Confronting, disgusting and provocative: What Tasmania's Dark Mofo festival is really like.

Yes, it’s that time of year again when witless fools in search of a dark arts pilgrimage brace their souls for an onslaught of self-flagellation at the altar of Tasmania’s Dark Mofo festival.

This year, however, it was even more of a punish as temperatures up and certainly down the East Coast of Australia dipped well below their usual winter averages, and in Hobart specifically, that meant just 3 degrees at night - yikes!

Being a bit chilly isn’t enough to deter me though, as what has become my annual migration from Sydney to our most southern state is my favourite time of year, despite being very firmly a ‘summer person’.

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Video via Supplied.

Sadly, because we’re actually allowed to leave the country in 2022, I only had the long weekend to revel in the mire, as the rest of my leave this year is being dedicated to a rather more far-flung adventure.

But don’t worry about that, because Her Majesty’s long weekend was still enough to get the delightful, foul stench of Dark Mofo into my soul. Here are some high and low lights from this year’s shindig for you to enjoy vicariously.

Having been fortunate enough to attend Dark Mofo for several years now, I’m working my way around all of the local accommodation, and this year I thought I would be terribly clever and stay as central as possible so as to minimise my commute to the dark and deathly delights.

Read my 2021 recap of Dark Mofo here: Burning, freezing and naked: My week at Tasmania's Dark Mofo festival. 

That meant kipping at a hotel literally on the wharf in Sullivans Cove, just a short crawl from the on-the-water warehouse that is always home to the eponymous Winter Feast, a focal point for the festival. Except this year, it seems I peaked too soon because it was only on for the second weekend of the festival, so I had to stand at the barricade and look longingly into the abyss that would later be alive with flame and fire.


Boo, hiss! Next year I implore the organisers to run Winter Feast over both weekends of the festival. Image: Supplied.

It’s ok though as I placated myself with a very long day at MONA, Hobart’s Museum of New Art located just a short bus - or if you feel like splashing out - posh pit ferry ride away.

This is the epicentre of Dark Mofo’s disturbed heart, where ideas man and art wanker (his words I’m sure) David Walsh orchestrates the local arts scene and the festival-like marionettes controlled by some twisted Geppetto in his underground, Bond-villain style lair.

MONA is a sight to behold at any time of year, but when Dark Mofo is on, it really takes on a life of its own, and this year we partied well into the night as MONA Up Late allowed us to wander the galleries with delicious libations, accompanied by musicians dotted around like some kind of 70s' muso’s basement. 

Ben Salter was front and centre at this year’s festival with an appearance at MONA and gigs around town.

Ben Salter and friends. Image: Supplied.


If you can brace the cold, there are also some temporary delights to behold outside the museum as well, including the mesmerising (and probably quite stressful if you’re claustrophobic) House of Mirrors. Can you find your way through this maze before you freeze to death?

I’m starting to worry about who else is trapped in this maze? Image: Supplied.


Once you’ve tired of being cold there are plenty of unearthly delights on the inside, including a few temporary exhibitions unveiled for Dark Mofo. These will remain for a few months so you can still go to see them, including Exodust - Crying Country, a full-scale First Nations bark Pakana cremation hut, charred and blackened to highlight the demise of nature, largely at human hands. Inside are the images of people who range from questionable world leaders to full-blown despots. 

Inside Exodust where there were tin d**ks and images of men who just behave like d**ks. Image: Supplied. 

Also displayed here are a series of tin cans containing what I can discreetly describe as ‘male members’ in all shapes and sizes, also made from tin. I genuinely have no idea how this is related to the rest of the content, but it makes for interesting viewing.

For less confronting but more confounding consideration is Within An Utterance, which at first appears to be two separate artworks, as you witness a complex system of strings on the ceiling, sitting above what are almost imperceptibly slow-moving charred pieces of wood dragging slowly across some canvases. Eventually you realise one is controlling the movement of the other, which apparently represents language, culture and identity. I’m not sure I get it but it was a very cool piece of ‘alive’ work.

Would you like to come up and see my etchings? Image: Supplied.


Once you’ve torn yourself away from the salacious pleasures of MONA, there is a wide array of exhibits to check out after darkness falls back in the city.

I hauled my very cold arse up to North Hobart to check out Biogym which actually is two exhibits in one. The first is a series of exercise bikes hooked up to some homemade Kombucha tanks, which use the energy of your own pedal power to churn up the SCOBYs (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). Mmm, sounds yummy right? 

Is this art, or some Byron hipster’s hobby farm? Image: Supplied.


Maybe for some people churning their own bacteria tea constitutes a good time, but for me not so much. I think if you saw a SCOBY in any other context, you’d probably call a doctor.

Mmm, sweaty SCOBYs. Image: Supplied.

Fortunately, I was rewarded in the next room with some fancy-looking cakes, but these were no ordinary desserts… oh no, these were ‘chronobiological cakes’. Using traditional recipes augmented with synthetic supplements, they promised to perfect your pre, during or post-boxing workout. 

These cakes are not what they seem… Image: Supplied.


Sounds interesting, yes, but tbh I think if you need supplements provided to you in cake form to get you to exercise, maybe optimum sporting performance just isn’t that important to you? 

I was nonetheless grateful for the tiny serving of sweet treat as it was now dark and freezing outside, and I had to walk back into the city to get to the main events.

I stopped at the first art installation I came across which in hindsight was a big mistake. Frankly I felt such pressure to cram in everything I could that night, I frantically joined the queue for Rainbow Dream: Moon Rainbow.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised this was one of the few “child-friendly” exhibits; a single display of rainbow-painted walls and hamster wheels. It was cool that the artist Hiromi Tango was on site in a suitably matching rainbow skirt, but I have to question how this installation fits into Dark Mofo? It wasn’t scary, provocative, or confronting. In fact, it was rather pretty, so I started to wonder if David Walsh is losing his edge? Has he become a bit too ‘nice’ in his pursuit of pleasing parents? 

Ok, I’m a sucker for a fun photo too. Image: Supplied.


On the plus side, I did get a glass of my festival fave - hot mulled cider - while waiting in the queue.

Undeterred, I surged on into the night in pursuit of consuming as much art as possible.

My next accidental stop (you can see I didn’t have much of a plan of action) saw me wander into a queue for Futures, a guided meditation through the slow death of our planet, explaining why we are the microbes and to blame for the impending mass extinction. “Ok”, I thought, “now we are getting back on track!”

The post-rainbow crowd. Image: Supplied.

As an audio professional, I thought this was really interesting, not least because I have a personal penchant for calm-voiced women telling me that we’re all doomed. Somehow I take strange comfort in being told planet death is inevitable.

We are the problem. Image: Supplied.


From there, I was off to see an exhibit about which I was particularly excited because it featured apes… kind of. In Anthropoid I wandered among these weird creatures, with their simian screams the only soundscape.

Image: Supplied.


With the grim nature of artworks looking up, I then decided to make the relatively long trek down to another warehouse, where the flagship artwork of the festival awaited…

But to get to that, one had to first pass through Five Angels For The Millennium in which you entered a huge, blackened room surrounded by five giant screens, each of which showed in slow-mo and reverse, different angles of a figure diving into water. This might not sound scintillating, but I assure you on that freezing night, surrounded by silence except for the occasional splash, it really was and perhaps most important to me, it was calming. For as much as I love a bell and whistle, I also appreciate any artwork that transports me into another dimension, especially through quiet imagery. 

It was beautiful, and honestly, I think a little overlooked as many people rushed through this to get to the next chamber where the big ticket item was waiting…

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Inverted Birth, a grotesque yet intriguing video, again in slow motion and reversed, of a shirtless man being doused in a variety of… liquids. Water, milk (I hope), blood (I can’t say if this was real or not) and finally some kind of black oily substance.

I have my own theories as to what each of those phases is supposed to represent, but I’m sure if you’ve ever given birth or heard a birth story then you will probably come to the same conclusion.

The vertical screen on which this was presented in the hollow room was enormous, and nothing short of visually spectacular in that dank, dead space of bare concrete. I can’t explain why the imagery was so striking… maybe it was the slimy simplicity of the concept, or perhaps just the suggestion of an adult man being reborn? Whatever it was, clearly we all felt it, because no one was rushing out of that room. We all stood transfixed, watching it several times over. I know a lot of rubbish is said and written about art, but sometimes there are pieces that just cut through, and this was one of them. 

I wonder if this is how his mother remembers it? Image: Supplied.


From here, I moved on to what would be my last major artwork for that night, Blood In My Milk.

Now, if the night began on an all-too-sweet note for me, it certainly ended with a very bad taste in my mouth, because these five screens all telling the same story on slightly different timeframes was frankly revolting.

I am not particularly squeamish, but in the 20-30 minutes I sat on a red beanbag in this room with dozens of other frozen art fanatics, I felt increasingly uncomfortable.  

It began with a young girl wearing smudged red lipstick, being told off for playing in the mud because she was “too pretty” for that… ok… then it escalated to two other girls bullying her before she was subjected to some kind of hellish nasal operation to remove I can’t even say what, but it left her with a deformed nose (prosthetics, don’t worry). 

Then two boys started blowing bubbles in their chocolate milkshakes while a female voiceover talked about mastitis in cows (yes, really) to which one woman in the audience yelled “Triggering!” which gave me the only laugh anyone was having in that room. 

Trust me, this was the least disturbing image from this film… Image: Supplied.


The crescendo of the piece though, was a vivid dissection of a cow’s udder. I kid you not. I have no idea if the cow in question was alive or dead, but I will never be able to un-see that.

I assumed the whole thing was a graphic pro-veganism campaign, but others who witnessed the same horrors that night disagree with me on that point, and somehow saw all this as an ode to farmers? 

The dark goodbye at Hobart Airport. Image: Supplied.

I don’t know who’s right. All I know is that it was confronting, disgusting and provocative - exactly as Dark Mofo should be. And I loved it.

Feature Image: Supplied.