Words by James Adams
I know what Frankenstein looks like but I don’t know the story at all.
I’m writing this from the plane on the way down to Hobart, Tasmania, so without knowing what is ahead of me I’m expecting the experience and the book to have parallels. I expect them both to be an experiment. I expect them to both be an experience. I expect strange dark themes set in a mystical cold land. I’m expecting an unexpected result that’s more beautiful than expected. Larger than life... with corks for ears.
Flying from the Gold Coast to Hobart is two flights. Coolangatta to Sydney. Normal flight. Sydney to Hobart. Not as normal. Waiting to board it felt like a chartered flight purely for the heavily dressed dark art enthusiasts. A cross section of young and old self expression exhibitists brimming with energy, enthusiasm and apprehension for what lays ahead. Frankenstein.
After some sporadic and semi-intoxicated note taking and thought saving through the week i’m picking up writing this nearly a week after returning home. That’s about how long it’s taken me to recover. Speaking of picking things up, I haven't picked up Frankenstein since the plane ride there. Who was I kidding? Where did I think I was going, the library?
I didn't quite realise but DARK Mofo is almost an entirely nocturnal festival. Maybe i should have read into the name a little more literally. On a typical Dark Mofo day you’d venture out mid afternoon, link up with mates for a couple of drinks, then a meal and some more drinks before venturing off into the dark cold night for whatever avenue of adventure you choose to explore that evening. The dropping temperature would be combated by rising body temperatures with the help of alcohol and movement. Once you couldn’t fight the cold anymore you’d trot on home to bed in the wee hours and fall asleep.
There was some down time before each afternoon that could have been used to read but with the knowledge that down the street the city was ramping up, Frankenstein never stood a change.
One day i took my book to the pub… that was a dumb idea. The place was vibing, wall to wall with crew peaking with energy and enthusiasm and there I was trying to burrow into my book in peace. I think I read the words on two pages before realising i was listening to conversations around me and wasting my time re-reading singular words i had not put into sentences. I think that’s where i gave up on it.
Anyway, who needs Frankenstein when you've got your own dark wonderland to explore. And that's what it felt like, a dark wonderland. I initially thought it had a lawlessness to it but i couldn't have been further from the truth. The City is right behind the oddities and strangeness of it all. Usually when a festival comes to any town you could take ten steps in any direction and overhear locals complaining about all the people, the traffic, the noise or any number of excuses to have a whinge. After a couple of days in Hobart I realised this was missing and started sniffing around to see if there were any locals, young and old who were put out by it. None, i found none. I spoke to shop owners, school teachers, young, old, city folk and fringe dwellers and not only did they support and welcome the festival and it’s guests, they all got into it and attended.
On my first night in town I spotted a quaint little italian joint down the bottom of my street. Being prime time it was packed but I vowed to return at a suitable time. A few days later I strode down the street a little earlier than the allotted link up time outlined with friends. On the prettiest days I couldn't wait for the afternoon’s call to open proceedings and I'd just walk around town enjoying the bite of the air.
Walking past Ed’s I stuck my head into what was clearly prep time as the lone staff member rolled out dough for the busy night ahead. He spotted me and waving his yeasty mitts he summoned me in. He directed me to pull a pue up to his prep table as he poured me a glass of Pinot, shaved some salami, cut some sour dough and poured some oil. Although I hadn't requested it or even been asked, he knew exactly what I needed and we got straight down to it. Talking about business being busier in winter while he sporadically interjected with little tips about making pasta, ‘Add an extra yoke for each egg in the mix’, ‘Let the dough set in a reusable zip lock as opposed to disposable cling wrap.’
I’m not sure if it’s Dark Mofo related or Hobart in general but visiting Ed’s that afternoon was a prime example of the hospitality visitors are shown when visiting the Apple Isle. The Dark Mofo equivalent would be welcoming locals and visitors alike to purge their fears from their minds onto paper and slip them inside the ‘Ogoh-Ogoh’, a bus sized paper mache Bruny Island Mt Mangana Stag Beetle. By Sunday night the Ogoh-Ogoh was full of admissions and as the sun went down behind Hobart, thousands of people made their way to Regatta Grounds overlooking the city as the mammoth fear filled insect was medievilly marched to its final resting place atop of a barn like structure in front of an orchestra and thousands of onlookers ready to see the beast go up in flames along with their fears as they turn to embers in the night sky.
The word ‘festival’ paints a picture in your mind and I guarantee you none of those pictures look like anything I saw that week in Hobart at Dark Mofo. Not only is it vastly visually different but it’s more that it feels different. And it makes you feel more than just ellation. It makes you think.
Dealt with the task of articulating my fears, I initially felt really lucky as I couldn't put my finger on any fear I had other than Sharks, which is ridiculous. The environment that Dark Mofo creates encouraged me to think deeper, search harder and find true deep seeded fears that I'd maybe never thought long enough to discover. Surrounded by strangers, wrapped in darkness broken by red light with the ice cold atmosphere sharply meeting any exposed skin, I was confronted by the fear of death. Not specifically death itself or dying, more the losing of control of your life as you enter your final stages. A head full of wisdom but nothing to stop the body from falling apart. It comes down to lack of control in its saddest manifestation.
There’s nothing I can do about it and it’s definitely going to happen and that scares me. It scared me to tear. Just one tear. I composed myself, purged my fear onto paper, put it into the Ogoh-Ogoh and on Sunday night as it lit up in flames I chose an ember and watched it float off into the night sky slowly fading until it was no longer visible. I don’t think it eliminated the fear. I wasn’t even aware the fear existed before Mofo. But coming home I know it’s not only there but I've confronted it and have a head start on dealing with it.
The scope of experiences is what's special about it. One day we’re getting communion from an alien masked pope in front of hundreds of people, the next day we’re watching Drug Cult's first ever show, the next we’re eating a feast with thousands in a banquet hall under red crosses and a folk band and the next day we’re watching David Walsh, the founder of MONA & Dark Mofo, sitting in the sun spilling a vegan burger down the front of his tie dye sweater.
With human kinds curiosity being explored more and more, finding a truly unique experience is becoming harder and harder. As we sat by the wharf, exhausted from a week of attempted nocturnal living, an enormous speaker mounted aloft from the roof top of a city centre building sung out a siren of classical music for the whole city to hear. Conversations stopped, people quietly sipped their drinks and let the sound of the distant audio resonate and aid them in reflection. The night isn’t over but the festivities are winding down on an exhausting but entirely engaging week of experience.
If this was the last Dark Mofo, i’m glad i got to experience it. If it is not the last one, great, I'll let my mind marinate on the experience, i’ll let my body catch up on sleep and i’ll come back to life like Frankenstein to clumsily wobby around a freezing city looking for experiences and human connection.
Am i close? Is that what Frankenstein is about?
Free from fear
By James Adams
Thanks Joey for showing me your spots.
Thanks Neil & Jessy for sharing your time with me.
And thanks Tasmania for being amazing.