The winter solstice marks the shortest day in winter, and in bygone days, the time to slaughter greedy animals and hoard stocks of grain. Tasmania’s MOFO organisers have changed things slightly and organised a swim instead. In freezing waters. In the dark. By Jeremy Torr.
Hobart. May 1, 2018. When David Walsh decided to be a gambler, he wanted to make a pile of cash. He was so successful he went pro, amassed millions of dollars, and launched an art gallery in Hobart, Tasmania called the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Better still, he organised a festival out of the gallery called the Festival Of Music and Art (MONA-FOMA) and created a new shortened acronym for installed art events in the city by collectively calling them MOFO. Which could be taken as meaning something else, and underlined his unusual approach to both life and art.
The Ogoh-Ogoh symbolises Dark MOFO's pagan-avant garde roots. Courtesy Indonesia Tourism.
Following the success of MOFO (held in the summer months) he decided to launch a winter solstice event called Dark MOFO, as it was usually quite dark at that time.
The event, to run this year from June 15-24 at a variety of venues cross Hobart, links MONA with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), and a stack of international musicians and artists.
MOFO has followed the same approach since it started in 2008, but has seen most publicity worldwide for its mass nude swim at dawn in the freezing waters of the Derwent River. Thousands of brave and shrivelled swimmers dive in for a dip to celebrate the solstice and to avoid killing their wintering pets.
This year will see several days of public art, food, film, music, light and performances as well as the shivering skinny-dippers. Star attractions include Andy Warhol’s performance artist muse Laurie Anderson, singer-songwriter St Vincent, and the cryptically titled dark wave artist Zola Jesus.
Underscored by left-field acid legends Electric Wizard from the UK and Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda with his signature searchlight creations, the event is poised for its usual challenging mix of art and activity happenings.
“We’ve pulled together our most expansive lineup yet, spread over three weekends and presenting more than 750 artists, 22 exhibitions, two opera companies, two theatre companies, one puppet theatre company, one orchestra and a community choir,” said Dark MOFO Creative Director Leigh Carmichael.
Continuing the dark season theme, Inuk (Eskimo) throat singer Tanya Tagaq is scheduled to sing a talkie score for the 1922 silent film Nanook of the North, which follows the semi-documentiarised life of an aboriginal Arctic-dwelling family.
Other highlights see a set by the Berlin based “industrial noise’’ group Einstürzende Neubauten, who will be performing and premiering a new piece for the festival.
For more conservative solstice celebrants, the Victorian Opera will perform Benjamin Britten’s the Rape of Lucretia, with music score from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. And of course, the effigy figure of Ogoh-Ogoh, the spirit of winter and nasty doubts, will be set light to as a purification and an opportunity to be danced around by druids and hipsters alike.
“It’s always difficult to know exactly how the festival will unfold for the audience,” said Carmichael. “We just strive to try and find new ways to experience the darkness.”
Exactly. That’s Dark MOFO then.