In its seventh year, it should by now be firmly established that the annual Dark Mofo Festival is hard to rival when it comes to pushing the envelope in every conceivable way – be it in terms of the calibre of eclectic acts, the NASA-like attention to detail, the curation, its idiosyncratic DNA and the oxygenated blood that is infused into it by its mothership MONA.
After fantastic previous incarnations and specifically last year’s instalment and the controversy it caused, the question was “quo vadis?” The answer was given with the 2019 incarnation: The journey is never ending.
It is testament to the DarkLab, the elusive thinktank, taskforce and brain behind Dark Mofo, which in addition to producing the Dark Mofo festival engages with collaborators on cultural and commercial developments in Australia and overseas and operates a number of venues in the Hobart CBD, that each year there is growth and improvement against whatever adversity there may be -- and I am not merely talking in terms of scale and size, but in every aspect.
After it proved impossible to continue with the integral component that the Dark Park had become as a site for the annual festival, 2019 saw the launch of the Dark Path: An invitation to visitors to lose themselves on a self-guided, torch-illuminated nightly tour around Hobart, following a path that meanders through the Botanical Gardens and other parklands paved with installations, artworks and performances.
Highlights included but were not limited to Julie Gough’s Missing or Dead, a series of posters depicting mug shots and detailed personal information about 180 indigenous children from the stolen generation that disappeared as a part of the colonisation of the Tasmanian island and state.
The Dark Path was close to a five kilometre-long tour de force that also offered sustenance with themed pop-up gin and whisk(e)y bars, food stalls and everything in between, each of which would have warranted a longer stay and destination.
The Night Mass
Dark Mofo’s after party, i.e. Night Mass, has morphed, reinvented itself and taken on a myriad of shapes and forms over the last couple of years. Touted as a “liturgical rave,” this year’s afterparty proved to be a veritable full-blown festival in itself with nonstop live acts, performances and other offerings.
The beauty of the Night Mass has always been that depending on your location, the time and other factors, one could have a fundamentally individually different experience with the common denominator being that it is bound to be an adventure that challenges, defies conventions, tickles, confronts and deliberately overloads all senses.
An array of acts incarnated in every nook and cranny of the subversive party; themed immersive and visually connected bars offered anything you could possibly lust for and despite nearly all the Night Masses being sold out, it did not feel overcrowded or lack intimacy due to the next level logistical skills of Night Mayors in charge.
2019 saw Night Mass incarnate within a city block, reminiscent of e.g. Tokyo’s party labyrinth Golden Gai. A widespread and superbly planned affair that included the DarkLab and Soft Centre managed new venue Altar, which opened for the festival, and The Hanging Gardens, centred around the Odeon Theatre, all of which have been designed to remain open all year around.
As far as delectable pleasures that tickle the palate are concerned, Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast is another facet of the festival that would warrant a visit to Hobart in itself: Located at Hobart’s waterfront both inside and outside a wharf hangar, a borderline decadent, themed banquet unfolds with a perfectly curated sheer endless array of food and drink stalls proffering the best Tasmania has to offer in terms of tipples, brews, distillates, food of any couleur and fire-cooking masterclasses with renowned guest chefs. Every year the Winter runs a wide gamut yet still manages to have the festival’s red thread run through it all.
A Forest was another event art precinct that would have been ideally placed in the Dark Park during previous incarnations, but which no longer is.
It proved hard to not like the fact that a necessity was turned into a virtue and DarkLab embraced change, which resulted in gently guiding visitors to different parts of Hobart where new buildings and locations served as the canvas for what was created to be centred around the violent component within man’s nature and the deterioration of what is commonly referred to as Western civilisation.
A Forest’s at times challenging, at times whimsical and contemplative installations and artworks included explorations of what has become possible to convey via virtual reality, which allowed those who dared to experience situations that are not for the faint hearted and pushed the boundaries, e.g. witnessing a violent attack firsthand, dealing with traumata along with emissions of Eric Demetriou, Meagan Streader and Paul McCarthy, which managed to create synesthetic experiences that reverberated long after the "forest" had been exited.
Live music at Dark Mofo
Eclectic live music is one of the majorly appealing constituents of the festival, yet it speaks for the quality of Dark Mofo that high-calibre musical acts are only mentioned toward the end of this review:
The otherworldly FKA Twigs infused the cavernous Mac Q02 with her own brand of dance theatricality; The Dirty Three performed two shows spiked with amusing anecdotes and in-between banter in one day to honour and celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of their fantastic and genre-coining debut album; and Nicolás Jaar, who dusted off the old alias Against All Logic with a goose bumps-inducing incarnation where he not only engaged with styles he channelled in the past but also created a spiritual gathering (including a choir) that was positioned vis-à-vis from him holding court in the middle of the auditorium; as well as Candlemass delivering a tight set of their melange of doom, power metal and psychedelic rock close to midnight.
The aforementioned are but a few acts of the fantastic line-up we got to see during the few days we were able to attend the festival.
Others included Sigur Rós with Liminal Soundbath, Jónsi & Alex appearing with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten (who has been invited by MONA’s head honcho David Walsh to return in whatever shape or form until he dies), heavier acts like Dragged into the Sunlight, Tibetan throat singing, et cetera, et cetera.
A discovery this year was Costume, who recently released his debut album Pan with DarkLab after reccording it at the world-renowned Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik, Island. Channelling the more exciting parts of flamboyant new romantic, ‘80s synth and gothic art-pop acts and serenading them with his hauntingly androgynous vocal wizardry, Hobartian Adam Ouston played his first theatrical show at the Odeon Theatre in war paint reminiscent of what a lovechild between Ziggy Stardust and Klaus Nomi would look like, including highly stylized signature hairdo and equipped with a wide vocal range and nuances close to Anohni’s vocal timbre.
Framed by dance performances of masked dancers reminiscent of what materialized in previous years at Faux Mo, i.e. the afterparty of the summer equivalent to Dark Mofo, and at times indulging in Ian Curtis-esque spasmic moves himself, the show was centred around his vocal delivery and it should be interesting to see what places he can take his performance if he decides to employ the services of musicians instead of background tracks. A strong first show that makes one look forward to upcoming incarnations.
Exposure to a behemoth
With Dark Mofo one should keep in mind that no matter how much you try, it proves to be virtually impossible to see and grasp all facets of the festival and that all of what is reported one by your humble narrator encompasses merely a tiny three-day exposure to a behemoth that this year lasted for full three weeks and included events outside of Hobart as well.
After last year’s Dark Mofo, I was musing on the future of the festival -– i.e. contemplating if it was going to plateau, repeat itself, crumble because of losing sites that had become integral for its offerings, etc. 2019 showed that things have been taken to the next level in every aspect imaginary and in a manner that feels organic and not forced.
Year after year it leaves me feeling elated with a full heart, a range of new and altered perspectives and a childlike sense of discovery while at the same time reverberating with a cathartic effect that Kaerchers the grime of existence off my soul and strums the strings of my core in a profound manner.
No matter where you are located –- no matter if you save up all year to attend affairs like Burning Man and Coachella, I guarantee you that exposing yourself what Dark Mofo has to offer will blow your mind.
Luckily, we got to indulge a whole day at the mothership, i.e. MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art and got to experience the art museum’s new wing and tunnel extension, i.e. Siloam, which is housed in the museum’s Pharos wing –- a wing that greeted us with Ai Wei Wei’s blindingly white, grand, awe inspiring Qing dynasty era structure, White House. An artwork that allows for an array of interpretative angles.
Alfredo Jaar’s Divine Comedy was something I was specifically excited about and it did not disappoint: Based on Dante Alighieri’s narrative poem from the fourteenth century, this three-part, immersive installation starts with something that has to be experienced to be believed. Let’s just say that you find yourself smack bang in hell -– not only metaphorically but in a manner that will evoke physical and emotional responses. The second stage is tinged with more contemplative nuances as one is transitioned to purgatory, before an ascent to paradise takes place, which culminates in an experience that ties in with the seemingly unconnected previous stages and is bound to stay with you. WOW!
Ever felt like your third eye was getting a proper and intense massage?
Well, then you certainly have not been exposed to the works of one James Turrell, who with his Event Horizon and especially the Seen Unseen installations is something that reverberates with one’s core far deeper than visual stimulation as we know it usually perpetrates.
In essence, Turrell’s oeuvre is of an intensity could be likened to the profound equivalent to staring intensely into a fire, being swallowed up as a whole and not only tickling your neurons but egging them on to fire at full capacity. A fulminant testimonial to the power of light as art.
Once you fully submit yourself to what takes place after you have signed a waiver and lie down in what is quintessentially as very large egg, something happens that is hard to capture with mere words: Classifying the experience as “overwhelming” would be an understatement par excellence and if I was pressed to describe it, I’d go as far as claiming that it is a kaleidoscopic and meditative glance into the very fabric of your being.
After the experience, one is escorted by two very charming and knowledgeable scientists to the counterpoint of the installation, i.e. The Weight of Darkness, which is exactly that – a sound absorbing room so dark that blackness shines – and one that serves as a negative space canvas to what was previously experienced. Relaxing and invigorating, yet borderline more inspiring than what Seen Unseen triggered.
I cannot wait to return, and, as stated previously you will too as you have not lived until you have experienced the entity that is MONA and its offerings.
The next festival, i.e. Faux Mo, is scheduled for January 2020.