MOFO 2016

The thing I loved most about MOFO, the summer festival run by MONA is the way the program encouraged you to explore. Apparently this was the first time MOFO has been held at the actual MONA site. As a first time attendee, this seemed odd to me; the gallery was such an integral part of the experience.  So much of the vibe lay in the way you could alternate between watching performances on the outside stages, in the harsh Tasmanian sun, to diving into the cool, subterranean galleries.
MONA in itself is a winding maze of underground galleries. I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of people who visit MONA don’t see everything – unwilling to venture into the poo room or to plunge down the dark tube of a tunnel that leads to one section of gallery. MONA is unconventional. The first time I went it made me pleasantly infuriated. But being there for MOFO and being able to slowly explore the place in what felt like it’s natural state (full of hidden surprises) made me fall properly in love with it.

My favourite things were the ones we found by accident or had to search for. We went through a door hidden in a corner of the gallery, down a set of concrete fire stairs and into a secret room filled with art and light and plants where we watched Tim Jones play the tuba accompanied by Jennifer Marten-Smith. It was so peaceful and quiet and magical. We lined up for 20 minutes to go into a concrete cupboard and sit opposite Will Guthrie while he played the drums, for one person at a time. The cupboard would obviously feel bleak in other contexts but it was glittering and secret, like a portal to somewhere else.
Probably my favourite thing all weekend was a performance by Bree van Reyk. When we stumbled upon it while exploring the gallery on Friday, it just looked like a queue next to a service lift. Then the doors to the lift opened. And it looked like they were opening onto another world. In the performance, van Reyk was sitting in the lift, the walls completely shrouded in soft, black curtains. She was seated behind an enormous gong which was suspended from the ceiling. The gong was so huge that all you could see of van Reyk was the lower half of her legs, her arms and the mallots resting on her knees. I got into the lift, and sat on a tiny stool immediately in front of the gong, with the huge metallic surface looming in front of me. Then the lift door closed. And the lift started to move. And van Reyk started playing the gong. The gong swung forward, perilously close. The sound rose into this incredible, vibrating crescendo. At it’s most intense I felt like my ears had stopped working, like maybe my ears just would not function ever action, and I was hearing the sound with my whole body instead, like my whole body was sound.
We loved it so much that we did it again on Saturday. It was even better the second time.
The tea ceremony wasn’t even on the schedule. The “tea cube” was set up in the middle of one of the smaller galleries. It was just one man and some tea equipment, sitting in a cube made from long, thin sticks of bamboo. We also found it while we were wandering. We waited our turn, took off our shoes and sat on the tatami mat in the little cube of bamboo. Allan Halykhad a gentle Canadian accent. He talked to us, asked questions as he slowly prepared the tea. There was nothing remarkable about the conversation – we talked about yoga, about Japan, about Hobart. At one point he turned to me and told me that I have perfect teeth, in the tone of someone realising something remarkable. He made the tea, slowly, deliberately. And the rest of the gallery faded away. I forgot that we were sitting in a crowded gallery, watched by other people. The world shrunk down to just that cube of space. It was a meditation. Halyk turned drinking tea, with a stranger in a gallery, into a meditation.
MONA in itself welcomes visitors to explore. Lining up for intimidate experiences in enclosed rooms is part of the deal. Finding artworks in hidden spaces, around corners, in the toilets is what you’re signing up for. Having this exploration built into the MONA brand makes it easy for MOFO to make programming decisions that other festivals would struggle to. Programming a musician to play for one person at a time in a tiny space the location of which is not listed anywhere on the program is, frankly, insanity. But it works at MOFO. It works so well that it made me want it to work in other places. It made me want to see other festivals embrace this feeling of the hidden, the secret and the magical.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year