Art has an ability to transcend language and other slowpoke forms of cognition, and tap straight into the ‘broader bandwidth’ of consciousness…
The Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) changed the shape of the creative landscape in Tasmania when it opened it’s doors in 2011. Director David Walsh was less interested in simply the aesthetics of the collections and artworks within, and more drawn to the intentions of the individual artists, feeling the importance lay there and ultimately informed the creative outcome. Casting an ever wider net, MONA has rolled out a couple of festival events in its annual program with the winter festival, Dark Mofo, quickly growing in global acclaim and a controversial yet wholly permeating calendar of events each year.
This year, Dark Mofo seems to have risen above its previously questionable yet abjectly fascinating reputation and solidified into a main player in the global art world. Held in mid-winter each year, Dark Mofo delves into centuries-old winter solstice rituals, exploring the links between ancient and contemporary mythology, humans and nature, religious and secular traditions, darkness and light, birth, death and renewal. It is a heady fortnight of predominantly nighttime events that tilts the small city of Hobart on its axis and forces its not so innocent bystanders to question perceptions, seek out answers, and ultimately celebrate the dark and mysterious notions of our human psyche.
The annual solstice swim. An integral part of the Dark Mofo program which celebrates ritual and tradition. Image by Remi Chauvin for Dark Mofo.
Featuring the work of internationally acclaimed artists, Dark Mofo differs from any other artistic platform in that its program seems aimed at uncovering deep-seated misconceptions and creating a conversation that has the ability to arouse feelings and opinions we often didn’t realise we felt. Sitting in a bar on Hobart’s waterfront a week before Dark Mofo began this year, the prevailing conversation was centered on 3 inverted crosses that had been erected in the cover of darkness at the beginning of each of the 3 piers the previous night. The stirrings and rumblings of Dark Mofo had begun and the creative minds behind these mysterious and deeply misunderstood installations had tapped into the essence of this off-kilter festival. I won’t get into the relevance of religion in today’s culture however, these 3 inverted crosses incited a larger response than the church has probably had in Tasmania in years. Whether you agree or disagree, understand or blatantly disregard, the permeating provocations released by these rather beautiful and silently poignant objects was staggering.
Waterfront Cross: One of three erected on Hobart’s waterfront by Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney with Leigh Carmichael. Image by Remi Chauvin for Dark Mofo.
Having set the scene, the actual opening of Dark Mofo coincided with the unveiling of MONA’s latest exhibition – ZERO. Displaying the works of Düsseldorf’s ZERO Movement, the underlying theme is conducive to Dark Mofo’s prevalent undertones. The 1950’s movement ran against the style and feeling of the time and celebrated process (assembling and constructing alongside your peers as opposed to art being viewed as something extracted painfully and in solitude), echoing the atmosphere and intentions of Dark Mofo and the inception of MONA as a platform, rather than the past (which was heralded elsewhere throughout the festival). The young people who banded together to start the ZERO Movement were united in a post world war II Germany and were interested in breaking free from the anxious individualism that seemed to oppress the artists of the time.
ZERO Exhibition. Spiegelenvironment by Christian Mergert. Image courtesy of MONA.
ZERO Exhibition. Lichtregen by Günther Uecker. Image courtesy of MONA.
ZERO Exhibition. Pigment Bleu Sec by Yves Klein. Image courtesy of MONA.
Aligned with these notions are many of the program elements at Dark Mofo this year. Aside from the beauty in form that is the 3 inverted crosses (a fourth was later unveiled in the city centre via a pilgrimage of sorts to another major part of the Dark Mofo program – Night Mass) when viewed as separate from their connotations and religious iconography, the ‘resurrection’ of performance artist Mike Parr, who was interred in a underground chamber for 3 nights during the festival, also spoke volumes about the intentions and curiosities of this winter festival and its ability to plant and water a seed in the very guts of its audience. And this is the very essence of Dark Mofo which throws up hugely confronting and controversial themes that provoke and then, with the gift of hindsight, mellow into a collective acceptance.
The interment of performance artist Mike Parr at Dark Mofo 2018. Image by Jesse Hunniford for Dark Mofo.
Having witnessed it first hand, it seems that nowhere else in the world could better host the themes and elements of Dark Mofo than Hobart. Small enough to wholly immerse festival goers (the city is bathed in red light by night and thumps to the heartbeat of tribal-esque drum beats from each corner throughout the two weekends of the festival), yet large enough to make an individual feel inconsequential enough to begin to question their own previous thoughts, ideas and relevance. And that is the perfect mindset with which to delve into the dark discord that is Dark Mofo.
Words by Tiffany Jade.
Images by Remi Chauvin and Jesse Hunniford.