mofo 2016 captivated, excited, and confused its audience on an unprecedented scale from the second you touch down at Hobart Airport, where its sign greets you on the tarmac: More than 400 artists across seven festival precincts and 245 venues ranging from Funeral Parlours, cathedrals, museum, music venues, theatres and a mental asylum.
Dark Mofo and MONA are not only changing the face of what lies in the lap of the snow-capped Mount Wellington – they are changing the face of arts internationally and pushing the limited of what is commonly thought to be possible.
If you like the arts and you have grown tired of festivals catering to the lowest common denominator of what is palatable to mainstream taste, it does not get much better than MONA’s engaging, envelope pushing celebrations of human creativity. If you visit Australia and leave out Tasmania because lazing around beaches is the pinnacle of your Down Under experience, you are missing out.
The concept and dictum behind Dark Mofo is the exploration of contemporary and ancient mythologies, meandering along des Weges alles Vergänglichen and Auferstehung.
Curated by Leigh Carmichael who has been involved in the creation of MONA brand since MONA’s brewed emissions needed labels for its bottles, his fabulous team has created a risk-taking program of art, music, food, film and theatre that stretches over 12 days.
Let’s take a walk in the park:
Dark Park is Dark Mofo’s large-scale, dimly lit outdoor interactive art playground located at Macquarie Point behind the city’s docks in a largely fallow, unused industrial area.
A ”dark” park in the truest sense - illuminated only by log fires and towers spitting gas flames in intervals.
Red illuminated cables lead the way through the dark.
Boutique-y mobile eateries and MONA’s excellently themed pop-up bars sustain the ones daring to immerse themselves in the Dark Mofo ethos, roaming through the eclectic mix of installations which are placed throughout the playground.
The opening of the Dark Park was serenaded by the 36-part choral performance of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus dressed in silver druidy thermo cloaks. Their faces eerily illuminated, following Michaela Greave’s microtonal cues to sonify stellar data to create sound and visual composition unique to their exact location in space and time: Spatially mapped across the forum with each pitch, rhythm, volume and panning corresponding with individual stars, they sang the galaxy into life. A beautifully haunting exercise aesthetically accentuated by a cathedral of searchlights that would have made Albert Speer proud.
Gleave’s homage to Werner Fassbinder’s iconoclastic 1974 film Angst essen Seele auf, a masterpiece of what was to be labeled “New German Cinema,” her Fear Eats The Soul LED ark display looms over the audience.
Reminiscent of an abandoned theme park ride, it questions the degree to which we let fear dictate our behaviours. Rest in power, Brigitte Mira!
All the while Grupo EmreZa’s Dada-esque Bodystorm rummages through one of the warehouse spaces: With its suited protagonists writhing around in dust created from smashing bricks with sledgehammers and mortars, they blow pathways and explore the relationship between natural phenomena and their dying shells.
At the other end of the Dark Park, the barren soccer pitch sized Sea Road Shed houses London-based United Visual Artists’ contemplative yet dramatic installation Our Time: A computer controlled mesmerizing display of duality, play of light and shadow, inquiring the tension between real and synthesized experiences with a bank of 21 saucer like downlights swinging in various computer programmed patterns to the sound of deep bass and meditation bells.
As an artful take of the Sideshow attractions, Keith Courtney and Christian Wagstaff’s kaleidoscope had people stumble around the House of Mirrors, trying to discern themselves from their reflections. What appears easy to navigate upon first entering, turns out to be challenging, disorienting and maze-like puzzle.
Another installation in the vein of funfairs, Melbourne based calligrafitti artist Richmond Maze had people wandering around a grungy pop-up industrial maze: The aptly titled Labyrinth harboured hidden art and live performances by Melbourne street artist Mayonaize. The installation and its performances were ever-morphing as the festival progressed.
Anemographs positioned out in the open at Dark Park did their own form of painting by visualizing the speed, direction and duration of the wind.
A ferry ride away, Cameron Robbins’ anemographs and other weather powered instruments worked and drew away at MONA, each controlled by different power sources: His solo retrospective Field Lines visualizes immaterial flows and invisible forces such as magnetic anomalies, the flow of the wind or the tide of the river Derwent by having his instruments propelling pens around paper to represent time and bringing nature’s shape into the world by giving form to the unseen yet omnipresent.
Ryoji Ikeda’s remarkably enjoyable frequency study supercodex performance at the custom-made music venue Blackbox was the sonically completed his spectacular, digital-based work supersymmetry, which is exhibited in a customized section of the MONA mothership:
Conceived during his residency at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, a long row of projections and screens display data collected from three square lightbox structures consisting of glowing white screens with metal balls forming patterns as they are magnetically manipulated. Deafening digital noise and epileptic attacks inducing strobe lights enhance the visual and aural immersive overload of information.
Ikeda’s supercodex live performance explored the data of sound with raw material coming from re/de/meta-constructed excerpts from his first two albums.
Hyperprecise and abstract in nature, a huge screen provides complex visual patterns and, once you get absorbed, serve as a Rorschach test like canvas for your projections, hypnotically challenging your concept of perception.
Brian Williams, aka Lustmord, filled the Blackbox venue with dark, primordial droning ambience the following night: An array of low end buzzing sub-bass frequencies producing tectonic, hypnotic textural, lingering sounds, which invite you to space out and have the abyss gaze back into you. Smoke, clouds, flames and morphing three-dimensional shapes projected on the big screen behind him, complete the experience for which the minimalist, industrial “Blackbox” proves to be the perfect venue.
The Songs of the Black Arm Band was a nice change of pace: The Black Arm Band is an Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander music theatre organization. Founded in 2005, it has produced seven large-scale productions since its debut performance at the Melbourne Festival of the Arts in 2006 in addition to ongoing educational and development work in remote Aboriginal communities.
With a revolving cast of performers, the soulful show at the Odeon Theatre, another venue that is now also owned by the fine folks of MONA, provided complex harmonies that served as a soundtrack to the immersive journey across rural Australia displayed in the background on a cinematic screen.
Willow Court, located at New Norfolk 30 minutes out of Hobart, was Australia longest running mental asylum, which ran continuously from 1827-2000.
The festival long installation Asylum at the derelict former ward for female inmates confronts the recipient with the darker terrains of human experience and institutional policies of the past. Admitted on presentation of a mirror, which is meant to be left behind at the premises, the public was allowed to enter Willow Court and wander through the decrepit, decaying buildings without supervision or barricades 24-hours a day.
Scattered with veteran performance artist Mike Parr’s past work, i.e. confronting endurance performances and mutilation exercises, crowds were invited to navigate their own way through the damp premises. Buckets of the artists’ excrements are placed throughout the building, mixing with the odor of animal waste providing a John Waters-esque odorama experience without sniff’n scratch cards.
While Asylum was a festival long installation, Entry by Mirror only was a 72-hour endurance piece, during which the 70-year old Mike Parr became an inmate of Willow Court: Performing for three full days in a mind altered state, drawing disturbing self-portraits and paying tribute to his schizophrenic brother Tim, who himself was a patient of a mental institution and died of alcohol poisoning in 2009.
Appetite still not sated?
The Blacklist parties, the winter equivalent to the MONA summer festival’s Faux Mo extravaganza, provided wicked after hour entertainment with a myriad of performers literally lurking in every nook and cranny, running the gamut from the weird to the wonderful.
Think fancy dresses, multi-genre DJ sets, stages with performers popping up in different areas of the venue and engaging, challenging performances eventuating where you would least expect it and MONA’s excellent bars. Sensory overload ‘til dawn.
Festivals end as festivals must, in my case after only three days which is why this feature merely scratches the surface of Dark Mofo 2016 and covers only a fragment of what was offered over the full 12 days - but fret not; the gears are already in motion for MONA FOMA in January 2017.
Judging by the scale, program and extent of the Dark Mofo 2016 festival, it is hard to imagine that it can be topped.
While it might not be an easy feat, it is exactly what MONA does – taking risks, pushing the envelope and creating fantastic, interactive and immersive experiences.
All you have to do is undergo them.
Dates and locations for MONA FOMA w2017 will be announced soon.
Photos by KAVV