~ CELEBRATING THE DARKER THINGS IN LIFE ~
I just returned from the mystical, tenebrous world that is Dark Mofo – a winter solstice festival in Hobart blending music, art, mythology and food with light-filled darkness. Organised by the people responsible for MONA, it’s as if art, light and sound flooded out from the museum and crashed onto Hobart’s docks, saturating Tasmania’s sleepy capital city (with a population of only 220,000.)
Over the two weeks when Dark Mofo reigns supreme, the entire community becomes involved. On entering the city you immediately feel immersed. Touching down in Hobart, passengers are greeted by a large, red, neon sign beckoning you to, “COME INTO MY WEB”. Red flags, carrying the signature cross, flap in the sea breeze along the main streets, six-foot upside-down crosses loom over the harbour and red lights buzz from almost every shop and cafe. Wherever you see a red cross, neon or otherwise, it’s a good indication that a dark and wonderful experience lies within.
One of the main attractions at Mofo is the Winter Feast, by the docks. Walking into the feast is like stumbling upon Hogwarts Great Hall if it was held inside St. Peter’s Church, from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, with a twist of David Lynch’s ‘red room’. Candles light three excessively long tables, neon crosses hang down from the ceiling as if suspended in space, and plush red curtains line the warehouse like the belly of some large beast. Eerily magical characters, that creep from table to table, could be the brainchild of Guillermo Del Toro if he was in charge of Mardi Gras.
A band plays high up in the rafters, their sweet melodies floati over the hundreds of dinner guests and unobtrusively fill their ears as they fill their bellies. The seemingly endless array of culinary delights make it hard to decide what to choose. There is also an emphasis on locally grown and ethically sourced cuisine so you can feel good about yourself while you chow down. The oysters are so fresh they could’ve have been plucked straight out of the water just beyond the shed walls. The wine is so tasty you always end up having one or two glasses too many.
The feast extends outside, under a sea of red fairy lights. Entire cows are spitfire roasted – reminiscent of some centuries-old pagan celebration (don’t worry there are plenty of delectable vegetarian and vegan delights available too!). You could easily spend your whole night here, but there are more places that need exploring (and Mike Parr to watch being buried alive under one of Hobart’s main streets!).
During the day there is also a great deal to uncover, and a lot of it 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 with some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered (I highly recommend Small-fry, Pigeon Hole and Room for a Pony). Catching the ferry over to explore MONA is always an afternoon well spent. If you want 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 shops windows are transformed into live art installations. Passers-by view performers through the glass as if in a human zoo. Several installations have interactive elements: you can have your hand traced through one office window, or control, with the press of a button, when a woman smashes down her pile of wooden blocks, through another window.
A large fire pit rages just beyond the main gates of Dark Park, casting an orange glow across all who enter. Pathways lined with red LED lights lead you between the giant warehouses that make up this after-dark playground, a former industrial area and what used to be the old transport centre. These usually unused spaces are now impregnated with live music, pot belly fires, sheepskin-covered stools and the aroma of appetising snacks and tipples. The other spaces are filled with larger-than-life art installations using lasers, lights and – of course – more fire.
A giant Tasmanian cave spider sculpture, or Ogoh-Ogoh – part of modern Balinese Hindu folklore, resides in a dark corner at the back of one of the main sheds. You are encouraged to write down your biggest fears and present them to Ogoh-Ogoh, implanting them inside one of her several egg sacks (which were later burned during the closing ceremony of Dark Mofo along with the spider herself).
Friday and Saturday nights offer an especially dark treat: Night Mass. Right in the centre of town, participants get to witness 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. Giant dinosaurs and throat singing heads roam around the cordoned off areas. Bars are transformed into dimly-lit, mystical forests and dingy lairs.
I woke up on the last day of my Hobart trip as if waking up from a dream, one which I didn’t want to end. From my Airbnb bed, I immediately looked up flights for the following (and final) weekend of Mofo! Unfortunately, flights so last minute were out of my budget, but I can assure you I will be back next year, and I highly recommend you go too.
Special thanks to my friend Hannah Saunders who took most of the photos (which aren’t already explicitly credited). If you’re in Sydney, pop in on Art Somewhere, a fortnightly creative hangout which she started and runs. Check out her website or follow her on Instagram @artsomewhere.