Dark Mofo is unlike any other festival on this earthround.
Never merely l’art pour l’art.
Doing it justice in merely written form is no mean feat.
I have yet to encounter anyone not being filled to the brim with rich, once-in-a-lifetime experiences once they depart the festival.
Embracing experimental ingenuity and everything in between neoteric and time-honoured low and high art – be it art installations, live music, cinematic and pictorial explorations or mouth-watering culinary pleasures - Dark Mofo is MONA’s (Museum of Old and New Art) annual winter carnival.
A festival dedicated to encouraging habitués to take risks while rewarding visitors with fascinating, exclusive shows and immersive art experiences that have been thoughtfully and skilfully curated by Leigh Carmichael and the Dark Lab team. It proves difficult to find an angle on the myriad of Dark Mofo adventures that does not seem to have been thought through, anticipated and with another layer added to give it depth and an unexpected dimension.
A thought-provoking fulminant spree of art, music, food and drink that has been pushing the envelope of what is commonly considered possible – in essence, a unique and unparalleled festival that does not underestimate its audience.
A paganist, inclusive wintertide festival centred around the solstice apex with its central motifs of death, art and sex pervading every facet of Hobart, the capital of the Apple Island Tasmania, and igniting the “bright spirit” that its old English etymological meaning depicts:
From exiting the confines of your plane when you are greeted with an illuminated “Come into my web” to the omnipresent scarlet tinge that literally every light source on the Island seems to have been veiled with, down to elevators in the abode you might have booked for your stay, along with big, glowing inverted red crosses erected at Hobart’s waterfront and the majestic illuminated arch crossing the Derwent River - the city bears Dark Mofo’s idiosyncratic red mark.
Proudly and boldly.
More than a mere omen for a city having risen to the occasion – a community that has collectively morphed into a host providing a canvas for one of the most fulfilling festivals on the globe.
Sure, it aches to have missed out on performances of Tim Minchin, Electric Wizard, St. Vincent, the Hymns of the Dead extravaganza (a festival in itself with Blasphemy, Portal and Batushka playing exclusive shows), Autechre, Merzbow, Jarboe with Father Murphy, and Dark Mofo’s anonymous costume ball Société Anonyme et al, but our visit this year was limited to a mere three days.
While we endeavoured to squeeze as many experiences into our itinerary as possible, some of the most rewarding affairs were the ones that we accidentally stumbled upon – something that is integral to the nature and spirit of Dark Mofo: Once you enter, i.e. let it be, let go and give in to Dark Mofo, there is something thought-provoking and envelope-pushing to be experienced no matter where you turn.
The following shall be but a mere reflection of very few of the many highlights of 2018’s rich and diverse offerings your humble narrator, who has been making the annual pilgrimage to Dark Mofo ever since 2013, has had the pleasure of experiencing:
If you have followed any of our previous MONA related coverage, endurance and performance artist Mike Parr should ring a bell.
Underneath the Bitumen was the title of his contribution this year. One that did not quite enrage the masses as much as Vienna’s sloth actionist Hermann Nitsch’s 150. Action that we covered as part of 2017’s Dark Mofo, but one that nonetheless reverberated for a myriad of reasons through the headlines of international mainstream media before, during and after the actual event.
Summa summarum: Hobart granted a burial for Mike Parr for three days beneath its main road.
Merely equipped with sketching equipment, a few bottles of H2O, a waste bucket and a copy of Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore, Mike Parr was buried in a steel box placed underneath Hobart’s busy main artery. His confines eventually sealed with asphalt, leaving him to fast and mediate in solitary confinement for seventy-two hours on the victims of totalitarianism underneath a 24-hour traffic cyclone passing over him.
Sounds unspectacular enough?
The work was aimed at raising questions about isolation, oppression and the legitimacy of the things that happen in the shadows. A poignant exercise in conceptual art that accomplished to make a point about Australia burying and obscuring its most troublesome history, i.e. Aboriginal genocide, with the artist being kept in an uncomfortable space buried away from sight.
The fact that quite a few people of the general public were more concerned about the inconvenience Mike Parr’s performance caused to their daily commute proves a case in point and adds another layer to the performance, ultimately exposing some deep rooted issues without the need for the artist making explicit statements.
A clever way to bring a point across with the public discourse unwillingly contributing to it, merely by having a standpoint on it.
Unfortunately we missed American artist and musician Laurie Anderson’s multimedia work All the Things I Lost in the Flood, but luckily we caught her collaboration with the Taiwan-based new media artist Hsin-Chien Huang in the neo-gothic and dramatically lit Domain House on the ground of the University of Tasmania, which was built in 1848 and proved to be a fascinating site for their virtual reality installation Chalkroom: In a room whose blackened walls have been chalked to extend the virtual world you were about to enter, one was plunged via Virtual Reality headsets into a strange, floating world that could be explored either per pedes or by flying. The border between VR and real world was further diminished by enabling participant to pluck chalked words from the walls they had seen before putting on their headsets and send them spinning in the air.
Upstairs Laurie Anderson’s departed partner, i.e. Lou Reed, was paid homage to in the form of six of his electric guitars propped against speakers, with his guitar technician Stewart Hurwood channelling Reed’s spirit in the installation piece Drones: For nine hours on end, Hurwood created an intensely vibrating droning, liberating disharmonic feedback symphony of epic proportions – a warm acoustic ebb and flow Sunn O))) aficionados would have rejoiced to float in.
Sounds like Sunn O))) would be a prime candidate for a Dark Mofo appearance? Done and dusted as they incarnated in 2014.
Hobart’s newly restored Art Deco Avalon Theatre hosted both Alexander Hacke as well as Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten individually on separate nights, the former with his partner Danielle de Piciotto performing the experimental soundtrack to their silent movie Crossroads, and the latter improvising with his voice, effect pedals, charisma and his sardonic presence. Intimate experiences specifically staged for Dark Mofo that showed the protagonists of one of the most influential underground bands in different and at times interestingly vulnerable lights.
If you have read any previous MONA related coverage, after-hour parties at Dark Mofo offer delights that constitute festivals in themselves for each incarnation: 2018’s twisted ode to the weird, i.e. Night Mass, was a labyrinthine all-night cultural precinct that featured more than one hundred performers across five venues.
One of the heartpieces of this year’s Night Mass was The Bang Bang Bar, an extensive visual homage to Twin Peaks and the oeuvre of David Lynch, replete with details down to jukeboxes, Laura Palmer portraits and deer heads on the wall.
Now, letting The Bang Bang Bar come to life would be a neat idea, but it would not be Dark Mofo if they had not gone the extra mile and flown in Lynch collaborator American singer Rebekah del Rio to make her artist-in-residence, performing spine-tingling and dazzling versions of the songs known from Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks to serenade visitors with her three-octave vocal range.
Not bad, huh?
Well, Rebekah del Rio leaves and who enters the The Bang Bang Bar’s stage next?
The Grande Dame of no wave – the ever nonchalant onyx gemstone Lydia Lunch, whose caustic, irate and blistering performance with Retro Virus, a quartet that sees her team up with ex-Swans, Flying Luttenbachers, Sonic Youth / Pussy Galore personnel.
Good god, was it great to be pummelled by their physically intense sludge rock driven onslaught with Lunch throning above it all and spitting her vitriol with gusto.
An unexpected highlight that came out of the blue, a phenomenon that Dark Mofo is never devoid of.
The Odeon Theatre next door, one of Hobart’s most versatile performance spaces, became also one of the many mosaic stones of Night Mass, hosting everything from blood soaked wrestling matches via hip hop acts, cabaret shows, and death metal bands.
On the other side of the road Night Mass continued with a subterranean cinema across the road with its own complementary dance party while upstairs the Grand Pooh Bar raged with cabaret artist and self-anointed sex clown Betty Grumble holding court, never one to skirt away from confronting content, facilitating prints with her vulva on sheets of A4 paper.
Next door bands performed and a few steps further one could duck into a disco experience with two handful of strangers squeezed into a small room at a time, where a consensus had to be reached about which vinyl 7” a DJ was to play before a 3-4 minute long impromptu rave including sing-a-longs ensued.
Again, we are just talking the an after-party Night Mass here with all events happening simultaneously, i.e. you are bound to have a good time and your mind blown somewhere but there is so much going on at any given time that FOMO is an omnipresent feeling one cannot escape.
Apart from all the shenanigans of Dark Mofo, the mothership MONA presented its new exhibition ZERO: An exhibition shedding light on the artist group that endeavoured to escape the traumatised, depressing mood of post-war Germany to find a new beginning for art via using readily available materials and everyday objects, e.g. cardboard, plastic, cloth, metal, etc., and focusing on themes of impermanence, structure, light, colour, reflections and movement.
Curated by Mattijs Visser, founding director of the international ZERO Foundation, the exhibition not only features works by the movement’s spearheads Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker but also other artists like Yves Klein, whose vast, floor-based carpet of dry blue pigment flickers is one of the focal points of the exhibition.
Other highlights of ZERO is Gianni Colombo’s Spazio Elastico: A room geometrically defined by moving pieces of string lit with ultra-violet lighting. Enrico Castellani’s Il muro del tempo musing on the passing of time and Henk Peeters’ Akwarel, a wall of water-filled plastic bags.
Located in the former rail yards of Macquarie Point, Dark Mofo’s Dark Park featured what has become a trademark impressive blend of art installations, live performances, open fires, fantastic bars and free-ranging crowds:
Matthew Schreiber’s Leviathan a dazzling massive laser light sculpture through which punters could walk to have the artwork continue on their bodily vessels and take active part by their interruptions interacting with the artwork, highlighting permeance and flexibility of structures and how each individual has an impact of what at first glance might perceived to be solid.
The soundtrack of the Dark Park was provided by United Visual Artists’ Musical Universalis, featuring a series of planet-like globes around whose lights and speakers slowly oscillated and emitted droning sounds increasing in intensity throughout the work’s cycle, mesmerising the crowds with its compelling nature.
A giant cave spider – this year’s spirit animal Ogoh-Ogoh – which invited us into her web at the airport, was to be ceremonially burnt at the end of the festival on a bed of written, collected fears and sorrows of the many people who left their notes in its abdomen.
Saturday saw Einstürzende Neubauten perform their meticulously researched (the services of two historians were employed to lend the spectacle a fresh perspective by unearthing obscure characters and stories), German / English unnerving, polyphonic tribute to the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Lament.
Originally commissioned as a performance piece by the Flemish town of Diksmuide, site of the battle of the Yser in October 1914 and released in 2014 as the band’s eleventh album, Lament was performed in its entirety, including Marlene Dietrich’s “Sag’ mir wo die Blumen sind” as well as early jazz tracks composed by members of The Harlem Hellfighters, the African-American 369th Infantry Regiment which was placed under French control because of army racism in Jim Crow America.
Neubauten delivered a nuanced, enervating theatrical performance that had all the trademark ingredients the outfit has become known for, e.g. dragging heavy chains in custom-made steel containers, a purpose alienated air compressor, statistical dance music, crutches used as string instruments, empty artillery shells played like gongs to signify the human cost and plastic pipes being struck 120 times per minute in 4/4 tact to represent with each bar one day of the war and the powers participating in the war as well as their impact.
After Neubauten’s first incarnation at Dark Mofo in 2017, it once more showed the bands commitment to improvisation that never got out of hand and was beautifully framed with the addition of a local string quartet, effortlessly adding a dimension of depth, emotion, heartbreak and pathos to Neubauten’s intense, invocative and subversive performance.
The performance of Lament was so much more than a mere history lesson: It underlined Bargeld’s approach to its creation, i.e. that World War I. never really ended and that its implications are still reverberating a hundred years later. A complex, deeply moving evening with a universal message and strong narrative that aurally reinforced that Lament has always been meant to be performed live and that the studio reconstruction does not do in justice, however, I’d recommend to consult the greatly illustrated booklet that comes with the CD as it helps to unpack what is going on for the uninitiated not familiar with how the first World War came about... I would have personally been satisfied with the fragile conclusion of Lament, i.e. “How did I die?” with its orchestral punchy crescendo, as it proved a bit of a stretch to contextualise the crowd-pleasing encore ‘Let's Do It A Dada’, but judging from the crowd’s enthusiastic response others were more enrapt than I.
An integral component of Dark Mofo is its Winter Feast:
A sumptuous, borderline decadent banquet and a delight for all senses not only for foodies. Hundreds of stalls present the best that Tasmania has to offer, and to offer they have a lot: Fresh artisanal offerings, food of all variations, craft breweries, boutique gin and whisky distillers, world class wines, cuisines of all couleur, meat prepared in all shapes at the outdoor bonfires to make the fuzziest of carnivores rejoice as well as vegetarian delights.
Comfortable, long, ornamented tables bedecked with hundreds of candles offered respite and stages with a roaster of jazz, blues and folk artists serenaded the masses with intimate performances while wandering quirky characters mingled and interacted with the crowd.
Not unlike Night Mass, the Winter Feast is a festival in itself and offers reasons galore to make the trip to Dark Mofo only for its attendance.
Seeing the deconstructed and fragmented tale of civic and personal virtue, i.e. The Rape of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten’s contemporary retelling of an unforgivable crime in ancient Rome, at the Theatre Royal was a nice change of pace.
Being a co-production of the Sydney Chamber Opera and Victorian Opera, featuring the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, eight singers and a chamber ensemble entered a ritual circle bathed in fantastic lighting design courtesy of Damien Cooper to carve out a thorny tale of virtue, depravity with a spin on the intersection of gender and power – gender flipping in full effect with each actor being played by one of the opposite sex giving it further psychological depth and a level of both alienation and ambivalence.
The Rape of Lucretia was infused with the impulse to search and harness communal togetherness in a bid to oppose tyrants and conservatives. Let the slowly dissolve on your tongue as it is a tenet themes that can surely also be applied to Dark Mofo as a festival.
Make sure to get into gear to plan your trip for MONA’s upcoming MONA FOMA Festival in January, 2019 – peep: https://mofo.net.au/