Mutation and Mutilation: MONA FOMA 2015

Mona Foma

Seven Sunny Summers of Mutation and Mutilation. looks back on MONA FOMA 2015:

MONA FOMA is the exception to the unofficial rule of music and arts festivals: the art is as good as the music. How many M&A festivals have you attended where the ‘arts’ component seems a badge simply slapped to the festival logo? Probably far too many. Of course, you wouldn’t expect much less from a festival whose co-founder owns the largest private art museum in the Southern Hemisphere, but MOFO (the festival’s colloquial term) is a sure cut above the mustard. High quality art guides the way of the festival, to the point where even separating the terms seems unnecessary.

MOFO celebrates Art in all its forms and mutations, highlighting the natural meeting points between mediums, and always encouraging new collisions. You’ll find a man smashing 250 hammers (without break) in the middle of a crowd, and a woman under spotlight gyrating her instrument to summon alien sounds. There’s a giant inflatable cathedral, and a cling wrap bandaged room guiding silent crowds through the fractured tones of minimal, plastic wrapped noise. Out at MONA, the current exhibition is Matthew Barney’s expansive and infamous narrative universe River of Fundament, and in between the museum and Hobart’s beautiful waterfront, a little camouflage ferry scoots punters between the festival sites. On top of all this is the music, and even then the carefully curated performers all seem to have something else—some indefinable, enigmatic element that makes the music far more than just your usual festival experience. During SWANS, people rocked forwards and backwards as if in hypnosis, eyes rolled back in their heads. Dan Deacon turned the main festival site of PW1 into a maddened electro apocalypse, and at another times, people thoughtfully observed the rousing avant-garde sounds of the Young Wagilak Group and the Australian Art Orchestra—a particularly impressive festival highlight, and an act exemplifying the festival’s persona as truly contemporary and Australian. The musicians were sincere and bold in their creativity, and in a summer of festivals all promoting ‘on-trend’ sounds, the irreverence of MONA FOMA’s aesthetic was sophisticatedly refreshing. Plus Omar Souleyman is the king of Master of Ceremonies.

Mona Foma

This is probably where other critics would describe MOFO somewhat flippantly as the ‘true’ hipster’s ultimate paradise, as has been done in the past. If it were ever true that MOFO is only for the youngish and hip, it is certainly not the case now. MONA is becoming increasingly good at curating interactive art experiences that can be both intellectually subversive and accessible for humans of all ages, and inflatable Exxopolis was the stand out family friendly event for this year’s festival. The diversity of performances and displays makes for a more broadly engaged Hobart, and is what creates such open and amiable crowds.

After 10pm, the festival also caters to a more niche demographic: those inclined to buy a pass to the festival’s official nightly after-party Faux Mo—strictly 18+. Employed (or savings savvy) young people have got cash to blow with little financial burden, and MOFO know this very well. The festival’s got in the habit of throwing large, successful, mysterious after-parties, historically in Hobart’s under or dis-used spaces.. For the past two Dark Mofo’s, and now this year’s MOFO, the festival has adopted previous church site The Odeon as ground zero. It seems for now, we’ve lost the mystery of a new location. Put simply, the ticket promises a massive party, with a mix of secret acts, impromptu performances, bands, contemporary dancers and DJ’s.

Mona Foma

Rumour has it that previous creative directors Supple Fox were not responsible for curating this year’s Faux Mo, and that rumour makes a lot of sense. Instead local DJ Dameza and another bloke were in charge of music, and the result was just banal. We got a hefty mix of local acts which most locals are all too familiar with, and a weird combination of disappointing national and international artists. I’d like to point out that Grey Ghost (Melb) was actually kind of horrific, and had locals apologizing to their first time guests: “it’s not normally like this”. Please MOFO, we don’t want him and his weird Linkin Park vibes back. Forever Now (the strange voyage-into-space via Florida performance piece) on Sunday was brilliant however, and what Faux Mo should continue to be founded on: absurdity, spontaneity, and most importantly, normative deviance, on all moral fronts.

Mona Foma

People canter around the venue exploring secret pocket parties, hidden bars and rooms full of half naked performers. This is what Faux Mo is famed for, and what makes it such good fun.

This year, a friend was enjoying dancing to a DJ in one particularly hot room, and decided to take her top off—to dance in her bra instead. A bouncer ran over and demanded she put her top back on, telling her she ‘couldn’t do that’. He kicked up a confrontational stink; she suggested she be thrown out if it were actually a serious offence. Of course it wasn’t, and he sulked the rest of the time we continued to dance alongside women rocking sexually liberating bustier-style tops, (which are more or less the same as bras anyway and for the record, totally A+), next to bare-chested men and of course the literally naked people on stage. One presumes MONA would encourage this kind of freedom of equal expression—perhaps it just didn’t get through to security. The issue of how to communicate effectively with out-sourced security staff isn’t a new challenge for any event, and these problems are not a direct criticism of the MOFO management in itself. If only it had been an exercise in interventionist performance art! To be clear, unnecessary aggression from security wasn’t an isolated event. Rather than become anecdotal, the issue can be seem as emblematic of a larger challenge for the changing face of Faux Mo.

Now the party occupies a stable, demystified location, with a different curatorial group promoting different music, Faux Mo is attracting larger, more diverse groups of people. This is wonderful news for the festival, but is Faux Mo still the thing its reputation is founded upon? If it isn’t, should it consider re-framing its language, or consider a new intent? In previous years, Faux Mo has been described by the likes of Fasterlouder as “the best after-party on earth”. I wonder if this is still true, but look forward to the next one nevertheless.

Mona Foma

Even without a major headline this year, the program of events was as good as ever, and people didn’t seem to notice or care too much. Perhaps without the distraction of a ‘big guy’, punters were more open to engaging with the underground and eclectic artists anyway—the artists that ultimately make this festival incomparably original. MOFO is still young, and despite this, it’s got one of the best reputations around, and with it comes expectation, which they generally exceed. MOFO, you may just need to work on the after-party a bit, and next year maybe not have Brian Richie pull his guitar sex face whilst soaring past crowds of children on a boat. As always, we’ll wait eagerly to see what MONA FOMA does next, but for now, we’re preparing to rug up for Dark Mofo: MOFO’s much colder winter sister. See you at the solstice.

Images by Rémi Chauvin and Naomi Richmond.