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Burning, freezing and naked: My week at Tasmania's Dark Mofo festival.

My third trip to Tasmania’s Dark Mofo festival felt urgent after I heard the rumour that this year could be the last.

If you’re thinking, ‘What the heck is Dark Mofo?’ you’re not alone, as it seems the midwinter celebration of all things bizarre is not well-known by my peers.

The whole shebang is the brainchild of professional-gambler-turned-art-curator David Walsh. 

You may have seen news footage of thousands of bare bottoms racing into the icy sea (more on that later), or heard the outrage over plans to soak a British flag in First Nations’ blood - this is Dark Mofo.

But it’s a lot more than just shock value - it’s a vital coming together of Australian and international art that genuinely pushes boundaries, and treats the observer as being capable of critical thought.

Many installations are provocative for sure, but there are also plenty of performances and ideas that are just fun, weird, racy, outrageous, and mostly family friendly.

It’s also a rare opportunity to discover amazing musicians you won’t hear on FM radio.

The festivities kicked off with the Home State Reclamation Walk, a First Nations welcome to country featuring local Aboriginal people encouraging us to think about Hobart before the White Man. 

A procession led by fire and smoke took us past ‘ghosts’ of ancestors, who looked down on our intrusion from balconies and rooftops above. 

The Home State Reclamation Walk. Image: Supplied.

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I entered Home State Nipaluna - a shop transformed into a traditional hut, featuring genuine artefacts and actors portraying the original Tasmanian life. As a white Aussie of European descent, I felt every bit the intruder, but also grateful to have a window into a past where my elders did not belong.

Aboriginal ‘ghosts’ looking down during the Home State Reclamation Walk. Image: Supplied.

Turning a corner I found a very different scene, where behind a window there was what looked like an ordinary living room - a bit like Grandma’s house - complete with a piano, magazine rack, sofa, TV and so on.

But imperceptibly the room was alive, with every item being slowly sucked towards a hole in the back wall tethered by incredibly strong wire - this was Slow Room.

I returned to this spectacle numerous times, with a surprising level of excitement to see what else had been ripped off the wall or toppled over, as things inevitably went bump in the night.

The evolution of Slow Room. Image: Supplied.

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Another nightly event was an illuminated chariot featuring Daft Punk-esque centurions, moving slowly. A creature dressed head to toe in white emerged, with alien eyes, wearing a giant crown. This was Her Divine Holiness, Pope Alice

Pope Alice. Image: Supplied.

There, I witnessed a strange performance of dance-cum-religious ceremony, culminating in ‘the faithful’ being invited onto the stage to have a gift bestowed upon them.

A religious ceremony, of sorts. Image: Supplied.

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The next morning I was rudely awoken at precisely 7:42am by what can only be described as gothic chanting, blasting out across the whole city.

Unsure if I was in some sort of fever dream, it emerged I would be awoken every day by this same strange sound.

In the city there were countless installations, including a gyrating bucking bronco known as The Character Ride - enjoyed by children and adults alike, including one young lady who appeared to have lost her… pants?

There were also mad staring eyes, huge sculptures of weird creatures known as Earth Deities, and The Purging Ogoh-Ogoh. This is an annual exhibit where you are encouraged to ‘purge’ your fears onto paper, which are then burnt inside a giant animal.

Double Eclipse by artist Julie Rrap. Image: Supplied.

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One of the Earth Deities curated by Theia Connell. Image: Supplied.

Image: Supplied.

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At the old Hobart Penitentiary I saw The Tench, where ex-convicts detailed the horrors they faced both as early exiled settlers, and modern day incarcerated women. 

This included a short film during which the man in front of me saw an image on screen of an elderly German woman in a butcher shop bleeding between her legs, shook his head and immediately walked out. There’s just no pleasing some people.

My personal favourite was 3.2, a giant chamber of strobing lights and vibrating sounds representing the artists’ fascination with death and space.

A constant at Dark Mofo is the Winter Feast, an entire wharf taken over by long communal banquet tables, encircled by food and drink stalls to suit every persuasion, all under a Harry Potter-style ceiling of hanging illuminated crosses.

The entrance to Winter Feast. Image: Supplied.

Set outside, a myriad of flaming pyramids, fire pits, and a sea of chefs and winemakers fuelled by fire completed this foodie’s paradise.

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My highlights were hot mulled cherry cider, cheese fondue with fresh truffle, doughnuts filled with apricot cardamom jam, and a sheep’s whey cocktail… or three.

Image: Supplied.

Adding to the feels was the literal sensation of being effing freezing, particularly during a three-hour concert featuring Slag Queens, Black Cab, and most bonkers of all - Liars. 

Liars frontman Angus Andrew at his bonkers best. Image: Supplied.

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It was brutally cold, but this was far from the coldest I would be, as my ultimate test of endurance came at that magic hour of 7:42am on the last day.

One sure-fire way to test your limits of discomfort is to join 2,000 strangers on a beach at sunrise in 3 degrees, before stripping completely naked.

Yes, wearing nothing but a red Dark Mofo swim cap, I ran into the sea amid the crazed collective taking part in the Nude Solstice Swim… in 12 degree waters that connect directly to the Antarctic. 

I knew I was really enjoying myself when a nice old man swimming next to me saw I was starting to struggle and asked if I was OK.

In normal circumstances, being spoken to by a stranger 40 years my senior while completely naked probably wouldn’t feel terribly chivalrous, but on this occasion, it was. 

Thankfully, I wasn’t so incapacitated that I needed rescuing - that could have been very awkward, especially in front of the news cameras.

(Un?)Fortunately for you I don’t get paid enough to share nude selfies for work, so you’ll just have to imagine what my bare arse looked like. 

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