It’s been a momentous 12 months. Dark Mofo 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic. And, in March 2021, there were calls to boycott the event after organisers asked First Nations people to donate blood for an artwork. Kimberley Moulton, a Yorta Yorta woman and senior curator for Museums Victoria, called it “insulting and abhorrent”. Artist Marcus Whale pulled out of the upcoming festival and creative director Leigh Carmichael later cancelled the project.

So where to next? The eighth iteration of the midwinter festival – run by the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) – is still going ahead. It returns for seven nights from June 16–22, including festival favourites such as the nude solstice swim, nightly communal feasts and Ryoji Ikeda’s beaming Spectra (49 searchlights reaching out to the sky).

What’s new? Plenty. In fact, there's a string of world premiere art and live music events, and many ways to engage with the festival for zero dollars.

Big hitters on the line-up, announced today, include Pope Alice Close Encounters, who’ll “bestow gifts upon the faithful” in a laser- and smoke-filled cathedral. Post-punk legend Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) will perform a series of ticketed gigs; the first with experimental electronic music composer Wobbly, the second with Aotearoa/New Zealand’s the Dead C (hailed by Thurston as one of the most interesting bands in the world).

There’ll also be art, live music and pop-up bars from 5pm–11pm all around central Hobart. The new after-dark art path brings the festival to various buildings and surprising spaces in the city. Here you’ll find a series of false gods that’ll come to life at night, created by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. Australian artist Julie Rrap will create a gigantic pair of eyes that go blind. And US artist Jonathan Schipper slowly pulls a living room through a small hole in the wall.

High-energy dance poppers Confidence Man joins A Swayze & The Ghosts and indie rockers King Stingray for a free lunchtime show at the Odeon Theatre. Russian performance duo 404.zero will present a world premiere of body-shaking vibrations and a chamber of light. And Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara joins Black Cab and off-kilter post-punk Slag Queens for a free gig.

You can follow a gang of teens through laneways in Nightwalks with Teenagers – a nocturnal tour with local teens as your guide. Tasmanian residents will shoot the ashes of their loved ones into the sky with handmade fireworks in Memorial – a tribute to the beauty and complexity of life. And Sally Rees’s new exhibition at Mona, Crone, features a flock of animated portraits (are they birds or ageing women?).

“Death” was the sub-theme for 2020’s cancelled event, but morbidity and rebirth runs through 2021’s artworks. Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen tells an outlandish tale in a video vision set in a Tibetan village and celestial burial ground. Japanese artist Akinori Oishi and Germany’s Pictoplasma bring their interactive sculpture The Character Ride, which follows your moments.

Also on the music program: US rhythm trio Om; Chicago-based Circuit des Yeux, bringing octave-spanning melancholia; a world-premiere work by English composer Gavin Bryars; and an onslaught of death metal from Screams from the Abyss.

And, leaning into confronting works, Dark Mofo includes a work inspired by time spent at a high-security prison. The Tench features incarceration, sex and surveillance in an old colonial jail. And in Paradise Lost, you can see the first major exhibition about suspected serial poisoner Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794–1847). The free exhibition features works by Wainewright, William Blake, Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael and Michelangelo.

Inexplicably, the festival will also christen a new bell tower – the first erected in Hobart in nearly 100 years. The 1800-kilogram bell was salvaged from a demolished church in Chicago. You’ll find it at In The Hanging Garden.

Dark Mofo takes place in Hobart from June 16–22, 2021. Tickets go on sale at 12pm Thursday June 3.

darkmofo.net.au