AU ABROAD

Dark Mofo 2015: Our favourite moments of Hobart's winter festival


Photo by John Goodridge

Hobart's dramatic Dark Mofo wrapped up 10 days of the eclectic and experimental yesterday with a mass nude swim in River Derwent. It was the third year of the festival, and by far the largest as more and more people from across Australia became aware of just how exciting and transformative the Museum of Old and New Art's celebration of the winter solstice has become.

Chris Singh and Lauren Anseline were at the event this past weekend, checking out some of the many events on the program to bring you their highlights of this mysterious festival.

Eye: Circom

Chris' experience

There was a lot of music on the program for Dark Mofo and most of it was straight-forward entertainment coming from excellent bands such as The Peatures. This one was a bit different: Red Bull Music Academy centered their debut event at the Dark Mofo around an Australian visit by iconic Japanese artist and Boredoms lead Yamantaka Eye (AKA "Eye").

Taking place in the Odeon Theatre, Eye delivered his Eye: Circom project, reiterating his status as one of the most important forces in experimental music today. It was obvious that the performance was challenging to many in the crowd, doing away with their expectation that they were going to be getting something they can dance to, especially since Eye followed a gorgeous tech set by producer Jake Blood. Rather, this was both a construction and deconstruction of bass, with Eye both conductor and instrument while he sat in the middle of a circle made up of six people with laptops.

Half of these people were musicians - Bertie Blackman being one - while the other half were not. Eye communicated to them through the use of hand and body movements which linked all the laptops and their wielders up to create a buoyant, slow building experiment made entirely of bass and Eye's visceral chants.

Earplugs were necessary at points where the bass lifted into galactic levels of reverb, bouncing off the walls before dying down to low, buzzing sounds. Eye's pulsating experiment was as emotive as it was harsh, and by the end - the very loud end - those who weren't rudely chattering up the back were left wide-eyed and clapping wildly.

Blacklist

Lauren's experience

The one event that sold out before anyone even knew what it was or where it was being held was Blacklist which turned out to be the festivals raucous afterparty running over the last weekend of the festival at the dubiously named ‘Budgie Smugglers’. Upon entering the venue there was an assault of noise from the stage and the large crowd, already going gangbusters at 9:30pm until early in the morning.

Every now and again the music was muted and performance artists emerged from the darkness to enhance the feeling of ambiguity and reinforce that this was not just a dance party. The most memorable was an extravagantly glittered and heeled band who took to the stage in front of the cheering crowd and proceeded to perform completely silently but with such incredible contortion of face and limb that it seemed real like a real band performing and the crowd roared their confused appreciation.

Although I searched in vain for the kissing booth that was supposedly set up at the party, all I found was a small ante room where you could get your picture taken with a wind machine and some random people. I don’t know who I got photos with or who has them now but dear god please post them somewhere public.

The whole fragmented experience was reminiscent of a certain scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Wonka takes some unsuspecting children down dark tunnel and intones a song that haunts me to this day: “There’s no way earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…” At Blacklist, we were all children drawn in to a strange world with the promise of candy and treats but ended up with much more than we bargained for.

Chris' experience

I guess you could peg Blacklist as a club night, but that label would melt away quite quickly as the event rapidly transformed into a night of theatre, and then back into a nightclub, and then into a concert, bouncing between all three until 4am. The way Blacklist subverted expectations of what Dark Mofo's major nightlife event should be was deliberately challenging; the process led to brief lulls, but that made the highs all the more exciting.

Spread across five nights, with a different theme each time, Blacklist was a bizarre experience, described as a "late-night ceremonial death-dance". Many things happened, often all at once, and it was hard to keep track of every little thing that was going on around the massive, darkened hall. Bars lined the edges of the first floor, portable bars wheeled around the second floor, an outside bar served up cocktails and hot spiced cider ($5 a cider) beside burning cars and smoke-filled vans, a slow-moving group of women in pure white bathrobes stalked the dancefloor abducting random punters and taking them backstage, a little person drove around the dancefloor in a mini motorised car while Ludacris' "Move Bitch" filled the room. Our attention was thrown from wall to wall, to stage and all across the dancefloor as the hyperactive party unfolded.

A kissing booth was set up towards the back, with two separate queues each leading into two separate waiting rooms. You simply had to sign a form confirming that you are not a creep and that you don't have any infectious diseases, take a number as if you were lining up for some freshly baked bread, and enter a pitch black room when your number was displayed on a screen. On entry you can barely see the person on the other side (who entered from the other queue), and you had a minute to make out with them while soothing elevator music played in the background, after which you were quickly ushered back onto the dancefloor via an exit door. Needless to say, the queues were monstrously long by the end of the night.

Dark Park

Chris' experience

Dark Mofo's precinct at the industrial Macquarie Point, dubbed "Dark Park", was a series of diverse and intriguing installations:

Hendrick's Gin set up their renowned Parlour of Curiosities and served some of the festival's best drinks (hot Gin punch anyone?), in a setting which felt like a secluded post-apocalyptic forest with burning barrels lining a path to the bar. Inside the Hendricks tent was a series of oddities hidden within objects you were able to interact with be putting your hand blindly inside or looking through some old binoculars.

Renowned skin care brand Aesop hallowed out a store and filled it with smoke, scented and flavoured with Aesop's signature cleanliness. You stepped inside and could only see about 1 metre in front of you while your senses were overwhelmed with the product.

A dingy shed became a standing cinema as a screening of Anthony McCall's Landscape for Fire played on a large projector, near another large warehouse which housed the artist's acclaimed Solid Light Works exhibition.

Bastiaan Maris' Fire Organ stood nearby the popular Bass Bath, standing tall as an impressive structure of old steel tubing made to resemble a church organ. Melodic bursts of flame shoot up through the tubes and blanket the crowds in heat and sound, forming rhythms and riffs that gradually formed catchy tunes.

Lauren's experience

Apart from he Pulse Column that mimicked your heartbeat and Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works, the highlight of the Dark Mofo Dark Park was the ‘Bass Bath’ by Melbourne artists Byron Scullin and Supple Fox who literally created the sensation of bathing in sound. The sound was powered by eight 2100 horsepower subwoofers which you heard in headphones while red and white lights alternatively filled the industrial room full of steel structures. An incredibly cleansing experience so that when you re-entered the world your body was left with a floating and tingling sensation for quite a while afterwards.

Marina Abromović Private Archaeology

Lauren's experience

The Serbian born New York based artist Marina Abromović has had her work collected at MONA in Hobart as the centrepiece of Dark Mofo. At a glance it could be considered a retrospective but in actual fact it is a culmination of 40 years of personal excavation from this pioneer of performance and body art.

Entering the space, the museum attendant suggests a path that will take you through a dark space then a light one, then back to a dark room and so forth (a fitting explanation of the inner journey you are about to embark upon). The entire exhibition has been assembled painstakingly by MONA curators Nicole Durling and Olivier Varenne so that each room is an experience: tension, terror, peace, and above all a deeply personal introspection all wait beyond these cloth doorways.

There are the infamous standouts such as ‘Point of Contact’ and ‘Rest Energy’, those pieces that established her body’s artistic power with her partner and lover Ulay. The second room is the most immediately affecting works with ‘The Scream’, ‘AAA-AAA’ and ‘Freeing the Voice’ all blasting screams into the space and setting nerves ablaze. From here, the exhibition becomes lighter and more like a museum in the ‘Private Archaeology’ section where Abromović has assembled excerpts and artefacts into wooden drawers for the viewer to pull out and examine.

A welcome addition is the ‘Chamber of Silence’ where emotionally exhausted and overstimulated ears and eyes can take a place on a deck chair with some noise cancelling headphones and reset their senses by gazing out the window across the tranquil MONA grounds. Another highlight is the ‘Transitory Objects for Human Use’ which is a collection of objects the viewer can touch and meditate upon that use a mixture of metal, minerals and woods. For ‘Black Dragon’, ‘White Dragon’, ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘Green Dragon’, you are invited to sit, stand, lean, or lie with your body pressed into the metal or mineral. The physical touching of these metals transforms them into objects of meditation and creates a deep connection to the earth from which they came.

Through the entire exhibition there was a growing feeling that Abromović has moved away from creating just with her own body and has begun to use the audience as part of her art to enhance the experience of art as inclusive and not just the artist being separate from the viewer. The last room, ‘Counting the Rice’ asks the audience to count and separate large quantities of rice and lentils, seeking to make order of these minute objects and focus on simple stillness, another encouragement of viewer participation and our common experience of humanity.

Marina Abromović’s Private Archaeology will be showing at MONA until 5th October. She is also showing at Sydney’s Kaldor Arts Project from 24 June to 5 July.

Winter Feast

Lauren's experience

One of the most enjoyable and spellbinding experiences of Dark Mofo is the Winter Feast, this year with 65 stalls and apparently 2.5 tonnes of meat for the crowds to enjoy. Running from Wednesday to Sunday so no one could miss out, the entrance is emblazoned with the Dark Mofo logo which every so often shooting blazes of fire into the chill night air. The best strategy for the night is to designate a meeting spot for your group then split up and get the most whacky or weird thing you can find then bring it back and devour it around one of the many fire pits with a few too many cups of mulled wine. Extra kudos to the Bruny Island oysters and the Mona BBQ.

Chris' experience

Winter Feast was where the entire city gathered every night, in and outside of a hall that was decorated as a dark red crow's nest. 65 food stalls from local and national vendors served up various food and drink options.


Scallop Quesadilla/Wallaby Burrito

The dining hall was watched over by a gypsy band who played in a small alcove above us, filling the large space with soft, scratchy apocalyptic music while the crowd jumped fro stall to stall. Pacha Mama Mexican caught my eye first, with their Wallaby Burrito and their Scallop Quesadilla. The quesadilla was the better of the two, and I washed it down with a hot Pippin cider spiced with Star Anise.

Mulled Wine was plentiful, as was Whiskey, handled by a large set up from Tasmania's four biggest Whiskey brands - Lark, Sullivans Cove, Belgrove, and Overeem. There were barrels of fire spread around the outside of the hall, perfect for the homely Smores stall which sold Dark Chocolate biscuits and smores you could roast over the fires. Meat skewers were also plentiful, surrounding roving musicians as they stalked the outdoor area.

Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessy "The Shadows Calling"

Chris' experience

Controversial Melbourne artist Patricia Piccinini is perhaps best known as the creator of Skywhale, and for Dark Mofo she teamed up with her partner Peter Hennessy for an unsettling exhibition dubbed The Shadows Calling. Inside the guts of the old Mercery newspaper building was a display of confronting, alien sculptures that blend the natural and the unnatural. From vulva orchads amongst a field of hand-made ceramic flowers to a fleshy penis-like figure leading away a small child, a lot of the work was disturbing but instantly magnetic. Nooks were made to resemble abandoned laboratories - I'm assuming where these strange creatures were cooked up - and dark corners were where small creatures with life-like hair lay. "It's the hair that's the terrifying bit," I overheard two people discussing their mix of disgust and admiration.

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For all of our Instagram coverage of Dark Mofo use the hashtag #AUxDarkMofo

Stay tuned as we bring you a closer look at events such as Eye: Circom

For more information about Dark Mofo head to https://darkmofo.net.au

Article by Chris Singh and Lauren Anseline