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Dark Mofo

MONA is transforming Hobart. This is a big statement, particularly because its full impact may not be felt for some years to come, but it’s a sentiment you’ll hear from countless people in the Tasmanian capital. Ben Morgan reports.

It’s not just a museum, or art gallery, it’s a sassy injection of punk-like attitude – described to me by one local as “arsey” – into Australia’s second-smallest capital city. At no time is that more evident than during the ‘MOFO’ festivals. The summer festival started four years ago, but 2013 is the first time the museum, and its eccentric owner and passionate staff, has instigated a winter festival – DARK MOFO. The celebrations acknowledge Hobart as the city with the longest night (due to its latitudinal position), taking advantage of this ‘darkness’ with 11 days of avant-garde lighting, music, art and food events across the city.

“We have engaged the entire city with a large-scale, public artwork titled ‘spectra [tasmania]’ by Ryoji Ikeda,” says DARK MOFO Creative Director, Leigh Carmichael. “We’ll also capture the imagination again through works like ‘Skywhale, bit.course and white beam’, but also the more community-minded events like ‘winter feast, nude swim’, ‘MONA till midnight’ and Ian Burns’ ‘Afloat Asunder at TMAG’.”

Walking around the city on the opening weekend, it’s clear that MONA has ‘come ashore’ – though technically part of the island, the MONA ROMA ferry ride gives the impression of it being separated by the sea. It’s wonderful to see a city – which, at the best of times, can be rather quiet – come to life after dark with people of all ages coming out in the bitter cold and driving rain to enjoy the festivities.

‘spectra [tasmania]’ by Ryoji Ikeda

Contained in the large wharf sheds are two of the hubs of the festival, MAC1 and MAC2. MAC1 houses several lighting and multimedia installations which will truly make you think and explore art in an immersive way. Zee by Austrian artist, Kurt Hentschläger, is an unbelievable experience and one not to be missed. But this space is also a gathering place, with heaters, couches and pool table creating a homely atmosphere for people to meet and enjoy a beer or a warm cider. MAC2 is being used as a live music venue, where the Presets and Hermitude have already pleased the throngs over the weekend and countless other local and international artists are bound to impress in the days to come.

The Vivid festival in Sydney has shown that Australians really can come out in Winter – despite many years of hibernation in the coldest months. But Dark Mofo is something else. The aim seems not just to get people out but also to get them engaging with their city in a critical sense. MONA’s mastermind, David Walsh, doesn’t want visitors to just swallow what they’re fed, he wants them to question it, to point out its flaws and call it on its “wank”.

Leigh Carmichael, Creative Director, DARK MOFO

In conjunction with Hobart City Council, the event is encouraging locals and visitors to embrace the city; with the upcoming winter feast (June 20 – 22), featuring some of the country’s top chefs and local produce, they’re undoubtedly promoting a more European approach to enjoying winter. The festival will also see the launch of the latest MONA exhibition, ‘The Red Queen’, with installations and works from over 45 artists from across the spectrum.

Reminding locals that there’s something a little different going on in the city, the MOFO team also devised the idea of ‘painting the town red’ – red being the assigned colour of the festival. “We have worked with the tourism industry to ‘paint the town red’, and it seems to be catching. Almost 30 venues are on board and the public are taking photos and congratulating them on social media for getting involved. Not often the public thank hotels,” Carmichael remarks.


“Hobart doesn’t need to be Melbourne or Sydney, and there’s no chance anyway, so it’s a redundant statement,” Carmichael says, “but I think continual transformation, whether it be a city or a society, is of utmost importance for our wellbeing. Creativity is at the heart of pushing boundaries, looking for new ideas and ways to be, so I guess, it therefore must be central to any meaningful transformation.”

There is a feeling that creativity and cultural capital may present the way forward, not just for Hobart, but for all our cities. It is certainly a city in a state of change. It’s hard to know exactly where it is going, or how it will get there, but to miss out on being a part of it would be criminal, or negligent at the least.

The festival runs until 23 June, while the new Red Queen Exhibition at MONA runs until April 21 2014.