“Bloody hell,” I say as we round a corner at Faux Mo to see a wheelie bin tipped against a wall. “Those mad geniuses. What isn’t art around here?”
“Actually…” someone says. “Have a look inside.”
When we peer in we see the bin disguises the mouth of a tunnel. Crawling in on all fours, we come to a cramped dark cave that hosts several fellow rogue explorers arranged on beanbags. The stifling heat soon expels them one-by-one, through a vagina-like opening to a neighbouring dance floor. One couple lingers to grope each other. “Does Jesus know what you’re doing?” we ask. They leave. Big thinking in small spaces. Mofo encourages it.
Now in its eighth year, Mona Foma – popularly abbreviated to Mofo – is the more relaxed of MONA’s annual festival events, a summery elder sibling to the, “darker, colder” June upstart, Dark Mofo. Traditionally based in and around Hobart city, this year Mofo – which ran from January 13 to 18 – moved to MONA itself. The shift casts David Walsh’s museum grounds in laid-back-festival mode. There are multiple stages, food trucks, bars, pop-up performances and Walsh himself scattered throughout the sun-drenched lawns and open museum. For an operation so often concerned with darkness, Mofo is as pleasant as hell.
The new set-up creates some excellent scheduling dissonance. Curator Brian Ritchie promised a percussive theme and the sound of things being hit is a constant. Local improvisational percussionist Will Guthrie and Swedish husband-and-wife duo, Wildbirds & Peacedrums take turns making drumming tapestries under James Turrell’s cathedral-like AMARNA installation. The latter peaks in-step with a rapt audience, as distant bushfires blanket the hills beyond in a milky haze.
A violinist and three dancers trail us as we stroll through the newly opened Gilbert & George exhibition, each twirling gracefully beneath the garish images of faeces and penises. Unusual spaces such as the in-house winery’s barrel room and gallery stairwell host site-specific performers, while MONA staff T-shirts, emblazoned with “Weekend at Walshy’s”, sum up the casual vibe – a punter’s crude tee, “Have a sad cum”, its tentative conclusion. At MONA both seem apt.
True spectacles bookend Walshy’s Weekend. Oklahoma natives The Flaming Lips thrive on chaos. Faced with a Friday afternoon crowd happily sozzled on the lawn, the band brings inflatable Santas, strobes and confetti canons. Frontman Wayne Coyne has a stint in a neon jellyfish robe perched on a werewolf, and launches his trademark Zorb-ball walk atop the crowd. The Lips’ delirious fuzz jams are shunted a little too often for spacey tangents allowing Coyne to prepare his next prop, but darkness brings focus beyond the confetti. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate and the eternally wonderful Do You Realize? capitulate in Coyne’s winsome croaks about death bouncing off the facade of a museum built to hum the same theme.
That celebration is in stark contrast to Sunday’s showstopper, South London rapper Kate Tempest. Wearing green shorts and a black tee, and joined by a plain-looking duo on electro backing, Tempest detonates the calm with scene-chewing flow and raw charisma. A poet in the truest sense, Tempest’s tracks, such as Circles and The Heist, detail grim schisms between big dreams and small lives. So intoxicating are her words they seem to drain colour from the postcard panorama around us. After Europe Is Lost, a towering a cappella piece detailing myriad ways the world is fucked, the crowd justly explodes in wonder. I have to retreat for a spritz and a pink beanbag.
Though moored at MONA, Mofo’s tentacles touch Hobart, too. On Thursday night at The Odeon theatre, the long-take surrealism of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 movie Birdman is profoundly heightened by Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez playing his score live on stage. Though bouts of synching with the film – most memorably when Michael Keaton’s character destroys his dressing room – add magic to the screening, Sanchez’s dexterous solo over the closing credits brings the crowd to its feet. The drummer’s humble performance stands in contrast to the theatrics of renowned deaf percussion prodigy Evelyn Glennie, who lights up Federation Hall on Sunday night with solo compositions involving marimbas, the tam tam (a big gong), waterphone, and other things you can hit.
The SA State Theatre Company’s gloomy The Beckett Triptych at Theatre Royal is decidedly percussion-free. But with the tempo slowed to a crawl, I find it hard work considering the intense pulse of Faux Mo beating in the veins.
Yes Faux Mo, you hectic hallucination. With some nuts waiting three hours to get in, this year the official festival afterparty is held in an old council office block pegged for redevelopment. Faux Mo stuffs four or more (it was hard to tell) levels of this concrete beehive with installations, performance stages and perverse ad hoc mischief. One room is covered in real grass, another flooded with white light and fog to create the sensation of sitting in a cloud. I’m sure at one point I’m walking on a floor covered with water reflecting a wall of mirrors, and the next night I can’t find it. The rest sound like word games: pinball or coffins? Metal band or jazz combo? Bamboo walk or broken presentation centre? A Negroni on the leafy rooftop, or an ale and fluro-stick soccer in the basement? The choice is yours and, depending on the current of the crowd coursing through it, others.
But as with all things Mofo-related, one guiding principle again holds true: participation is key. Always get in the bin.