Mona Foma is a beautiful monster
As Hobart’s now-legendary audio-visual carnival sweeps back through town, Chloe Mayne guides us through the strange and beautiful maze that was:
Ah, Mona Foma, my old friend. We’ve grown into and around one another over the years like a pair of tangled vines, old friends who convene biannually to swap notes and observations on the world. When you sweep into town, I press my head to your chest and listen to the heartbeat of Hobart echoing on through from below like the belly of an old, rollicking ship.
An ever-metamorphosing creature, Mona Foma 2016’s incarnation different in a wonderfully circular manner for, like a great-winged bird coming back to roost, the majority of the weekend’s events were held at MONA itself. A jewel tucked away deep into the cliffs of the Derwent, the Museum of Old and New Art hardly needs introducing by now – suffice to say, the rocky nooks and rolling lawns contained within that little microcosm could hardly have been a better choice for the spectrum of events which took place inside its luminous feathers.
Originally esteemed more for the strength of its musical sails, Mona Foma has since spread and twisted into every other alley, becoming a whole-hearted and full-bellied celebration of pulsating creativity in its widest conglomeration. Before the festival proper (that contained within the three-day pass) began, small things were beginning to bloom in pockets across Hobart’s lap. Australia’s oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal, hosted the Samuel Beckett Triptych; a magnificent trifold rendering of regret, nostalgia and the darkly-hued humour of the twisted, breathed to life by some of the nation’s finest performers. From incessant paces across a kitchen floor to wide and watery eyes at the foot of a bed and the perpetual loop of a tape recorder, repetition and sadness created a moving monument to life.
The following evening saw the Odeon Theatre fling open its doors; tucked away for years in a surprisingly obvious nook of Hobart’s CBD, it’s one of many gems around the city uncovered and proudly polished by Mona Foma’s architectural archaeologists, and now celebrated as one of our best large venues (despite regular threats of demolition). With chairs tesselated across the available floor space like mussels, bodies pressed in to watch a big-screening of multi-Oscar-winning Birdman, with the soundtrack performed live by its loving creator, Antonio Sánchez. A swooping, knock-out visual treat of a film was blown up like a hot air balloon by the live accompaniment, the audience swinging together from the basket as it swooped and soared to climactic heights of calamity.
As Friday crept in with warm breath, things began to gather momentum; hordes flocked north, following the river to the MONA mammoth. Sunk into the cliff face, the building seems to belong there now – it’s entwined, entangled, a part of the rock after a few years of courting. Summer turned bright cheeks and made the hills glisten, ducks weaving among rows of vines as we traipsed upward toward our weekend temple. The museum itself was labyrinthine, the glass elevator like a capsule to the netherworld as secret and impromptu events unfolded within its crannies.
Outside the lawns rolled out soft carpet, shoes kicked off as clusters gathered early and grew in anticipation of festival ‘headline’ act (if Mona Foma has such a thing) The Flaming Lips. Armed with the usual spectrum of extravagant toys, the beginning of the set seemed a little tired to me; perhaps because the crowd were blissfully dazed beneath an evening sun, less responsive to shiny things and more into slow shoulders and grass between toes. As dusk crept in, however, things moved faster and with increasing enthusiasm; Wayne Coyne plunging out over the crowd in his signature transparent bubble, everything covered in glitter and extraterrestrial charm. By the time they wriggled back onstage for an encore, the set had reached a deliciously mutual thrill that left us wide-eyed and grinning.
The festival’s supposed afterparty, Faux Mo, almost ran away with the show for us locals. Less inclined to make the trip out to the museum (come on, it’s a whole twenty minutes), oodles of energy was channelled toward Mona Foma’s nocturnal counterpart. True to style, the event latched onto a forgotten treasure – in this case a waterfront office block set for demolition – and licked its blander wounds, breathing it in with colourful, twisted, hedonistic life. Created and curated by a troupe of talented visual artists, the Department of Non-Human Services was a spectacle to behold; glowing iridescent from the street, chests were swollen with anticipation by the time they funnelled through the doors and spilled like slippery beans down the stairs, up the stairs, across the beige carpeted floors and into parallel galaxies. Between gazing into bottomless neon voids to bathing in smoky ice pools and discovering hidden stages like constellations in the night, it was just the playground we’d been hoping for.
From there the wheel was truly set in motion; Saturday at MONA spun brilliantly by the hands of the likes of Hailu Mergia, DJ Krush, and a plethora of other guests, both international and local. Mouth-watering handcrafted eats found their way into bellies from a range of gourmet stalls, while the Glitterati ensured that patrons were sufficiently sparkly, dousing beards and scalps and eyes and cheeks in shiny magnificence.
By the second time around, Faux Mo had become a nocturnal routine, an almost-religious gathering in the wings, fast gaining momentum. James Chance and the Contortions provided off-kilter squirming beats that had the crowd muddled into glorious boogie. Hobart’s resident musical creatures spent plenty of time wreaking their own sonic havoc among the numerous secret rooms and stages, and it was great to see diverse local acts making up huge amounts of the nightly lineup. I had the pleasure of spinning music down in the basement as the midnight hour ticked over, held aloft by the tendrils of a mysterious black creature that dominated the room. Tops were thrown off as the chaos and sweat descended into delicious fervour, creating a writhing dance microcosm in the bowels of what was probably once a refuge for old filing cabinets. The atmosphere was hazy, insistent and incredible; there’s something about Walshy’s parties that just unravel with wonderful looseness, the edges of everything touched with innocent and also slightly-sinister glee.
The week following Mona Foma I found myself stopping and gazing off into the dreamscape that was on frequent yet subtle occasions; walking barefoot across my lawn and imagining confetti being launched into the sky from a rocket, paper strips pressed into palms, the steam of a morning shower like diving back into the luminous pool. Thanks for creating such a strange and beautiful monster, Mofo – we’ll be seeing you again when winter descends into Darkness. Mmmhm.
Words by Chloe Mayne. First photo by Sean Fennessy; rest by Remi Chauvin and all courtesy of the kind folk at MONA.