Winter can be an awful season, it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark, it’s miserable. It can also be bloody fantastic if the local artists and their community put on a festival to celebrate the Winter solstice. Dark Mofo is Hobart’s celebration of all things dark and just plain out there. It runs for 10 days and includes dozens of events all over the city with some big names coming to town to play a show or put on an exhibit. If you’re into your kooky off-kilter art scenes then Dark Mofo is going to be right up your alley.
As with all festivals there’s the paid events as well as the free entry ones although these days the number of free events seems to be ever dwindling, replaced by commercial cash grabs at every turn. I saw a “deal” on Facebook the other day for flights from LA to Burning Man……$2,000+ dollars! You could fly to other side of the planet and back for less than that. So many festivals that started out with good intentions have been destroyed by business interests and over commercialisation.
Dark Mofo didn’t feel like that though, it still felt fresh and (mostly) free from commercial overload which was quite refreshing. The highlight for me was the burning which took place on Sunday night. A huge fish sculpture had been brought to the Dark Park venue in Macquarie Park, down near the docks. Visitors were encouraged to write their fears and concerns on a piece of paper and place it in the fish’s mouth. At the end of the festival the fish would be brought down to Salamanca Place, then be set alight and all those fears would be engulfed in flame and banished in the fires of a new beginning, the end of the shortest day. As we all know, the night is dark and full of terrors 🙂
These Ogoh-ogoh as they are called, are a part of Balinese Hinduism whereby demon-like sculptures are crafted and then cremated as a form of mass purification. I’m not a religious person by any means and know little of the Hindu religion but I can’t deny there was something wriggling around in my soul when that fish went up and in the moments before, when a large group of people were dancing around it chanting. It was so primal and the polar opposite to our modern bustling, always connected with machines way of life, it felt really good!
Another highlight was the Winter Feast which took place in Princes Wharf, a huge tent like structure next to Salamanca. We were a little sceptical at first seeing as you had to pay just to get inside nevermind the cost of food once you were in. However the entry fee was well justified with plenty of live music and performances to keep you entertained. The food was reasonably priced too…..and freaking delicious! So many stalls to choose from, both inside and out. I went with the chicken drumsticks option which were being barbecued outside in an intriguing setup whereby a large fire in the middle was used to feed red hot charcoal to the barbecues encircling it. There were two flavours, jerk and rum sugar and they were goooooooooooood. After that we went inside and had a wallaby burrito which was equally mouth watering. You can see the full list of stalls here (there were MANY).
Dark Mofo isn’t just about food and drink though, it’s about sensory experiences, the contrast between light and dark, the silence of Winter, and the noise that you have to sign a waiver form to experience. The Bass Bath was an installation setup in one of the empty warehouses at Dark Park. The premise was pretty simple; put on industrial grade noise cancelling earphones, stand under a lamp and be pummelled by extremely loud low frequency bass while a light show does for your eyes what the bass does for you ears and entire body……massages.
Another sensory experience we……um….experienced was the Solid Light Works by Anthony McCall, which consisted of a series of tightly controlled beams of light that were projected onto a wall or onto the floor from above. Dry-ice was pumped into the area intermittently, which made for some really cool smoky effects on the narrow beams of light. I’d like to thank the gentleman outside the venue for walking around to the front and sending me rescue after I inexplicably walked out the fire exit door which locked behind me and also the Dark Mofo twitter account admin for their prompt reply. Not embarrassing at all at all, oh no 🙂
Dark Park also contained the Fire Organ, a rather complex art installation that spat out flames in tune with music being spun by a DJ inside the gantry. There were also what can only be described as large engine exhausts backfiring and spitting smaller flames in tune with the music. It was pretty cool when running at full flow but……I don’t know, I just didn’t quite get it to be honest.
Elsewhere in the city, numerous businesses embraced the Dark Mofo vibe and switched out their regular lights for red bulbs while outside the old Mercury Building, the Pulse Column which could be seen from miles around, drew visitors in wishing to see their pulse transferred into the cosmos through the column.
It was a weird and wonderful few days and certainly helped banish the demons of Winter and bring some light to the darkness and I can’t wait to see what crazy stuff they’re going to have next year!