~ CELEBRATING THE DARKER SIDE OF LIFE ~
Over the two weeks Dark Mofo Festival reigns supreme, the entire city of Hobart undergoes a tenebrous transformation. Scarlet flags bearing the signature cross, stationed around the CBD, snap ferociously at the icy while red lights buzz from within almost every shop and cafe. Along the harbour, giant, glowing, upside-down crosses loom over passersby.
Organised by the people responsible for MONA, Dark Mofo is a winter solstice festival in Hobart, Tasmania, blending music, art, mythology, and food, with light-filled darkness.
Fire roars up from pyramid-shaped towers at the entrance to the Winter Feast, one of the main attractions at Mofo. Walking into the feast is like stumbling upon Hogwarts Great Hall, but if it was directed by Baz Luhrmann. A multitude of candles, like waxy stalagmites, light three excessively long dining tables, while neon crosses, suspended high above the diners, varnish the room with a red and purple glow. A plush, red curtains lines the warehouse like the belly of some large beast. Strange creatures slink from table to table — characters that would exist in a Guillermo Del Toro film, only here (thankfully) they are dripping in glitter rather than blood.
A band plays high up in the rafters, their sweet melodies floating over me and the hundreds of dinner guests, unobtrusively filling their ears as they eagerly fill their bellies. The seemingly endless selection of culinary delights, with an emphasis on locally grown and ethically sourced cuisine, makes deciding what to eat a challenge. The oysters taste so fresh they could have just been plucked straight from the water lapping just beyond the shed walls. A staggering array of tasty tipples can easily result in you staggering home from the feast.
The feast extends outside, under a sea of red fairy lights. Entire cows are roasted over coals — reminiscent of some centuries-old pagan celebration — and people stand at ice stations shucking their own oysters. You could easily spend your whole night here, but an exciting festival program means there is much to explore (including watching artist, Mike Parr, being buried alive!).
During the day there is also a great deal to uncover, much of which is free. Take the Dark Mofo art walk, watch an indie film at the local cinema, then refuel at some of the charming cafes around town (I highly recommend Small-fry, Pigeon Hole and Room for a Pony). Catching the ferry over to explore MONA always proves to be an afternoon well spent. And if you desire something more invigorating, take part in the yearly nude solstice swim.
As soon as the sun sets on Macquarie Point, just next to Hobart’s docks, Dark Park rises up like some sort of Stygian playground. On the walk over to the park, office spaces and shop windows, like much of the city, have been commandeered by artists and various art installations. Passers-by observe performers through the glass like a human zoo. Several of the installations even have interactive elements: you can have your hand traced through one office window, or in another window, with the press of a button, determine when a woman smashes down her pile of wooden blocks.
A formidable fire pit rages just beyond the main gates of Dark Park. Pathways dotted with red lights lead you between the giant warehouses which constitute the nighttime playground, a former airport and industrial area. These usually vacant spaces are now impregnated with live music, potbelly fires, sheepskin-covered stools, and the aroma of appetising snacks and beverages. Other sheds have become temporary homes for larger-than-life art installations involving lasers, lights and–of course–more fire.
In a dark corner at the back of one of the main sheds, a giant Tasmanian cave spider sculpture, or Ogoh-Ogoh — part of modern Balinese Hindu folklore — resides. You are encouraged to write down your biggest fears and present them to Ogoh-Ogoh, implanting them inside one of her several egg sacks. These are later burned during the closing ceremony of Dark Mofo, along with the spider effigy.
Friday and Saturday nights offer an especially dark treat: Night Mass. Right in the centre of town, participants can enjoy a melange of performances from Aussie Hip Hop, light displays, amateur wrestling, or performance art where milk is squirted out of a woman’s derriere — it’s luck of the draw where you might end up. Outside, giant dinosaurs and throat singing heads roam around while, inside, bars are transformed into dimly-lit, mystical forests and dingy lairs.
Dark Mofo really is a festival like no other — immersive, creative, diverse and a lot of fun. But be warned: you’ll find it hard to return to the light after experiencing this dark and magical world.