Getting Naked at Dark MOFO
As Hobart’s most adventurous winter festival wriggled into the island capital’s crannies, Chloe Mayne was there to tell us all about it:
Cuddle in close, sonic explorers; this one’s a tale that’ll make your knees quiver. As Hobart opens its most secret doors and passageways to the world like an old Egyptian tomb, the Museum of Old and New Art is, as we all know by now, the one holding the flashlight at the front of the pack. What it continues to find in its biannual excavation is a river-tucked city of sensual delights just itching to be poked and prodded. While the summer edition of MONA FOMA saw us frolicking beneath umbrellas and blue skies, the winter instalment is a different beast altogether.
It’s difficult to encapsulate the enormity of this year’s Dark Mofo. Its albatross span reached from the Spectre beam which brushed the bellies of the clouds from dusk ’til dawn, averting eyes heavenward, all the way down to the roots of the Hothouse, in which heads were buried together and brows knotted over the future of Tasmanian education. The sprawl of celebration that bloomed from the middle was like a tempest, booming and belching; from a fire organ at Dark Park vomiting flame and a bath in bass reverberations, to the foghorn rumble of Anthony McCall‘s Night Ship as it sailed the length of the Derwent each night. Dark Mofo is a formidable carnival attraction, the rollercoaster, ghost train and loveboat of the senses, creeping like an iridescent blanket over the wintery streets and tucking our meek little bodies in for the ride.
The wardeness of this year’s Dark Mofo was the magnificent Marina Abramovic. Taking the ferry out to the opening of Private Archaeology at MONA in the dark of night was seeing my hometown like a childhood friend suddenly all grown-up. Shimmering and resplendent, even the zinc works became a monolith to behold as we slid beneath the Derwent Bridge on our nautical steed. Ascending the stairs up the banks of MONA’s shore, the museum site spread out like a fairground all bubbled over with champagne and winter frost. This gargantuan setting was enough to see that the festival has really grown up, which is both a blessing and a niggling frustration; it evidently has the resources to fulfil its wildest ambitions, but gets so shiny that at times you find yourself wanting to avert your eyes. I didn’t actually see the exhibition because I was told the wait was forty minutes; instead, I sat on the floor and slowly lapped at a twelve-dollar gin and juice, which was served in a plastic party cup. As a Hobart local, watching all of the new and beautiful faces schmooze past was like being in the nicest kind of zoo.
Despite these distracting bouts of flashiness/tackiness, then, Dark MOFO was a real winner and didn’t give me any reason to whinge. I got my fill of Marina the next morning when I watched her soar through a public conversation with David Walsh to a packed-out Odeon Theatre, and it was fabulous. There was a lot of great music on offer including Gareth Liddiard, Yamantaka Eye, Pallbearer and a surprise appearance from Blank Realm. Similarly, there were oodles of visual treats (including the incredible Patricia Piccinini), but if you know anything about this festival then you’ve already come to expect these things. MOFO, in many ways, is a model festival.
So this year, I approached MOFO a little differently. I decided to climb the stage of City Hall and, like a ship sailing quickly away from the shore of the frigid world I once knew, take all of my clothes off, spreading my arms wide to embrace my liberation in front of multiple hundreds of people.
I’d been recruited as a backup singer for esteemed local duo The Harrison Forward, who continue to carve out their corner of the sonic cave with an exquisite and fever-inducing blend of odd-electronica. They took to the stage of Dark MOFO’s late-night extravaganza Blacklist (Faux Mo in previous years) in front of a crowd of uninitiated fans who had no idea what to expect . The catch of Blacklist is that you buy a ticket but the acts remain under wraps, which is a counter-intuitive concept that I am still wrestling with, but we’ll run with it. In this particular case, it was probably a recipe for magic.
The Harrison Forward, an unassuming pair in white tights, were joined by a figure in a bulbous mask who looked a bit like a silent and mysterious root vegetable as the music unfurled and billowed around him. As the set approached its crescendo, the band were flanked by a choir of twenty fleshy, glittering (and possibly chemically-enhanced) creatures who swayed and praised their saviour, wobbly bits wobbling as our hands reached desperately for the sky. The gospel harmonies trickled out by the end of the show, replaced by thumping twerk gem ‘Turn Down For What’. I felt slow and starry-eyed as lights and bodies whirled around me, a cyclone of shiny things with bits swinging and faces grinning. Huge gold balloons dove from the sky and the crowd was fuelled to the kind of crazed, anything-goes delirium which makes MOFO such a precious space.
Bathing in a cold bucket of PVA glue (non-toxic, they said) on a Tasmanian winter night turned out to be one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in a long time. The real struggle turned out to be convincing us to put our clothes back on afterwards, and I apologise sincerely to whoever landed the job of cleaning up the glittery flood we left in our wake. In my eyes it’s a sparkling treat but, as the Ship Your Enemies Glitter fiasco proved, we aren’t all in agreement on this one. Oh well.
The following pair of nights got all smooshed together in a mess of early mornings; perhaps the weirdest but most fitting thing about a festival like this is that by the time you roll out of bed the next day, it’s already dark, the carpet already laid. The highlight of Dark MOFO’s closing night, however (besides roasting a fingerlicking marshmallow smore over an open fire pit), was the burning of the giant Ogoh Ogoh handfish. Created by a collective of Balinese artists, festival-goers had been scribbling their fears all over the beast’s twisted body since the week previous. Watching it go up in a heaving, writhing mass was enough to knock the breath from your chest.
Come Monday, it was time for everybody else’s clothes to come off. The Nude Solstice Swim has become the stuff of legends in the handful of years since its inception and has featured a plethora of bums including a Lord Mayor, and your old neighbours that you haven’t seen since you were twelve. I’m not sure what part that fear demon going up in flames played in this, but the turnout was awe-inspiring. A healthy, toe-numbing layer of frost clung to the shoreline as scarlet swimming caps and coy white towels were donned, dropping like streamers when the signal came. As 752 goosepimpled bottoms raced toward the river’s frigid arms at 7:42am, Dark MOFO 2015 drew its final fiery breath and sank to the Derwent’s sludgy floor to sleep out the spring.
Words by Chloe Mayne. All photographs taken by Remi Chauvin and courtesy of MONA.