MONA FOMA 2014
MOFO, aka MONA FOMA, aka the Museum of Old and New Art: Festival of Music and Art, deposited yet another slew of uncanny art and music performances into the sense organs of its wide-eyed, ear-peeled audience for the festival’s sixth iteration.
Held annually in mid-January in Hobart, Tasmania, MOFO clearly distinguishes itself from other boutique festivals. Curated by Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes, MOFO presents a brazen array of performances from home and abroad that sabotage your understanding, stretching your awareness of what can be done on stage, musically and visually.
Take, for example, Conrad Shawcross’s ADA Project, in which an industrial robot arm with a tiny light attached to its hand swoons with delicate elegance to the lofty melodies of various international contemporary singers.
THE ADA PROJECT, CONRAD SHAWCROSS – Photo by Chris Le Messurier
“MOFO gives the audience an opportunity to discover new, interesting, weird shit,” said Jochen Gutsch of multi-instrumental solo outfit, Hinterlandt. “I think this festival is quite extraordinary. Brian Ritchie puts on artists he believes in, as opposed to putting on stuff that he believes is going to sell or be popular. People can then come to this festival knowing that what they’re going to see is going to be awesome, even if they may not know who they’re about to see.”
HINTERLANDT – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin
Other acts at MOFO included: The Julie Ruin, Matmos, Sun Ra Arkestra, bass saxophonist Colin Stetson (from Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and Bon Iver), The Orb and Mylo.
SUN RA ARKESTRA – Photo by Chris Le Messurier
COLIN STETSON – Photo by Chris Le Messurier
Another MOFO highlight included the coagulated efforts of Melbourne’s visual art collective Slave Pianos and Indonesian mystic-punk band Punkasila to perform The Lepidopters: A Science Fiction Space-Opera, a story about a plague of alien moths invading the Indonesian archipelago by breeding with their human adversaries.
SLAVE PIANOS VS. PUNKASILA PERFORM THE LEPIDOPTERS – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin
Lisa, a nine-year-old MOFO attendee, said about the moth performance, “We could be friends with the moth people, but I would not like to be one of them.” Eloise, her mother, said, “We live here in Hobart. It’s so good to have MONA and MOFO on our back doorstep. Everything that David Walsh has brought to Tasmania is absolutely fantastic. Every year MOFO is new, fresh and entertaining. And it’s thought provoking, which is what my daughter needs.”
KATHLEEN HANNA FROM THE JULIE RUIN – Photo by Chris Le Messurier
MOFO simply would not exist if it wasn’t for the offbeat Tasmanian millionaire and art collector, David Walsh. It is he who commissioned MOFO from the get-go. It is he who constructed the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) upon the cliffcrest of his working-class home suburb, Glenorchy, using the mountains of money he made crafting mathematical models to beat the gambling game — particularly in horseracing.
Walsh sounds less like a human than he does some sort of supervillain-turned-good, and MONA looks less like a museum than it does his benevolent supervillain headquarters. During the week of MOFO, festival-goers took the opportunity to penetrate his mysterious lair.
Climbing aboard one of two camouflaged military boats upon which champagne is sold, you can lay decadently on leather couches and opulent armchairs, or sit on plastic sheep at the ship’s stern, overlooking Hobart’s glamourous harbour as you are transported speedily to the museum.
ON THE FERRY TO MONA WITH PERFORMER MATT FORMAT – Photo by Chris Le Messurier
After climbing the 99 steps to MONA’s entrance, you then descend into the subterranean World of Willy Wonka for Grown-Ups. Traversing upwards, your senses are constantly bombarded by artwork and artefacts from antiquity, modernity and everything in between. Never has your brain been pummelled by so many incongruent and scintillating stimuli.
There are no plaques on the walls accompanying the works. Instead, you use your complimentary interactive “O” device to learn more about an artwork, to vote whether you loved it or hated it, and to save the path you made through the museum for posterity.
Every human being needs to go to MONA at least once in their lives.
THE DEPRAVED PURSUIT OF A POSSUM (detail) BY TESSA FARMER – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin
If MOFO and MONA weren’t enough as it is, there’s also the nightly afterparty, Faux Mo, which was held at a separate location from MOFO, starting at 10pm and finishing late.
Bands and DJs took the two main stages — some of which who played at MOFO earlier that day — while secret performances appeared sporadically throughout the night in hidden rooms, such as a laundry room in which you enter via slide through a window; or the space shuttle; or the room with the van stuck inside with a DJ stuck inside the van.
FAUX MO SECRET ROOM – Photo by MONA/Rémi Chauvin
One of the sassier entertainers at Faux Mo was Emma Maye Gibson, a Sydney-based performance artist. “The collision of the art world and party world is what they’re trying to do with Faux Mo and I think they’ve done a really great job,” she said.
Emma Maye Gibson, dressed as the incandescently tragic pageant girl Betty Grumble, danced on various Faux Mo stages and secret rooms throughout the festival, alongside the drag queen trio Three Dollar Disco, comprising of Aaron Manhattan, Jo Pol and Matt Format.
“Betty Grumble tries to contaminate the boundaries she’s been given as a woman. Last night she did a witch dance, pulled her intestines out and swung them around her head, and jumped rope with them naked, cut out her tongue and spat blood over everyone… and that was really joyful!”
BETTY GRUMBLE, FAUX MO PERFORMER – Photo by Emma Maye Gibson
Make no mistake: MOFO is an irreversible experience. From the sequence of extreme performances, to the utter oddity of MONA, to the afterparty escapades of Faux Mo, to the placid surrounds of Hobart’s harbour and local folk, MOFO will engrave into your brain curious, deathless memories.
You don’t even need to wait a whole year for the next one. DARK MOFO, MOFO’s twisted little sister, is having its second birthday during June 13-23. More information on DARK MOFO here.
Encounter MOFO next year. Info here.
Words by Iain Excellent
Photos by Chris Le Messurier, MONA/Rémi Chauvin and Emma Maye Gibson