Hobart at night is awash with pools of red light. Building facades, boats, reflections, windows. Black hoods with red crosses — we’re in Dark Mofo.
PUSSY RIOT & CATTLE KILL
The program is thick and deep with allure. The hot buzz was for Pussy Riot, Paul Kelly and Mogwai — “Did you see Mogwai?’ was Sunday’s refrain. The night before a tall female in Disco Goth waved us down in the street, ‘Want tickets to Mogwai?’ Thanks, but no.
Beyond music, there was artist Mike Parr’s mystery act on Bruny Island. You had to be up at 2am to catch the boat for that, and stay till 5am. The prospective audience was requested to bring a torch, wear closed-toe footwear and be dressed for open air Tassie winter. We know people who went. Insomniac masochists. Then there is the rather frightening protest-magnet Hermann Nitsch who promises live slaughtering and blood letting of cattle with human nudity in a quasi religious ritual. Definitely closed-toe shoes, goggles and maybe a sick bag.
MONA-ARCH IN HIS MONA-RCHY
For everyone there is the free space of Dark Park, and the Winter Feast food and drink hall, free entry after 8pm, with an outdoors area, loud with crowds, revelry and live bands, where everyone seems to end up. In a roped-off corner alcove like a prize animal exhibit, we saw David Walsh, the beaming MONArch of this MONArchy. The vast space is lit by a ceiling hung with red neon crosses and benches traversing the entire length dressed with hundreds of candles. It’s like an epic birthday party for Nick Cave.
To cross from the Feast to Dark Park you tramp past the piers and the hip new hotel MACq01, “a storytelling hotel”, where each guest room displays its own Tasmanian Story. (But perhaps not the one about Risdon Cove.) Then you arrive at the Art School where every student seems to have been assigned a showcase window. The most popular mode was interactive — students on the inside press their hands to the glass and passersby put their hands against theirs. This was repeated in three variations including figures in full body socks. Also behind glass was a woman sitting in a mountain crevasse of bubble wrap, carefully cutting out single bubbles and placing them in a jar. A mystery, but no cattle harmed.
IN A VERY DARK PARK
At the very popular Dark Park there is a variety of diversions, all free. On an as yet undeveloped industrial site, it’s as unlit as advertised. ‘Lots of HS&E issues here,’ joked one of my companions as we stumbled around. For choice there is a Balinese-inspired giant potato-shaped furnace, Ogoh-ogoh, where you can burn notes inscribed with your deepest fears, but which also looked like an excellent pizza oven.
There is Marco Fusinato’s Extended Breakdown in a mist- and industrial debris-filled warehouse with spook lighting. Earplugs are provided as you enter — it’s at least as loud as the last teen party you accidentally crashed. Actually it hurt my ears and didn’t improve my headache, so I left within a minute. Even viewing 10 seconds of a version of Extended Breakdown on youtube hurts my ears. People with princess hearing, don’t do it! We lost a friend to the racket — he came out 10 minutes later pounding his chest. ‘Really gets you here’ he shouted at us. Don’t shout, we shouted back, making deaf gestures.
The highlight is Chris Levine’s light installation, iy_project. First created in Hastings, UK, it’s the unmissable centrepiece, mounted on three enormous pylons. These have laser lights projecting through vapour to a dreamy ambient soundtrack by Robert del Naja of Massive Attack and Marco Perry. (Essentially a highly evolved descendant of Anthony McCall’s light pieces of the 1970s.) You stand among hundreds in the immersive dark, the air above animated by laser fields in red. As vapour flows across the beams it conjures a cosmic dawn of clouds. This is sheer spectacle, like fireworks for a new apocalyptic era. (Follow the beams to a distant barn structure for a bonus interior light show.)
LET ME SAVE YOU AN HOUR
For a disappointing anticlimax you can wait on a ramp for an hour in the cold, as we did, to view The Sound of Silence by the political artist Alfredo Jaar (it only seats 30 people per screening). It’s purportedly an 8-minute silent film about a single photograph, but they don’t tell you even this much — hey, it’s a surprise/mystery/art.
What it is [—spoiler spoiler—] is a sequence of white text on a black screen, with the image appearing for a second towards the end, plus a special effect of a single blinding strobe flash. The text tells a brief story of Kevin Carter who took what became a very controversial photo and who killed himself shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for the picture. (Here it is: ‘the vulture and the little girl’). The film is intended to be an interrogation of the nexus between “photography, and violence and human suffering,” but in our annoyed consensus The Sound of Silence is a visually inert piece of moral grandstanding that at the end also incoherently tries to drag Bill Gates and the entire image industry into complicity. For an actual interrogation, check out Susan Sontag’s Regarding The Pain of Others. Poor Kevin Carter, after his short (1960-1994) and pained life, he’s now rolling in his grave.
Rather unexpectedly, and perhaps characteristically Hobartian, the plug on Dark Park is promptly pulled at 10pm. We wandered home through the noisy streets cheerful, cold and bright.
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