In Arts + Entertainment

Last-Minute Guide: What To See At Dark Mofo If You Haven’t Booked Yet

The anticipation surrounding Australia’s most controversial festival is such that within days of going on sale, many Dark Mofo events were already sold out. But while high-profile international acts like Nicolas Jaar and Jonsi from Sigur Ros generate a lot of the initial excitement, this festival, which runs June 6 – 23, is about far more than headliners. It’s about defying expectations and finding inspiration (or confrontation, or even revulsion) in the most unexpected places.

Associate Creative Director Hannah Fox calls it “a festival in the true sense of the word; one that brings people out of their homes and into the streets for ceremony, ritual, feasting, ecstatic dancing, visual poetry, theatrics, making noise, being present and shifting the status quo, even if only for a fleeting moment”.

If that’s a bit much to take in, she has another, more cheeky description: “goth Spring Break”.

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Image: Rémi Chauvin / Dark Mofo

Fox’s expert tips

First things first: rug up. Many shows go until late in the night, and it’s a lot easier to enjoy them if you’re not shivering. Fox recommends “dressing for Antarctica because 3am in Hobart in winter is colder than Judge Judy on a bad day”.

Late night is also a great time to explore some of the installations like Dark Path, “a deep, dark wander through the Queens Domain, an abandoned zoo and the Royal Botanic Gardens with some beautiful, challenging and eerie works to encounter along your way”. Like many of the art sites, it’s open long after the sun has set and it can be really fun to get some friends together and go and explore that stuff late, when the crowds have subsided.

Dark Mofo is a festival that rewards those who look deeply into the program. Fox says “there are brilliant works and experiences to be found in the less obvious places,”, which is good news for late bookers. And while picking favourites is tricky for Fox because she’s so heavily invested in the program that she helped to create, she nominated a few acts that should not be missed.

Take This, For It Is My Body

This performance with very limited availability is one of the more directly confrontational works at this year’s festival. Framed as “an intimate encounter with audience members over a spread of tea and fresh scones with jam and cream,” Take This, For It Is My Body gives audiences what the program mildly refers to as “a provocative choice.”

Partaking in this time-honoured European domestic ritual also means consuming scones that have been made with a “preponderance of Aboriginal blood” – the artist’s own.

John Grant

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Image: Shawn Brackbill / Dark Mofo

John Grant is such a charismatic performer who delivers powerful melancholic pop melodies and exquisitely raw lyrics punctuated by self-deprecating and hilarious monologues. I saw the most recent show in London and loved it.”

A Forest

Rather than overweening, didactic performances, Dark Mofo is full of challenging works that force audiences to draw their own conclusions and meanings.

That will be especially true as they roam through A Forest, a “collection of works of performance, light, sound, sculpture, Virtual Reality and the choreography of bodies and machines that inhabits a disused ex-Forestry building in the heart of the city”.

Saeborg

A nightmarish collection of anthropomorphic activists populate this free performance, Saeborg, by “a Japanese artist whose work draws parallels between gender issues and the slavery of animals via a playful, fetishised performance installation using latex inflatable sculptures and costumes”.

Lonnie Holley

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Image: Jesse Hunniford / Dark Mofo

Part of a $5 million live music and cultural precinct being opened with Dark Mofo festival, Altar is a new live music venue with a range of musical performances that Fox suggests “may end up being some of the most talked about shows of the festival”.

In particular, she singles out Lonnie Holley and says that his most recent album MITH is “is one of the most startling things I’ve heard in recent times. It’s full of abstract beauty, violence, mysticism and his searching gospel vocal crying out on songs like I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America”.

Dark and Dangerous Thoughts

Sometimes referred to as Dark Mofo’s version of a TED Talk, Dark + Dangerous Thoughts comprises a series of panels, discussions and speeches the cover what Fox coyly refers to as “difficult terrain”. Sessions this year tackle topics like trolls, transgender children and whether the political right is to blame for the Christchurch mosque attack.

MONA

It’s easy to get caught up in the madness of Dark Mofo and forget the institution behind the festival, but a visit to the “museum of sex and death” otherwise known as the MONA is always rewarding. Fox specifically recommends Simon Denny’s exhibition Mine, billed by the artist as a “theme park to extraction”.

Opening with the festival, it explores “the political and environmental significance of mining, but also the role of work and value throughout human history, and in the rapidly changing present. It includes a giant version of a classic Australian board game; life-size replicas of machines and products used in automated mineral mining; and a human-sized Amazon worker cage, home to the proverbial canary in the coal mine”.

(Lead image: Jesse Hunniford / Dark Mofo)

Published 10 June, 2019