Dark Mofo 2018 – Spectra Returns

Spectra at Mona

Another Dark Mofo has been and gone, this being the way we mark the passing of midwinter in Hobart these days. Some feasted, others partied late into the night at something called Night Mass in the city centre. Concerts, exhibitions and performances were given and artist Mike Parr was entombed in a box below Macquarie Street for several days before emerging to reflect upon buried histories.

My own participation was modest, although you are warned that I will weigh in to the supposed controversy around this year’s event. I began my 2018 Dark Mofo by attending, with other instagrammers, a meetup for the opening of the Festival at Dark Park, starting at the BDSM Bar.

The cosy interior of the Black Diamond Ski Manor (BDSM) Bar at Dark Park
The cosy interior of the Black Diamond Ski Manor (BDSM) Bar at Dark Park
Wooly ottomans at the BDSM Bar
Wooly ottomans at the BDSM Bar
This year's Ogoh Ogho sculpture was inspired by Tasmanian cave spiders
This year’s sacrificial Ogoh Ogoh sculpture was inspired by Tasmanian cave spiders
I suspect a few arachnophobes sent their fears up in smoke in this ogoh ogoh
I suspect a few arachnophobes sent their fears up in smoke when this ogoh ogoh was committed to the flames on the Festival’s final day
The spider's prey, trussed up for a future dinner
The spider’s prey, trussed up for a future dinner
Matthew Schrieber's 'Leviathan'
Matthew Schrieber’s ‘Leviathan’ would be instantly recognisable to anyone who made nail-and-string pictures as a child
Matthew Schrieber's 'Leviathan'
Matthew Schrieber’s ‘Leviathan’
Matthew Schrieber's 'Leviathan'
Matthew Schrieber’s ‘Leviathan’
Walking like Egyptians in front of Matthew Schrieber's 'Leviathan'
Walking like Egyptians inside Matthew Schreiber’s ‘Leviathan’
Musical Universalis by United Visual Artists
Musical Universalis by United Visual Artists
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
Winter Fires
The town was lit up for Dark Mofo
The town was lit up for Dark Mofo

A series of inverted crucifixes caused a stir, sparking calls by the, ahem, Christian community to have them removed. In reality it appeared to be driven by the politically motivated Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), an organisation that cares nothing for the genuine spiritual and emotional well-being of anyone other than those likely to benefit from their own narrow conservative political agenda.

The crosses created some newswothy nonsense during the week.
The crosses created some newswothy nonsense during the week

Regrettably, this storm in a teacup was given undue oxygen when the interim mayor of Hobart weighed in, threatening to cut the city’s funding for the event on the basis that it was no longer ‘family friendly’. Firstly, my own experience of Dark Park and the waterfront on the opening evening gave lie to this – it was impossible to move without tripping over toddlers or being run down by prams as families happily engaged with the event.

The Tasmanian Musuem and Art Gallery took centre stage when it came to painting the town red.
The Tasmanian Musuem and Art Gallery takes centre stage when it came to painting the town red.

Secondly, the sorts of ‘Christians’ who will waste time and energy fussing about something like this, as opposed to any of the truly hideous outrages being inflicted on our community – such as the outrageous treatment of refugees by the Australian Government, or the underlying causes of homelessness in this, one of the richest nations on earth – are simply not the sort of people I want to know about or give any attention to.

As fellow instagrammer Steven Trotter succinctly put it,

“It is a shame that the people complaining about this don’t put their efforts to more worthy causes… where are the 17,000 people petitioning the government to help with the housing crisis or petitioning the government to do more to help the environment or refugees or basically anything other than wasting time on a couple of inverted crosses that will only be erected for two weeks.”

Inverted cruxifix
Inverted crucifix

David Walsh and the good folk of Dark Mofo responded with quiet dignity, suggesting that if the Festival were to be constrained in its creative vision, it would not last long nor bring the economic benefits that it does to Tasmania.

But perhaps the most eloquent response was that of local cartoonist Jon Kudelka,

Even the construction cranes around the city were lit for the duration
Even the construction cranes around the city were lit for the duration
Aside from this little sideshow, everyone seemed to be getting into the spirit of the event.

The three red crosses stretching across the waterfront

The three red crosses stretching across the waterfront
Spectra starts to glow at its new home at Mona
Spectra starts to glow at its new home at Mona

A highlight of this year’s Dark Mofo was the return of Ryoji Ikeda’s 15km tall beam of light and sound installation Spectra to town, on a permanent basis, having been purchased by David Walsh. Spectra won the affection of Hobart’s residents during the first Dark Mofo back in 2013, when it graced the Cenotaph.

Apparently Mona has only been given permission to operate Spectra on a very few nights each year, for fear it will disturb residents, or fade their curtains, or stop the cows from giving milk, or something. The folk at Mona went out of their way to involve, include, communicate with and generally care for the well-being of their neighbours, inviting them to a special preview showing and sending out eyemasks for those worried about their ability to sleep.

The Bowen Bridge and zinc works at sunset on the winter solstice
The Bowen Bridge and zinc works at sunset on the winter solstice

One wonders if the operators of the nearby Elwick Racecourse are as concerned about the well being of their neighbours, as on the night of the solstice, its lights must surely have been visible from space.

Elwick Racecourse can probably be seen from space
Elwick Racecourse can probably be seen from space
Traffic on the East Derwent Highway at Otago Bay
Traffic on the East Derwent Highway at Otago Bay
The zinc works and Bowen Bridge
The zinc works and Bowen Bridge
Ryoji Ikeda's Spectra
Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra
Spectra vs Otago Bay streetlight
Spectra vs Otago Bay streetlight
Spectra at Mona
Spectra at Mona

My final stop was Domain House near the centre of Hobart. The gothic pile, originally home to the University of Tasmania, was lit up red for the duration, as were many other buildings around Hobart.

Domain House
Domain House
Domain House bringing a bit of gothic to the party
Domain House bringing a bit of gothic to the party
Domain House with Spectra glowing in the distance
Domain House with Spectra glowing in the distance

Dark Mofo has been a gift to Tasmania, While Governments state and local do invest heavily in it, their investments are repaid hugely in terms of city branding, tourism and economic activity. All of these are wonderful things, but artistic endeavours should never be expected to deliver on these alone. First and foremost, they must work for their own communities while retaining their own artistic integrity.

Governments knew what they should expect when they engaged David Walsh and his team to create a winter festival to meet all of those objectives. Having delivered, they should now be allowed to get on with evolving and extending it into the future, free from political interference.

Except, of course, when it results in huge amounts of free publicity.