19-21 January 2018
Hobart, Tasmania – Australia
Nine is fabled to be the number of completion and fulfillment.
After nine incarnations in Hobart and not only adding spark but providing much needed fire to the local summer season, the 2018 incarnation was a bifurcated affair with the first half of the festival being held in Launceston, where the festival will be held from 2019 on to raise the temperature there as well.
The move is partly of practical nature, partly inspired by idealism: A hotel will be built on the MONA premises that served as the stage for the “Weekend at Walshy’s” and other parts of Tasmania are meant to benefit from what has become known as the “MONA effect”, i.e. the invigoration of pretty much everything that is affiliated with the Museum of Old and New Art – be it infrastructure, commercial outlets and a general charged vibe of electricity pulsating through the arteries and blowing the cobwebs out.
Due to worldly obligations we were only able to experience the tail end of the festival on familiar turf:
As with previous incarnations of Mona Foma, Brian Ritchie was again at the helm of curation with the soft focus this year having been on a “protest” angle in a bid to rebel against formulaic art and music.
Now, we have covered MONA’s festivals numerous times before, but in case you still belong to the uninitiated it shall be reinforced at this stage that MONA is not a festival in the traditional run-of-the-mill sense.
It truly is an extension of what MONA set out to be when it first launched, i.e. “subversive Disneyland” and a “Museum of Sex and Death”. While MONA in itself is effortlessly embodies exactly that, MONA FOMA as a festival blows it out of proportion: A celebration of diversity with literally every nook and cranny of MONA’s site, which is interesting to explore in itself on any given weekday, brimming with performances, surprises, idiosyncratic gourmet food and drink, bands, movies, artists, exhibitions and more.
What is perfectly well calibrated with any MONA related festival is that local talent is incorporated as well as internationally acclaimed acts that are specifically flown in for the occasion.
It does not really matter where and when you find yourself, once you are onsite, you are sure to experience and be intrigued by what is happening at any given time, which results in attendants all having a great time, yet when you engage what they have actually done and seen, the accounts might vary significantly.
We got to the Berriedale peninsula, where MONA is situated just in time to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor incarnate on the main stage in an environment that was more than conducive to their sheer endless buildups and cascading compositions of bleakness set against the backdrop of dystopian, brutalist projections, which enhanced the performance by giving it a cinematic dimension and a dynamic that is usually lacking from most performances anchored in the genre that has become labeled as “shoe gazing”.
Having been into harsh noise since Whitehouse’s hey day, the “death industrial” sonic portion of Military Position was not exactly exposing the aficionado of harsher sounds to new territory, but the “patriarchy smashing” angle, along with the main protagonist (Melbourne artist Harriet Kate Morgan) donning dominatrix gear and contextualizing the performance with intros from speeches and movies, aligned well with MONA FOMA’s “protest” theme and was enjoyable if viewed through the lens of a performance artist.
Sustenance was not only provided through gourmet food stalls, e.g. MONA’s own Heavy Metal Kitchen, but as always, The Source and the bar, proved to sanctuaries proffering.
Gimme a hallelujah and bring on the soul: Saturday’s highlight was Brian Jackson, one of the most iconic contributors to the canon of soul music in the 1970s, and the Southern Gospel Choir, another great example for MONA FOMA bringing together internationally renowned acts with local talent to create unique large scale performances that become more than the sum of the individual constituents would suggest.
An R&B performance par excellence with Brian being flanked by the late Gil Scott-Heron and Nina Simone (the vocal duties for the latter were performed by Maria Lurighi, who brought the verve and thunder needed to get instantly under the audience’s skin.
What followed at the Turrell Stage could not have been a bigger contrast: Tasmanian classically trained devils Scott Cotterell and Andrew Harper who collaborate under the moniker Evil Goat. Think layered drones, ambience, doom, noise created by synths digital affairs.
Judging by the numerous metal and black metal shirts along with the regalia among the audience on the Saturday, Mayhem drew their own specific crowd and even among the uninitiated, there seemed to be a sense of anticipation what the live incarnation of one of the main constituents of the “Lords of Chaos” would look like. Black Metal in a live environment can be hit or miss. Performing their magnus opus “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” live was the former, to which context of MONA and its sound technicians were major contributors as they managed to highlight nuances among the onslaught and the vocal deliveries of Attila Csihar of Sunn O))) –fame.
What makes performances like that is only in part due to the performer a not unimportant contributing factor is the context of the diversity of the MONA fest and how it is framed, which made Mayhem’s live incarnation on the banks of the Derwent River a once in a lifetime experience.
The aforementioned artists are merely a blip on the radar of the extensive range of performers that MONA FOMA in Hobart had to offer.
The extraordinary 2018 line-up was again curated by Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie and his team, who bookended the festival by Violent Femmes joining forces with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on the Monday, the latter you could also bump into on the MONA site as they were parading around the museum to provide visitors with a haunting soundtrack.
Australian mezzo soprano Eve Klein allowed us an intimate view of the inner workings of her vocal apparatus via a laryngoscope with a camera attached, inserted through her nose and operated by Ana Wojack, which showed in pornographic detail the inner workings of her vocal chords projected on a large screen while she was performing an operatic short performance. Intriguing to see the cause and effect of her sensual performance. Fascinating.
Los Angeles based artist Anna Homler has been performing as Breadwoman since the 1980s, wearing a carbohydrate heavy hollowed out bread loaf on her head and performs with breads of all kinds against a serenade to layered, droney soundscapes. Does sound weird and nonsensical? Sure, but like many things at MONA FOMA allowing yourself to open up, cast premature judgment overboard and let the performance immerse you came with the reward of seduction and meditation.
The indigenous rockers of Black Rock Band took on the mainstage on Sunday afternoon effortlessly dishing out their very own signature mélange of classic Australian rock and influences from their native culture. Never not a good time.
Unfortunately we missed performances by Chicago soul-singer and poet Jamila Woods back by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; former Sudanese refugee Ajak Kwai performing Afro-funk and traditional Dinka music to Filastine, Emel Mathlouthi, the voice of the Tunisian revolution, sing in a mixture of Arabic, French and English over industrial-minimalist soundscapes, Violent Femmes frontman interpreting Australian poetry and Nova posing as a flight crew doing some kind of electro pop psychedelica as well as the Block Party in Launceston along with exclusive performances by Gotye paying homage to the late Jean-Jacques Perrey.
Genesis P-Orridge would have fit in perfectly, but unfortunately she/he had to cancel his/her performance due to an ailment, but he/she was not only there in spirit as throughout the festival, the MONA cinema showed documentaries, including ones on spacey jazz heads Sun Ra and on pandrogeny.
Rubbish was kept at bay – in all senses of the meaning – but most importantly in a literal way by the absence of plastic: Drinks were proffered in recyclable branded steel cups (they look and feel fantastic but are not conducive to the enjoyment of the fantastic Tasmanian whiskeys), coffee and tea were served in China, food on crockery and real cutlery.
Free beeswax earplugs were individually cut for attendants.
The way the festival on the MONA FOMA site is organized translates to the behaviour of the attendants, as it is a far more enjoyable affair than traditional festivals. There seems to be a correlation between the laissez faire attitude and the provision of through through offerings and the responsible behaviour of the punters, with security and the powers that be seeming more concerned with the welfare of everyone than feeling the need to exert their powers. Again, a major accomplishment of MONA’s team.
The highlight of the weekend, of which there were many unexpected ones, was the exploration of the newest addition to the MONA experience: The new steel and concrete wing Pharos, appropriately named after the lighthouse of ancient Alexandria as it hovers over the river Derwent and is pervaded by natural light in contrast to the cavernous rest of MONA, was designed by Fender Katsalidis, the firm that designed the original 2011 MONA building.
Pharos contains new artworks that shall be more closely revisited over future visits:
Richard Wilson's 20:50 is a work that is reminiscent to what might MONA aficionados remember of the tomb chamber.
Ready? Okay, picture this: Reflection generated through pools of extensive black oil pools, which you find yourself in the midst of as you enter through a narrow pathway.
An artwork that unfolds its layered dimensions as you ascend a level higher and view it from the bird’s perspective.
Randy Polumbo's 'Grotto' is currently a kind of antechamber and a silvery, sparkly one at that.
James Turrell’s “Unseen Seen” is in essence a perceptual cell and an exercise in magic. Part neurological experiment, part an LSD come alive, it is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Suffice to say that I have not only been enjoying the immediate impact, which resulted in a profound emotional reaction, but feasted on the delightful flashbacks that have been accompanying long after leaving MONA.
An intimate experience, housed inside a white orb by up to two people, who ascend stairs to lay down on a daybed to experience, once the door has been locked by the attendants in lab coats, intense evolving light sequences and patterns that massage your frontal cortex, trigger lively hallucinations and make it difficult to make out if you are aware, if your eyes are open or closed and at least at this end, culminated in intense, pleasureful physical reactions.
An integral part of Pharos is the tapas bar Faro (yup, you guessed it – the Spanish equivalent of “lighthouse”), centered around a brown-glass, black marble bar offering share plates and all the good stuff you would expect from a Spanish place with the MONA twist on things as the cherry that makes a visit an outstanding experience.
The after parties of MONA FOMA happens under the big umbrella of Faux Mo.
Saying that each installment of Faux Mo is a festival in itself is an understatement. It’s part nightclub on steroids, part art happening, part what you make of it as there are performances happening simultaneously throughout the night in differently themed and decorated surroundings with bars and food aplenty.
And then there is always Moorilla, MONA’s winery, which warrants a visit in itself. For this year’s MONA FOMA incarnation, saucy political alcoholic popsicles and innovative wine & food pairings were proffered and MONA’s own Vivid Light Spa offered complementary massages to aid in reaching the climax, i.e. brain-gasm.
Sommelier extraordinaire and MONA’s Dionysus Daniel McMahon and his team, clad in ABBA-esque custom-designed silver numbers, manned the themed Peacock Pool Bar, which located upstairs in the Ether Building not only offered primo vistas over the festival compound but also a festival for your palate alongside a peacock paddling pool.
Wine is a broad subject.
Indeed, a truism.
I think we can agree on that.
What makes wine tasting a pleasurable experience is a good sommelier, i.e. one that guides you from the level you are at instead of lording knowledge like a golden scepter.
I have raved about Moorilla’s drops before and this year’s offerings did not disappoint either:
Eased into experience with an edible helium filled bubble and a class of Moorilla sparkling, the daring and artisanal Cloth Series with its luxurious flavours and complex balance based on unusual vineyard blends is always a liquid highlight of a visit to MONA’s restaurant The Source, with the Late Disgorged Sparkling being a personal favourite: Imagine a well-calibrated mélange of honey, stone fruits and mushroom characters and a hint of sea spray hitting your receptors.
If you are partial to bakkheia you cannot afford to not visit: https://moorilla.com.au
Dark Mofo, the Tasmanian winter equivalent to MONA FOMA, will return 15-24 June 2018 and you might want to bookmark https://darkmofo.net.au to hear from the mothership when the program is released.
See you on the dark side . . .