Visiting Hobart in winter was once a sure sign of madness. Perhaps it still is, but it’s a decidedly stylish version of insanity on display at Dark Mofo.
The Dark Mofo festival has turned Tasmania’s capital into a cultural hub in the weekends preceding the winter solstice and judging by the excited chatter and lack of empty seats onboard the Thursday evening flight from Adelaide, it’s a brand many want to be a part of.
Once we arrive,the red-lit facades and shopfronts lining Hobart’s main street show that it’s not just visitors who have embraced Dark Mofo. For a festival with events including a “soundbath” in which patrons lie down and listen to ambient music, a particle accelerator making sound from rotting fruit and a performance about a dying orchid that culminates in the single audience member recording a Chris Isaak song, perhaps the most shocking thing about Dark Mofo is how popular it is.
Dark Path, the free collection of installations in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens, draws so many attendees that organisers have to issue a plea for them to take the bus rather than driving in. Those crowds make it hard to give attention to works like Missing Or Dead, Julie Gough’s memorial to the Tasmanian Aboriginal children stolen or lost during the early colonial period, but it’s thrilling to see so many people engaging with visual and performance art. And there’s plenty of time to linger at Gough’s exhibition at TMAG. Tense Past is a reflection on the devastating impact colonialism has had (and continues to have) on Tasmania’s original inhabitants, and our own complicity in that continued dispossession. It’s hardly a party starter, yet people are lining up to get in.
Over the weekend, I line up multiple times but Dark Mofo is no victim of its success – the lines move fast and allow me to experience the works in a respectful manner after eavesdropping on fellow attendees. “It’s like being hit over the head with a dildo” one visitor says of Paul Yore’s It’s All Wrong But It’s Alright, and it’s a fair description. Set in a redundant church that has been turned into a “technicolour chapel”, this intentionally provocative display of priapic pop art is dazzling in its kaleidoscopic glory. Even more visually arresting are the partially butchered latex pigs being born and moving through a dystopian farmscape in Saeborg’s Slaughterhouse-15.
By the time I’m lining up to see Nicolas Jaar, I’ve spent most of the day wandering between exhibitions that are in turn thought-provoking and outrageous, but rarely boring. Performing as Against All Logic, this show gives air to the famously prickly artist’s more upbeat, danceable side and it’s far more accessible than his performance at last year’s Unsound. A booming beat fills the cavernous hall and occasional flares of light transform into a deep red glow that shows him playing in the round. Tiered spaces are set up for those who want to see what’s happening, but the real party is behind the bleachers. There, dancers clad in scarves and sequins gyrate as the stuttering glitch and warm rolling thunder of the bass envelop us in an embryonic glow. Jaar pulls off the tough trick of combining analog warmth with robotic precision as ethereal soul samples and diaphanous synths occasionally surface above an increasingly muddied beat that sputters but never dies. The jarring, off-kilter rave would be the main event at any other festival, but here it’s a mere tease, a prelude to the madness of Night Mass.
For this nightly paean to excess, a city block is turned into a hub of activity that hosts countless gigs and installations. There’s an unrestrained, carnival atmosphere and a vague timetable suggests some order, but it’s hard to discern as I pass through strobe-lit raves and cumbia dance parties. I feel like a child on an Easter egg hunt, fixated on the next discovery as I navigate the maze and follow punters with grinning death’s heads into a multi-storey building that hides tiny bars and laser installations in its recesses. The effect is disorientating and overwhelming. When I come across someone writing a manifesto, I’m barely surprised.
What’s abundantly clear is that it’s impossible to fit everything in. Nevertheless, I try; the next day The Dirty Three stare infinity in the face with their unbridled ecstasies and A Forest is a multi-disciplinary exhibition that addresses all the big issues – mortality, trauma and freedom are just the start. But this is only a hint of the totality of Dark Mofo. It’s a festival for the art that doesn’t fit anywhere else.
June 13 to June 23
PAUL YORE, IT’S ALL WRONG BUT IT’S ALRIGHT (Photo: Dark Mofo/Rémi Chauvin)
All images courtesy Dark Mofo, Hobart