The most captivating entertainment is unpredictable and chaotic – it is the experience that will enchant and beguile us on every level conceivable, inspiring every sense in a spectacular but twisted fusion of art forms. This kind of new world creative chaos is what Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has become known for, here in Australia and throughout the world. MONA founder David Walsh does not distinguish between artistic mediums, ever blending the visual with the sonic, the performative and the culinary to forge an undivided and almost encyclopaedic art experience.
Part of the experience is the museum’s annual five-day music and arts festival MONA FOMA, which began in 2009 prior to the museums unveiling. The festival showcases an eclectic and unconventional merger of new music, visual art, dance, theatre, noise, performance and new media with a roster of artists skilled across the rainbow of mediums. The festival, also known as MOFO, is the genius of Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, along with MONA senior curators Nicole Durling and Olivier Varenne.
Ritchie moved to Tasmania in 2006, where he settled at the Salamanca Arts Centre in Hobart. “I was the first musician there,” he recalls. “The director of the art studio asked me if I would be interested in putting together a proposal or a plan for a music and arts festival that they wanted to run.” As a performer, Ritchie wasn’t especially interested in the idea of event organising, but his imagination eventually got the better of him. “I thought of the possibilities – what if you organised a festival that was different to the other festivals I had experienced?” Years of touring with the Violent Femmes have given the musician an almost unbeatable catalogue of music festival memories. “I’ve had the opportunity to be at thousands of festivals and all of them have basic flaws. So I thought I’m just going to drop a proposal for my ideal festival.”
The proposal landed in the hands of MONA founder David Walsh, who was amidst the process of constructing the museum at the time. “David was known as an arts benefactor and they needed money to do the festival,” explains Ritchie. “When David saw the proposal he was a big fan of my band, and he just got really enthusiastic – as he frequently does – so he was like, ‘No I’m not going to sponsor this festival, I want to partner with this festival!’”
MONA FOMA gave Walsh the opportunity to test some of his ideas amongst the public before the official opening of the museum. “He has a lot of creative energy to burn,” Ritchie laughs. “This gave him an opportunity to do a sketch book, almost. And that was the rationale behind doing it – to prepare the audience in Hobart, and then the rest of Australia and internationally for what was coming.”
While the focus of the festival lies primarily in its musical output, Ritchie is most intrigued by the crossover. “A lot of [artists] can’t really say if they’re artists or if they’re musicians, I mean today they’re a musician, tomorrow they’re an artist, the next day they’re both.” The ability to dive across art forms, sounds and styles is significant to Ritchie’s curation of MONA FOMA. The 2010 festival included The Velvet Underground’s John Cale. “He came down and played rock music, he played an acoustic concert, a semi classical concert and he did an art installation,” says Ritchie. “John Cale’s a genius, and not everybody can do that, but in the ideal circumstance that’s the kind of artist we look for.”
Ritchie’s 2014 line up for MONA FOMA includes Australian audio-visual performance artist Robin Fox, who will be debuting a new three-colour laser show. Fox is also a musician with a PhD in composition and his performances are a perfected marriage of sound and sight, where what you hear becomes what you see. Ritchie is also excited about UK based Conrad Shawcross’ robotic installation, The Ada Project, named after pioneering feminist, scientist, mathematician and artist, Ada Lovelace. “[Shawcross] has designed a robot and programmed it to dance around, and then commissioned four different female musicians to interpret the psychology of this Ada Lovelace in their own way.” The choreography will be the same in each interpretation, but the music will be different with each musician. “This is the perfect kind of MOFO art project,” says Ritchie. “Because it’s music, it’s performance and yet it’s visual art – and then you’ve got this thing that’s not even a human being!”
That’s not to say MONA’s extensive general music program is exclusive to only the most multi-faceted, multi-tasking musicians. The museum played host to Television in early November of this year during their Australian tour, a band Ritchie felt MONA could simply not pass up. “Of course they were super radical at the time they came out,” says Ritchie. “And now they’re presenting themselves as like, ‘We’re old school! We don’t need a light show! We just stand on the stage and play music!’” While Ritchie admits he still loves the simplified approach, he adds, “That’s just not what’s happening anymore. Probably more and more we are going to see musicians collaborating with visual artists, projectionists, filmmakers, and vice versa. MONA visitors don’t distinguish between these things. That’s the modern world, we’re in it, and we’re lucky to be in it.”
MONA FOMA runs from January 15 – 19 in 2014.