Hobart: Embrace the Darkness
In winter, Hobart is dark and full of terrors. A colonial city on the edge of the earth, beckoning you with promises borne of awe, shock and fire. Each year to mark the winter solstice, Hobart plays host to DARK MOFO – an arts and culture festival that quite literally paints the town red. There is no better time to head off the mainland and into the wonder that is Tasmania.
This controversial festival has been a part of Hobart’s cultural landscape annually since 2013 – each year pushing the boundaries of the norm, filling the city with pagan iconography and embracing the darkness that pervades this southern hemisphere capital in June. As the brain child of MONA’s eclectic owner David Walsh, you would not expect anything less.
We arrive in Hobart on Friday evening after a short flight from Sydney (even shorter from Melbourne) and are whisked into the city which has been transformed into a sea of red neon crosses and fire cannons pumping smoke rings into the midnight sky. The ‘Winter Feast’ had taken over the city’s Princes Wharf, presenting a veritable treasure trove of food and wine – a banquet set with candles and a plethora of neon crosses; a mass celebration of cooking with fire. With wine flowing and chatter growing, we join the crowd in gorging on local produce before we again set off into the night.
We follow the crowd toward the Night Mass – a self-defined nocturnal neighbourhood, combining Hobart’s inner-city spaces including picture theatres and car parks, warehouses and pie stores into a ritual party unlike any other. Heavy metal drag queens on bouncy castles, Brazilian tribal beats and throbbing dance floors bring the crowd together in dance and the thrill of the unexpected.
Soon enough, the morning was upon us. This was not just any sunrise, but the morning of the Winter Solstice, which calls for something special in the Dark Mofo calendar – the Nude Solstice Swim. On the banks of the River Derwent, 1915 hardy souls dropped their towels as the sun rose over the horizon, streaking towards the chilly water. This was a confronting, exhilarating experience unlike anything I have ever been involved with before.
As red flare smoke and the sound of taiko drums filled the air, we became a part of the red capped masses shrieking and hollering as we hit the water – becoming instantly numb as the determined swam their way out to the pontoon. It was then a quick rush back to the shore to grab a towel amongst the hundreds strewn on the beach as naked bodies gathered around fire pits – the ultimate invigoration.
The rest of our Saturday was spent exploring the grounds of the exceptional MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). MONA’s eclectic ferries take you from the city centre to MONA along the River Derwent, approaching the museum as it was created to be approached – “like an island-top temple in ancient Greece awaiting the ocean-borne arrival of the faithful”. The museum is a sprawling collection of expansive rooms and long, industrial tunnels filled with subversive and innovative art.
MONA is easily one of my favourite museums internationally and is constantly changing its stripes with new collections and new architectural features. The museum also boasts a fantastic array of spaces to eat and drink – including a cellar door where you can sample the fantastic Moorilla wine (made using grapes grown on the MONA estate), locally produced Moo Brew Beer – or my personal favourite, the ‘Unholy Water’ cocktails alfresco out in the crisp Hobart air.
The immense ‘spectra’ installation was luckily making its annual appearance for Dark Mofo during our time at MONA. A monumental beacon to mark the winter solstice, this light installation stretches fifteen kilometres into the Tasmanian sky. From its base on the MONA estate, we’re able to walk between the grid of 49 searchlights shooting straight up into the dark – a soundscape enveloping us in a feeling as close to experiencing an alien abduction as humanly possible.
A Saturday night in Hobart is perfectly spent with yet more food and wine. Lucinda Wine in Collins Street hosts a plethora of natural, organic and biodynamic wine served alongside some incredible bar snacks and a damn cosy atmosphere. We arrive for a quick tipple before dinner and are greeted by the relaxed staff – eager to make us feel at home amongst wine we’d never heard of. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to head to their sister restaurant Dier Makr this time, but we’d be there in a flash given the chance!
The darkness continued into ‘A Forest’ – another inner-city space taken over by Dark Mofo as a self-described “contemporary ruin of art, noise, performance, and the violent undergrowth of human nature”. Mandatory earplugs in, we trample through the abandoned Forestry Tasmania building in what feels like a very adult haunted house fit for the 21st century. Sound erupts at random times as neon lines guide you through the space.
DARK MOFO is never without controversy – and this year that came in the experience of Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence, a virtual reality experience where the viewer is confronted by a scene of brutal violence perpetrated by a very realistically animated version of the artist. We didn’t last more than 30 seconds. The rest of the space was filled with the unexpected, the sublime and the disorientating – leaving us feeling energised, disorientated and fiercely considering our place in it all.
This is what MOFO is all about – moving you to experience a city and a season like you never have before. Hobart has so many faces throughout the year – from Falls Festival, FOMO and the Taste of Hobart in summer, through to this celebration of the darkness of winter. Despite its sleepy appearance, this is not a city to be missed on a trip Down Under – especially in June. Get off the mainland and embrace the darkness – I dare you.