Dark Mofo 2014: Encores and Apologies

Photograph: Rémi Chauvin/MONA

Neika Lehman spent two extraordinary weeks at Tasmania-based festival, Dark Mofo:

It’s been just over a week since the conclusion of Hobart’s second Dark Mofo festival. The music and arts festival runs for two weeks, and if you take full advantage of the program, another full week to recover from. Recover from what, you’re not entirely sure. The body aches, and the mind is still heavy from the trough full of culture and Moo Brew Dark Ales one has consumed. Valiant perseverance of aesthetic enlightenment, or the fourteen nights of trudging around Australia’s southern most city streets might have something to do with it. ‘Something’: something is an interesting word when it comes to MONA based festivals. It suggests the promise of that which is still transparent, that which is not fully realised. This is a pretty good analogy for Dark Mofo 2014.

After the hype of last year’s success, there was a collective feeling of something good to come. More friends flew down from the mainland, and businesses around Hobart lit their shop fronts red: the festival’s primal and seductive visual signifier. Carnal, temporary, decadent. The signature feature of any MONA festival’s lingo is its ambiguity. Full details are never laid out, and people seem to love it. The resulting gossip of secret locations and acts is a spectacle in itself. The talk fuels the festival, and in many ways is integral to its success. We do more work than we realise. But not for no reason; after five years of MONA FOMA and now two of Dark Mofo, a sense of trust has been gained by festival attendees. People know MONA throw good parties. But the party has got a tad more expensive. And while the city voluntarily turns itself red, and inclusivity feels part of the spirit, new city walls have built up, and the tolls at the gates are getting higher. Is the promise of that “something” inside still worth the increasing ticket price?

Kirin J Callinan 2I’ve written earlier of Dark Mofo as a festival that has a price for every pocket. This continues to be true. I write from the pocket of a free wheelin’ New Start/casual income earner; just a consideration for context (I didn’t attend the Red Death Ball). Thankfully, the free events are still abundant, and the sky is still lit up from huge beams of Hydro-sponsored power. For the music, I would happily pay the concession rate again of $49 for the After Life event, because I absolutely love HTRK, Kirin J Callinan (left), and Total Control. Paired with the local talent on the side stages, the venue itself and a killer after party, the event was an awesome success. Cheers Mofo. I’ve heard stories of similar praise for other music-specific events. People seem to accept that the glory days of the free MONA FOMA experience are over, and if anything, it’s become something for veterans to gloat about. It was a bit of a shame there was no general festival pass similar to earlier years, but they’ve got to make their money somehow. If you want to see a touring musician in a professionally organised location, it does seem fair enough. The exception of course, is Coldplay.

Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t extend to the Winter Feast and its newly introduced $10 entrance fee. Spending money simply to spend more money isn’t very tasteful (even if the food inside was). A rare occurrence from the generally unapologetic institution of MONA (and a repeated one at this festival, more below), Creative Director of Dark Mofo, Leigh Carmichael, gave a heartfelt apology about the exorbitant waiting times. I imagine the Winter Feast will cost again next year, but I know myself and many other broke Hobart youth won’t be in attendance. The richer and older families loved it however, and although much media reportage has been made on the MONA festivals as the ultimate hedonistic playground for hipsters, Dark Mofo has proved they can cater to much broader tastes, which is important for its survival.

snowtown live

Going back to the freebies, I pity those who didn’t get along to Snowtown: Live, at the Odeon Theatre (pictured, above). Live musical scores are never disappointing, and Jed Kurzel’s score for Snowtown, paired with unseen, experimental footage from his brother Justin’s film was intense, unsettling, and sublimely beautiful. This is a fair generalisation for all works chosen in the excellent Dark Mofo Film Festival this year, curated by James Hewison and Nick Batzias. The tailored lens through which they presented contrasting representations of Australia was near perfect. It made the whole of Dark Mofo feel situated in a specific history, and that somehow, all this madness was us, and was very Australian. Whatever that means. Closing the film festival was Still Our Country, which screened at MONA on the final day of Dark Mofo’s official two-week calendar. Still Our Country is a richly visual portrait of the Yolngu Aboriginal people of North East Arnhem Land. The unconventional structure of the documentary favours the strength of narrative bond between image and sound, rather than the often-abrasive techniques of western Q&A documentary. Part of the Charlie’s Country suite of projects, the film is an authentic celebration of living indigenous culture, and was an exciting and optimistic end to the film festival.

Photograph: Rémi Chauvin/MONA

Immediately after, scaling the stairs back to the main foyer of MONA, and back to the boiling pot of the museum’s current Southdale Shopping Centre installation, I lingered uncomfortably over the Aboriginal souvenir section, with its boomerangs, and grotesque golly-wog dolls “for sale”. I had also visited earlier in the week, before the Roche Pharmaceuticals banner, which advertised the detection of Aboriginal descent through DNA testing, had been taken down. It hadn’t left my memory. I thought about the Ningher canoe constructed on site at MONA, and the wonderful continuation of culture through craftsmanship that Buck Brown and Jamie Everett had succeeded in. I thought about how the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre had not been consulted on the Southdale installation. I kept looking at the golly-wogs. I felt very confused, and eventually very offended. If the film festival had presented a complex picture of Australia, then the film festival, Dark Mofo and MONA as a whole had created an even muddier, and much more politically fraught set of ideas around contemporary indigenous Australia. Was it okay to present such personal and authentic works like the Ningher project, alongside the absurd trivialisation of living indigenous culture that Southdale projects? Certainly not if curation did not bother to include the Tasmanian indigenous community in a conversation about themselves. You can read David Walsh’s apology over the DNA testing banner here.

Two extraordinary weeks seemed like two non-linear days, and then suddenly, it was over. At the Dark Mofo Future Hobart forum, fronted by acclaimed New York artist Vito Acconci, the importance of turning a space into a place had been emphasised. Dark Mofo, is slowly (or is it very quickly?) succeeding to morph these two otherwise commonplace weeks in June into something festival attendees and Hobart as a whole can recognise collectively, and feel a part of. The particularities of their shared experience may vary from 2am stairwell parties in Satan’s industrial church, mass nudity in the Derwent at dawn, or contemplating the offences when a culture is appropriated on homeland without consultation. Memories get stored and nostalgia’s a powerful thing. If you went, Dark Mofo wants your feedback. A friend from Brisbane described the festival as imperfect and exciting. That’s a pretty concise summation.

Start saving your pennies for next year; I personally don’t want another winter without it.

Photograph: Rémi Chauvin/MONA Photograph: Rémi Chauvin/MONA

Visit the Dark Mofo website here.

 neika

Dark Mofo 2014 review by Neika Lehman