Last Saturday night, I found myself standing in a room watching two women dressed as pigs in skimpy outfits, raiding a kitchen. They were filling up bags and squealing. Every so often, they’d stop to pose for photos.
I was at Dark Mofo, the festival that takes over Hobart, Tasmania for two weeks every year since it started in 2013. The festival is the brainchild of Leigh Carmichael, the visionary and creative director of DarkLab, a creative project subsidiary of Museum of Old and New Art (Mona). If you’re not familiar with Mona, it was founded by David Walsh who reportedly makes his money through gambling. Dark Mofo is a celebration of winter and all things darkness.
“Based around the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, every year we celebrate the dark through large-scale public art, music, fire, food, light and noise,” reads its official page.
This year, the festival runs from Thursday, June 8 to Thursday, June 22, with the bulk of events, as usual, happening over the weekends. I attended the first weekend, with two other journalists, also there for the first time. We stayed at Movenpick Hotel on Hobart’s central Elizabeth Street and attended some of the festival’s most important events.
Ahead, I share everything that surprised me about Dark Mofo, a festival I’d heard about for years. And, most importantly, if I’d ever go back.
All of Hobart’s Encouraged to Go Red
As I mentioned, Dark Mofo takes over Hobart — so much so that a sign reading “Welcome to Hell” was set up at the airport (though, it was quickly taken down after complaints that it was scaring kids). Another sign reading “Let us descend” remains.
The festival comprises official open-to-the-public and ticketed art displays, performances and food and drink experiences, but businesses all around the city are encouraged to join in the revelry by turning on red lights.
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At Movenpick Hotel, the lift lights were red and the daily chocolate hour in the lobby had “Dark Mofo” themed desserts. All the electric candles in its restaurant were also wrapped in translucent red paper.
It Has All Kinds of Events
I was surprised by how many different kinds of events Dark Mofo has. A fold-out programme lists all the main attractions and events, along with a map.
Some of the main venues involved include In The Hanging Garden, a warehouse-style venue, full of greenery. Down the stairs from In the Hanging Garden, you’ll find its extension, Cathedral. On each side of this space, you’ll find Altar, a grungier, smaller-stage venue where some festival shows are held, as well as Odeon Theatre, a historic former cinema and iconic music venue.
There are also Dark Mofo events at the Mona, entertainment venue MAC2 and Long Beach, where 2,000 people drop their clothes (and inhibitions) to step into the chilly seawater to welcome back the sun after the longest night.
I attended the opening night party The Gathering at In The Hanging Garden. It had performances by First Nations artists including BAARKA, who told the crowd she was among the 2% of people who have experienced addiction to meth and managed to get into recovery. Tasman Keith, DENNI and dameeeela also performed.
I also attended the Winter Feast, held at Princes Wharf No. 1, where I wandered the aisles looking at all the different kinds of foods and admired the scenes of a Harry Potter-esque great hall where everyone was eating and drinking, seated under glowing crosses that hung from the ceiling.
The highlight of the festival for me, though, was Night Mass, held on Saturday night, taking over three city blocks, as well as In The Hanging Garden. It had room after room of live art, including the stealing “pigs” I mentioned earlier, which I later understood were making a statement about greed.
There was also a room of old-fashioned, red-tinted porn, a room with furry material over a bar and stuffed animals stuck to the walls and a room with just an empty bathtub and a flickering light.
Across Watchorn Street, a Giant Teddy sculpture by artist EJ Son shot lasers from its eyes. And, at Liverpool Street, the graffiti-covered Bidencopes Lane was filled with fire pits, food trucks and pop-up stages.
Events Sell Out in Seconds
As I was lucky to attend on a press trip and so didn’t have to go through the hassle of getting my own tickets, I didn’t realise they were so in demand. A friend who attended said that once tickets to certain events were released, she kept having to refresh her web browser to be able to eventually click through to buy them.
Easily one of the hardest events to get into, it seemed, was The Red Room. On the official programme, its venue is labelled “Undisclosed”, with its blurb reading, “If you know, you know”. One of the journalists I was with ended up getting into The Red Room on Saturday night (she was turned away on Friday).
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She couldn’t take any photos inside but described it as being all red (as you’d expect), with none other inside than David Walsh who her new companions she’d met at another bar introduced her to.
So, would I go back? Definitely, but I’d do things a little differently. It really is a festival of darkness, with most of the action taking place late in the night. Night Mass on Saturday night didn’t even start until 10pm and goes until 4am. I’d sleep in in the morning and focus my trip around the nights, with the aim of eventually getting myself into The Red Room.
I’d also look through Dark Mofo’s programme and book my trip dates around the events I wanted to go to, which, who knows, might even one day include that Nude Solstice Swim. After all, if there’s one place I can imagine myself feeling totally comfortable getting naked in public, it’s at Dark Mofo. No question.