MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, does not do advertising.
If you have visited, you will know that it does not need it.
To build its profile and raise awareness, i.e. to make noise and attract attention among the uninitiated, a decision was made to spend the marketing and advertising budget on a festival to overcome issues with winter visitation by embracing the season, the cold and the darker side of things and embrace everything that is relegated to the shadows to their advantage. That was the initial spark that has grown into the blazing Flächenbrand that is DARK MOFO, which is now in its fifth year.
Firmly rooted in secular ceremonies, DARK MOFO set out to fill the coming-of-age rituals and community celebrations shaped holes in the hearts of atheists.
Think fire that avails to see winter in a new light, thematically delving into solstice rituals, bridging the gap between contemporary and ancient mythology, religious and secular traditions, death and renewal by way of celebrating large-scale public art, interactive installations, spontaneous performances, delicious artisan food and drink, film, music, light and noise.
Sounds too heady for you? In layman’s terms, DARK MOFO is a wonderland of stimuli with the creative minds of MONA as caretakers, eliciting responses. Their curatorial approach is informed by a deep interest in the process and outcome of the event, framing the festival towards transferring significance.
DARK MOFO has progressively gotten bigger in scale – 2017 saw 666 artists performing at 67 events across 25 venues - and its most recent incarnation, with the controversy over Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s 150. Action showed the biggest jump in attendance.
DARK MOFO, as well as its sister summer festival MONA FOMA and all things MONA for that matter, are gradually moving to becoming attractive for a more mainstream audience as its size, prestige and reputation is growing.
MONA and its festivals have become major players in the international arts scene and transitioned from being a great, otherworldly Australian institution to being one of the big international destination festivals - one of those you should aspire to visit at least once in your life, no matter where you are dwelling on this earthround.
The fact that the creative minds and many hands behind the scenes manage to retain the integrity of the festival’s DNA despite growing numbers speaks volumes and is testament to the uniqueness of DARK MOFO.
They say the only constant thing is change and the growth of DARK MOFO’s operations could not have been felt in more positive ways, as the variety of acts and initiatives it comprised this year invoked the impression that it was even more meticulously curated than in previous years, while abstaining from falling prey to the singularity of an idea when it comes to the themes of the festival: None of the events came at the expense of anything else or canceled out any other, however much tweeted about and protested against some of them were.
DARK MOFO has never had to rely on big name acts or bands: The focus is on the experience of the multi-faceted events and with more and more festivals cropping up in an oversaturated market, DARK MOFO 2017 has solidified its standing as a unique and unrivalled festival that is not reduced to a singular festival site, but pervades every artery of Hobart, with performances and actions taking place at all hours of the day in every nook and cranny of the Tasmanian capital, which was bathed in DARK MOFO’s signature blood red imagery.
It is unique in the sense that it is informed by an aversion to stasis and constantly reinvents itself by providing a forum for new experiences, which are infused with the piquancy of MONA.
Another reason for you to find out first-hand what it is all about.
Your humble narrator attended the two week shindig at the tail end of the second week and was eased into the proceedings with an evening that was graced with the presence of three members of the Russian feminist “jail-bait” collective Pussy Riot, who attended the first Australian screening of the 2015 documentary about their actions and ordeals, Act and Punishment.
In the documentary Russian artist, gallery owner and film director, Evgeny Mitta sheds light on the history and genesis of the collective, its actions and follows the activists after enraging Russian authorities in 2012 with an anti-Putin protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral and the subsequent prison term.
The screening was followed by a Q & A session with Pussy Riot members Maria Vladimirovna Alyokhina, Alexandra Lukyanova (aka Sasha Bogino) and activist, musician and tour producer Alexander Cheparukhin, which recounted their journey and delved into the dangers of a world beset by rampant right-wing politicians and reactionaries, oppression and censorship via state-controlled media, offering unavoidable and obvious parallels to what is being bred in the Land of Liberty under Trump’s regime and the federal government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees on Australian turf.
After the chinwag with the balaclava-wearing activists, who would make an appearance DJ-ing at another DARK MOFO event later in the week, I carved my way to Hobart’s near-100-year-old Odeon Theatre, which lay mostly silent for a numbers of years until it was reopened as a live venue to play host to a number of performers, bands and artists during DARK MOFO.
Tonight it was the Hymns to the Dead festival, and I arrived on time to see Anaal Nathrakh incarnate with one of their rare performances outside the confines of Europe. While Anaal Nathrakth’s mélange of grindcore and black metal is a force to be reckoned with under the worst of conditions, the Odeon’s crisp sound system paired and framed by a nuanced lightshow courtesy of the creative luminaries behind DARK MOFO elevated their performance to an event of synaesthetic pleasures: The inferior parietal cortex was heavily stimulated by the light show binding visual and real auditory perceptions into one experience. A welcome, pulverizing onslaught on the senses.
A bit heavier on black metal theatrics was the main act Taake, whose legacy harks back to the early Norwegian scene with all the trimmings, i.e. sinister panda corpse paint, a big dollop of grimness and cacophonous blasts.
The evening aptly titled Hymns to the Dead worked on many levels: On the surface, one could revel in the brutal sonic force that the individual bands emitted, yet taking a step back and experiencing the spectacle in tandem with the lightshow and the ambience the DARK MOFO framework offered, it was a Gesamtkunstwerk that could be enjoyed even if you got no stakes in any kind of extreme music.
DARK MOFO’s bar operations proffering a range of quality drops from MONA’s Moorilla range, with a dangerously drinkable Carbonic Riesling and a geschmäcklerische Nouveau Merlot specifically launched for the festival, along with Moo Brew’s full range of beers offered sustenance that tickled the palate in the right places.
Dark Park is an integral constituent of the annual festival and what it has to offer constitutes a festival in itself. Nestled on the edge of the Hobart dockyards, it made again extensive use of the massive warehouses, which were transformed to dark, industrial adult themed playgrounds with performances, lasers, art and fire.
Chris Levine, Robert Del Naja (Massive Attack), Sacred Acoustics and Marco Perry transformed the night sky with their IY_Project 136.1 HZ: Technicolour lasers and immersive sound organized by the rules of sacred geometry, including forty laser beams forging a floating structure of light inside of a dark warehouse, resonating OM 136.1 HZ, which is the core frequency that vibrates with human and celestial bodies.
An impressive, transformational installation that created an expansive visual and aural sensation through fusing modern state-of-the-art technology with what Tibetan monks have considered to be the primordial sound of the universe for thousand of years. It was worth spending time with the installation as the intricacies and extent of the carefully calibrated lasers revealed levels of depths and permutations of constantly evolving shapes in flux that went far beyond the surface of being a spectacular visual experience.
Daniel Boyd’s multimedia work Hello Darkness was presented in a warehouse setting and invited to get involved by playing with the shapes and figures emitted from projectors – at face value a lighthearted, playful and visually impressive exercise, on closer examination it became clear that it was fueled by Boyd’s vision to instigate deeper thoughts as the underlying idea of his installation was to expose and smash the racist lens Australian history is channeled through.
Salamanca Place is a precinct of Hobart, consisting of rows of sandstone buildings, formerly warehouses for the port of Hobart that have since been converted into galleries, craft shops, restaurants and offices. Among many other shops and galleries, it is the home of the excellent Aspect Design of Salamanca ~ a Tasmanian Handmade Art & Craft Gifts Gallery, which represents over hundred Tasmanian artisans and makers in ceramics, glass, furniture, jewellery, lavender, paintings and prints, metal, textile and Tasmanian timber, specializing in handpicking Tasmanian handmade art. For DARK MOFO, Aspect had special editions of hand crafted DARK MOFO themed black/red pottery and ceramics on offer.
Salamanca also serves as the home base of Terrapin Puppet Theatre, which presented Infinite Corpse, an interactive installation based on the surrealist drawing game Exquisite Corpse: Participants were invited to collectively create an ever-changing monster displayed on a gigantic tower of LCD Screens – an extension of the game incepted in about 1925 by Surrealists Yves Tanguy, cubist / futurist Marcel Duchamp and Joan Miro, a sculptor whose career is characterized as one of persistent experimentation and flirtation with non-objective, biomorphic forms.
As in previous years, the Balinese Nyepi ceremony inspired viscerally evocative Ogoh-Ogoh watched over the part of Dark Park in form of a paper-mache statue of a demon, a symbol of modes of nature that form the malicious characters of living beings, which punters filled with notes of their deepest and innermost fears.
After being paraded in a procession around Hobart, the fear-laden Ogoh-Ogoh was incinerated and burned to ashes as a symbol of self-purification, ridding itself and the ones who fed their deepest fears to it off constricting and paralyzing dead weight – Flammen essen Angst auf.
Warming tipples were available from the Dark Park’s Talisker whisky curated pop up bars - quite a fitting partner for a Tasmanian festival with the distillery’s dedication to maritime themes and the ruggedness of the Isle of Skye, which offered all the midwinter libations one could wish for, matched with Tasmanian blue cheese toasties. Free whiskey masterclasses were offered, live bands played in the background and jolly good times were had on leather couches surrounding fireplaces.
A novum and one of the many highlights of this year’s DARK MOFO was the multi-venue participatory art party Welcome Stranger, which was full of surprises eventuating behind the closed doors of private societies, reclaimed venues, hotel rooms and sacred spaces.
Welcome Stranger invited participants into an intimate, traveling, temporary community of late-night live music, optional sports and non-optional art. Incorporating unusual block sized venues in Hobart’s city centre - such as a Congregational Church, a regular pub that was transformed into a DARK MOFO clubhouse, a Masonic Centre and the local Royal Tennis Club among other locations - participants were given individual passwords (I was only granted entry after uttering “Mysterious nipple”) and meeting times across three zones. The venues served as third places and stages with all aspects of the natural surroundings being incorporated and morphing into a part of DARK MOFO and the Welcome Stranger experience.
No one knew what was going to happen when, how and where yet it was all happening literally everywhere at all times – a fun, intentionally confusing yet amusing and bemusing mind-blowing event that topped even the excellent DARK MOFO after parties of previous years and left it up to the individual and the whereabouts at any given time to determine what would be experienced. Detailing all aspects of the offerings - from impromptu live gigs of established bands via laughing yoga, bass baths, dance performances and Pussy Rioters DJ-ing to interactive art installations and a karaoke hotel with themed rooms, would go far beyond the size of this feature.
Great, great fun.
Red Bull Music Academy is a global music institution committed to fostering creativity in music and its newly established collaboration with DARK MOFO resulted in Transliminal, the official after-hour dance party of the festival, turning Hobart’s City Hall into an rave cave, i.e. a temple of dance debauchery, with a fine selection of DJs brining the dark, electronic underbelly of their respective subterranean club scenes to Hobart. If your appetite was not sated with the late night Welcome Stranger extravaganza, you could transition into the microcosm of an industrial-scale, transcendental warehouse party akin to European underground rave experiences, set in scene and heightened by the Australian audio-visual artist Robin Fox’s disorienting atmospheric light installations aimed at enhancing escapism and push willing masses to dance beyond the threshold with a line up that included DJ Harvey, Legowelt, Lipelis, András, Juliana Huxtable, Maurice Fulton, J’Nett and Melbourne’s DJ bunny, Brooke Powers, to name a few, transforming the cavernous City Hall into a more immersive equivalent to Berlin's Berghain.
Saturday saw the Einstürzende Neubauten’s second incarnation at the Odeon Theatre and it was . . . atmospheric, visceral, inspired and utterly original.
I had fallen out of touch with these fine gentlemen and it has been a few a few moons since our paths last crossed – back in the days when they made a name for themselves by pushing the envelope with at times gimmicky, abrasive, cacophonous industrial noise, i.e. banging and scraping junkyard metal percussions and found instruments, paired with zonked out Blixa screaming his sensitive and visionary lyrics above it hopped up on amphetamines.
Since then Einstürzende Neubauten have refined their dada approach to their alchemy and have become more accessible while maintaining their challenging, intelligent and entrancing edge, seamlessly transitioning from swooning serenades into a thumping, experimental, organic machine with Bargeld declaiming, reciting, singing or screaming inwards.
Blixa Bargeld, matured not unlike fine wine into more of a distinguished conferencier than a traditional frontman, having taken a page of two from the book of Nick Cave, elegantly leads the band with a very human soul and takes the audience by the hand to set a counterpoint to a world of clinical coldness.
A magical evening orchestrated with conviction and precision, delivered by a band that cannot be compared to anything else.
When it comes to culinary delights and exploring new food, DARK MOFO’s Feast is the non-plus-ultra of all things food and drink: Held on Hobart's waterfront, the midwinter communal banquet has become a major attraction in its own right, luring foodies with its sumptuous food stalls and overwhelmingly diverse artisan offerings.
Again, DARK MOFO’s meticulous curation plays a major role and is a key ingredient – most dishes come in at affordable prices and producers are meant to focus on key dishes in a bid to not overwhelm the hungry masses and keeping the whole affair non-elite.
While fiery pits – the Feast is all about fire, loads of it - and live bands are raging in the outdoors area, the banquet hall was illuminated by a ceiling adorned with red neon crosses and musical performers beguiled the habitués, who shared communal tables where a lot of meat as well as vegan and vegetarian delights were consumed. Collaborations between visiting chefs and local businesses created permutations of new food creations based on quality Tasmanian produce.
Then came Sunday, Hermann Nitsch – the man, the sloth, the legend – and his Orgien Mysterien Theater in form of his 150. Action, which was performed in a cavernous warehouse in the Dark Park.
By using blood, fish, fruit and meat instead of paint to reinvent art that exists in (corpo-)real and violent terms, the patriarch of Viennese Actionism delivered priceless controversy around this year’s DARK MOFO festival with animal rights activists creating a hype and headlines with their protests and petitions. A red thread and perpetuum mobile of a PR machinery that both precedes and has been following Nitsch’s work for more than five decades.
Not entirely sure if the three-hour performance with symbolic mock crucifixions, nudity, drinking of blood and ritualistic incorporation of viscera and entrails, which draws obvious parallels between the ritualistic spiritualism of creativity and religion, evoked catharsis with the means of pain and compassion or ethereal release through an embracing of primal instinct and ancient sacrament, but it certainly drummed home that killing animals has been and still is an integral aspect of human life and illuminated this blind spot as a reminder of our alienation from the reality of where our food comes from, tearing down the walls between consumption and sourcing by overstating the status quo.
Hmmm – do you concur that the previous run-on sentence was a bit long, tautological and could have been condensed without losing its meaning?
Well, that is certainly something it has in common with Nitsch’s performances.
The following conversation about Nitsch’s work with translations from English via Italian to German and back into the anglophile lingua franca was an exercise a bit reminiscent of Chinese whispers and unfortunately rendered Nitsch’s answers mostly irrelevant and out of context.
A shame as he has proven time and time again that his approach to his actions is far more nuanced and aware of its implications than what his critics give him credit for. Christoph Schlingensief would have turned in his grave if he had to be present.
MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art and alma mater of DARK MOFO unveiled its new exhibition to coincide with the festival: The Museum of Everything — a collection of nearly 2,000 artworks from 200 artists.
First opened in London in 2009, The Museum of Everything exhibits non-professional art by "ordinary", untrained, undiscovered and unclassifiable people from around the world from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, some of which with disabilities, challenging the status quo and stretching the possibility of who can be considered an artist.
The exhibition is intimate in that it is personal and pure as the creators are not driven by mundane motivations a lot of acclaimed artists are driven by, i.e. the need to sell, the advancement of one’s career or amassing pieces for a big show.
In essence, the traveling exhibition founded by Englishman James Brett in 2009, encapsulates the ultimate subversion of mainstream art and keeps with MONA's philosophy of breaking down barriers of what is considered art and thereby democratizes it.
Again, The Museum of Everything exhibition alone would warrant a visit to Hobart, yet in the context of DARK MOFO it is was only one component of an expansive mosaic of experiences.
Covering only five days of the two-week festival, this feature only scratches the surface and offers a glimpse into what DARK MOFO had to offer in 2017.
I would recommend to consult the photo gallery below to get a vague idea of the diversity, atmosphere and range of experiences that make DARK MOFO what it is.
MONA FOMA, the summer equivalent cut sick with an eclectic mix of music and art plus booze and more, which is curated by Brian Ritchie of Violent Femmes, will be held on the premises of the Museum of Old and New Art in January, 2018 and we will keep you posted with updates as soon as further details are unveiled so you can plan accordingly.