How a weekend at a festival of death and darkness was actually enlightening

Dark MOFO.

Those two words spill from everyone’s lips as the nights draw closer to being the longest and darkest.  It’s the annual winter-solstice festival that brings Hobart and surrounds alive during what traditionally, had been the deadest months of the year.

Now, through death, Hobart has been reborn, in a big but measured and unique way.

The sheds at Dark Park are big. The buzz in the air around Hobart town is big. The emotions that are teased from your cold body are big.

From the moment you land at Hobart airport, you know there’s a certain something something going on.  The illuminated sign “Welcome to Hobart’ has been changed to red, as have many of the lights around town, indicating a level of connectedness across the community. The letters H O B have been left off and you are welcomed to ‘ART’.

Hobart Airport

It’s like you’ve landed on an island of mystery and intrigue.  You never quite know what you are going to get but Tassie’s pretty and looks kinda sleepy so, everything will be alright, right?

And this festival is run by MONA. So you know, you just know, it will be good. What ever IT is.

You know even though the festival takes over the town’s conscience, the folk at MONA do subtle very well. You start questioning what is art. Is the art, art? Is the defaced electioneering billboard art? Is the security fencing art? Is a one-armed man, sitting in a room in an abandoned asylum, art?

Who knows? But it got you thinking didn’t it?

You start to see everything around you from an artistic prism of creativity and wonderment.

To think in one night, we can go from a heavily patronised Dark Park, to the museum itself and out to an asylum.  All, with crowds of punters buzzing with excitement of what they’ve seen and yet to see.

One thing leads to another. Nothing is planned. It always works out that way, and it always works out.

Our first foray into the darkness actually started in quite a saccharin way, literary.  I had apple pie on the mind so we made a bee-line from the airport to the rolling green hills of Grove in the Huon Valley which is synonymous with the apple.

Apple shed outside

A lazy hour or two later (put the phone and the clock away) and full to the brim with delicious toasted sandwiches, apple pie and cider. The rain had come and gone and filled up the muddy puddles. The lime-green grass was luminescent and that special winter light was bursting through dark clouds and dancing off the fresh rain drops on the grass.

It’d be rude not to visit our hosts since we are in town, so off to MONA we go.  Time your visit for just on sunset when James Turrell’s Armarna gently moves through the colours of the spectrum. Somehow, this deceptively simple structure makes a grey sky a piece of art and a hypnotic therapy all at once.

Turrell sky
















Turrell lying down


A new exhibition by Cameron Robbins is on. His work is based on interaction with natural forces and the elements, which create various random patterns. Naturally, it’s very cool, and surprisingly family-friendly and not controversial, but no less impressive than other recent exhibitions.  The museum is pumping like a Corey Worthington house party, but with a far better dressed crowd. Hanging at MONA feels like that friend from high school who had the rich parents, who have the really cool house, and have gone away for the weekend. Except this kid’s dad, we’ll call him David, is so cool he stays back and drinks with you, too.

Cameron Robbins trumpet


Onto the park, that is dark. Dark Park.  The brightest part of this disused industrial wastelands is the sign at the front.  The night sky is intersperced with bursts of flames and the only real directions  given are the neon-red lights snaking their way along the ground.

Dark Park flames

That’s one of the outstanding things of this MONA-organised event, a distinct lack of instructions or  rules. No heavy-handed security, no ropes to section the crowd. We are all just humans enjoying a space, we’ll work it out. It’s a reprieve from the over regulated world we live in. The staff are happy, pleasant and informative, too.

You turn up, with great expectations but little knowledge of what’s going to happen. It can make you feel a little lost, maybe a bit vulnerable, but you know you’re amongst friends you haven’t met yet.

I lined up for the Labyrinth.  We know what a labyrinth is, right? But this is a Dark MOFO labyrinth. I pay my $10 and put my trust in the dark.

The folks from Amaze Richmond have set up a temporary industrial maze made out of shipping containers.

Here we get our first taste of mirror trickery in an upright container with a mirrored floor and ceiling. Sometimes with mazes you go round and round in circles and end up at some really lame after-thought of a central focal point.  Not so with The Labyrinth.  If you follow the smell of paint you’ll end up with a front-row, aerial-view to street artist Mayonaize. He enjoys a chat with patrons as he adds to his art work which grows from day to day.

Mayonaize Labyrinth

Onto the next challenge to the sensors, The House of Mirrors. If there’s one way to reduce humans back to the same level, take away their sense of direction. Nervous giggles ring out as we all succumb to complete and utter disorientation.

For someone who has at times, suffered disabling anxiety, this would have been a living nightmare in the past. But this night, I feel the warm embrace of the lights and the shared disorientation of the crowd. A couple of times I felt pushed to the edge of my comfort zone and if only I could have found the entrance again, I may have left. But I couldn’t, and the staff member who I kept eyeballing like an oasis in the desert (and my ticket out of there), couldn’t either.  So embrace it I did.

Cello House of mirrors

Before I knew it, I stumbled upon a woman playing a cello with an ominous black lace veil over her face. Of course there was a woman, just sitting there playing the cello. It’s what you’d expect from Dark MOFO, except I wasn’t expecting it. It was another subtle ‘act of awesome’ that made me smile and relax into what could be the motto of the festival, to not let fear eat the soul.

fear eats the soul

But wait! There’s more….onto the asylum. Willow Court.  The name has a pretty ring to it, but anyone who’s local will tell you that bad things happened there. And now this large complex in the picturesque town of New Norfolk, lays dormant and abandoned.

Mike Parr self photo

Artist Mike Parr moved in and took up residence in one of the rooms for 72 hours straight. He also had his work scattered around the buildings of the complex. Most notably, a line up of buckets of human urine.

There was also really subtle things like his late-brother’s name graffiti’d on walls which if you didn’t know the story, you may miss. Again with the subtlety.

Buckets of Urine

Entry was by mirror only. Meaning you had to bring a mirror or something reflective. One of the reasons for his residence here was for Mike Parr to think about his brother, and he wanted the audience to reflect on the space and leave a piece of themselves.

How many mirrors were put there by him? Or by visitors? So many questions remain unanswered which applied to a lot of what happened in that place.

Not only did I physically leave a piece of myself there in the form of a broken CD but I felt like I’d taken a little piece of past resident’s souls with me.

willow court shadows

All the while I’m marvelling at this town and its transformation post-Dark MOFO, you can too, until June 21.

Dark MOFO takes you to the edge of your comfort zone but you trust them not to push you over.