January, 18-22, 2017
We no longer engage, sing nor dance. We do not know how to anymore. Instead, we watch other glorified people sing and dance on stages, preferably through the lenses and screens of mobile devices, reducing it to a purely passive, receptive pleasure and ourselves to spoon-fed consumers.
MONA FOMA is a tad different: It proves that curating music and performances does not only bring those things into art, but it does bring art into those areas in an age where “curating” is often merely reduced to making a choice – it offers a dialogue with the willing recipient, which can take you down the myriad of rabbit holes it offers, if you dare to.
You do? Thought so.
MONA FOMA is a truly remarkable festival and a lamentation. Its song is a sigh against the dystopian backdrop that our world is today, a delicate yet robust, curatorial psalm with a baseline concentration of awesomeness and eclecticism that momentarily washes the dreariness of daily life off our souls and goes far beyond merely getting well-liked and established artists to shoulder the fest.
The bands, performers and musical outfits accentuate, enrich and provide the soundtrack for the experience that is MONA FOMA - they are not the sole draw cards and raison d’être for the festival.
Held on the grounds of Berriedale around what is MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art, the annual Australian summer festival feels like a platform where the curators, fearlessly led by Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, share their discoveries with the audience, letting art appear where we expect it least devoid of the over-preening, pretentiousness and arrogance that what is labeled as artistic is often associated with.
MONA has commonly been referred to and promoted as “subversive, adult Disneyland”. While this might have been heavy on the subversion part and the enjoyment it brings, there is another aspect to it: Attention to detail and total disregard for conventions, presenting artists in “artists in residence mode” re- and interacting with the challenges, audience and potential of the site.
Not unlike Disneyland, MONA and its festivals are self-contained microcosms and doorways opening new worlds:
Each year David Walsh, the Walt Disney behind MONA and the MONA FOMA 5-day extravaganza of music and art, Brian Ritchie and their teams surprise anew with how this unique utopian festival presents itself.
The non-prescriptive laissez faire approach, which can be a risky one when it comes to operations of this scale, seems to work with the audience it naturally attracts: You would be hard pressed to find left behind trash on the lawns: Bespoke sleek and stylish stainless MONA drinking vessels are being reused and there is a noticeable and enjoyable absence of both branded advertisements from sponsors as well as annoying intoxicated antics, which seem to be obligatory for any other festival.
The brand is MONA and its products is the atmosphere it inspires and the mood it evokes, id est folks are having a plain good ole time.
You can try to look behind the scenes but there is nothing to be unveiled, as MONA FOMA and its winter equivalent, DARK MOFO, are far from being Potemkin villages.
They are festivals that transform the whole of Hobart: The gateway to the experience and launch pad of MONA’s own camouflaged ferry, Brooke Pier, hosts performances as well as Australia’s oldest operating theatre, the Theatre Royal, Salamanca Arts Centre and Town Hall.
After a MONA fest your humble narrator often finds himself tracking down specific tracks he was exposed to during the fest not merely because the performance in itself was convincing, but to tap into the moment it took place in.
Let’s have a look at what will be revisited to bring back the MONA FOMA 2017 feels, shall we?
tetema is one of Mike Patton’s more recent projects. Teaming up with a cast of Australian virtuosi, he premiered what he had conjured with Melbournian composer and sound artist Anthony Pateras and what eventually manifested in the album Geocidal, backed by Will Guthrie’s beats.
If you are vaguely familiar with industrious Patton’s projects apart from Faith No More (e.g. Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, his solo excursions channeling schmaltzy Italian crooning) and what he releases on his Ipecac label, you would not be surprised by the fact that the album brings glorious noise produced with aged synths, outlandish orchestration and Patton’s vocal acrobatics ranging over six octaves.
The live incarnation of what sounds on paper like a perplexing and straining exercise digging through the neither regions of human experience proved to be quite an enjoyable soiree, at times infectiously amusing and feeling like a more traditional rock show that one would have expected. It would be interesting to see what tetema would evolve to if the geographic divide between the protagonists would not hinder more regular live performances.
Another act that has brought faithful pilgrims to Berriedale in ample numbers because of its main protagonist, was Maynard James Keenan’s project Puscifer.
What Keenan considers his creative stream-of-(sub)consciousness and playground for the various voices in his head, is a charming, carefully crafted mélange of industrial rhythms, visuals, theatre and celestial harmonies.
As if being flanked by the ever-enchanting chanteuse and multi-instrumentalist Carina Round, whose harmonies with Keenan are as soothing as her vocal abilities and sharp poses are powerful, and being backed by a solid quintet was not enough, lengthy video projected interludes of Keenan in character along with a Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling themed stage set-up including ring and actual matches, made it feel more like a carefully choreographed theatrical experiences with inherent dramaturgy than a mere rock show.
Joined by keyboardist Seia Vogel and replacing violins and pianos by appropriating Mindy Meng Wang’s traditional Chinese instrument guzheng into their vision, Brisbane’s Regurgitator reimagined The Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled 1967 album.
Unfortunately I was only able to attend two days of the festival and hence missed out on a great deal of performances, e.g. electro pop diva Peaches premiering Andrew Llloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar as a one-woman show and the multimedia and -lingual concert piece Before the Flame Goes Out, a memorial in music to a historic community set in Ioannina, the home town of composer Constantine Koukia’s parents, dedicated to the Hellenic Jews that were deported to the death camps during the Axis occupation of World War II.
MONA FOMA is about more than music – it is about art, craft, food, drink and fun. The architecture and set-up of the MONA site allows for a vast array of performance stages and installations, with which the audience is invited to create, participate and interact.
Apart from the permanent MONANISM exhibition, MONA holds different themed exhibitions throughout the year with the current one being On the Origin of Art.
It is based on the assumption that art has a basis in biology and explores in how far it works for the maker and the viewer in a biological sense and compared to other human unviversals, i.e. what is in it for us and what is at the heart of one’s urge to create? As a result four bio-cultural scientist-philosophers have been selected to curate the exhibition and ask big questions in a bid to explore the origin of art.
Another current special exhibition at MONA is Hound in the Hunt, which, in essence, is science being conducted as live art and vice versa: Tim Jenison has created a small mirror mounted to a stick, placed in exactly the right position to paint photo realistically. Tim strongly suggests that masterpieces from the Golden Age were created using this process and are thereby essentially handmade photographs made long before the invention of photography.
David Walsh was intrigued and engaged Tim to conduct more experiments with his process as an installation at MONA, the result of which is Hount in the Hunt with several highly accomplished painters trying to use his optical technique to recreate paintings by Vermeer, Caravaggio and Willem Heda from life-sized scenery in real time at the museum floor. The audience is invited to use the device and create their own paintings, each of which will be archived to demonstrate not only that it works but also the variety that is based on the painter’s individual style.
Don’t Look Away is an independent British-Italian flic from the 1970s focusing on the psychology of grief and employing flashbacks and flash-forwards to depict prerecognition by intercutting and merging scenes to alter the viewer’s perception of what is really happening. While I was intrigued when I first accidentally watched it as a pre-teen while alone at home, the subliminal horror it transported ingrained itself within my mind for years to come.
Stephen Dupont is an award-winning war photographer and photojournalist. He has spent time in some of the world’s most dangerous regions, capturing the humanity and inhumanity of his subjects through the lense of his camera.
Don’t Look Away at MONA FOMA was him taking his art in a different direction in a theatrical presentation of his work, combining live performance with still images, live scripted and ad lib moments as well as stunning 4k movie clips, film and music. He took the audience through his often traumatic brushes with death and documenting horrific scenes under most adverse circumstances. His intense performance was spun around the demise of his mother, which was the alpha and omega of the rollercoaster ride through (in-)humanity and the edges of sanity, with the occasional trespassing.
FAUX MO is the official after party / pop-up nightclub and debaucherous underbelly of MONA FOMA.
It’s epic. It’s immersive. It’s a labyrinthine maze and multi-sensory experience. Part Studio 51, part warehouse bash, part LSD trip gone right - a festival in itself and worth the visit to Hobart alone, it takes over a multi storey disused government building and is brimming with performances from DJs via bands and performance art, multimedia installations, secret bars that can only be accessed with a token randomly handed out and special, secret appearances of bands from the main stages of the festival or projects of the main protagonists.
You meander through the building and discover, experience, feel, touch and have your mind aptly blown. No place has been spared as a team of more than 30 visual artists – from young local hopefuls to well-established heavyweights – have gone to town and carefully curated an experience that is further enhanced with seemingly spontaneous interventionist performances.
This year’s incarnation of the mysterious otherworld that is FAUX MO proved to be even more enjoyable than the previous one as art and music has fused with the building, which along with the audience has been incorporated as an equal participant in the event, and thereby creating more space to take it in instead of crowding and compartmentalizing already confined spaces with installations.
Quality food and drink is offered at MONA’s weekend market and MONA’s Moorilla winery and Moo Brew brewery. Moo Brew produces five core beers on site: a Pilsner, Hefeweizen, a Belgian Pale Ale, American Pale Ale and an American Dark Ale. Not much of beer drinker anymore, I can attest that the cloudy Hefeweizen meets Germanic standards with its phenolic flavours of banana and the golden Pilsener my personal approval.
Needless to say that the bottles are adorned with artistic label designs, with the artist John Kelly railing against the corporatization of art by the Australian Arts Council and embedding its logo, which is not meant to be altered, in different contexts.
Moorilla Winery is worth a MONA visit in itself: It offers an exciting range of boutique cool-climate wines. What is exciting is that apart from producing quality drops, there is a fair bit of experimentation that goes into them channeling their Dionysian alchemy and praises to Bacchus. A DIY-approach pushing the envelope of conventions. How quintessentially MONA is that?
Host Daniel McMahon is an approachable, charming sommelier devoid of pomp and secure enough to not lord his knowledge like a golden scepter over the uninitiated. No matter if you are an advanced connoisseur or if your knowledge of wine culminates in “red with meat, white with fish”, Daniel has the ability to pick you up where you are at and communicate on a level that you understand based on his hands-on experience and involvement in the wine making process.
The grapes from the 3.5 hectare Berriedale vineyard form the core of Moorilla’s wines and the foundation of the Muse range, which include Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, additions are sourced from its St Matthias vineyard in the West Tamar region, which is contrasting in terrain and climate and mainly makes up the Praxis wine range. A favourite of this year’s tasting was the Gewürztraminer with its lychee-like spicy note, the rich Praxis Pinot Noir with its bouquet of berries, cherries and sweet spices of French oak and the exquisite Cloth Label Red.
Spa lovers could book treatments the Ultra Vivid Light Spa, which included festival specific crystal method massages, sonic enhancement therapies and a “walking on coals” empowerment workshop, which your humble narrator unfortunately missed out on.
Festivals end as festivals must, yet fret not - dates for Dark Mofo 2017, the winter equivalent to MONA FOMA and celebration of the winter solstice, have already been announced. DARK MOFO is like MONA FOMA on steroids and while the exact program is yet to be announced, you do want to mark 8-21 June in your calendar: https://darkmofo.net.au