Dark Mofo embraces danger
David Walsh snapped up an artwork by Chris Ofili in 2007 after it had so outraged New Yorkers that it had generated a celebrated court battle.
The Holy Virgin Mary went on display when MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) opened in 2011 and it earned lots of column inches, as we used to say.
The MONA owner sold it in 2015 for more than $4.5 million, making a tidy profit.
Now Walsh's protégé-at-a-distance, Leigh Carmichael, is applying his boss's strategy to Dark Mofo 2018.
Carmichael has signed up DDT (Dark and Dangerous Thoughts), a curated showcase of literature, film and ideas that was axed by the Sydney Opera House in 2014 amid a New York-style public outcry.
A talk by Muslim activist Uthman Badar titled Honour Killings are Morally Justified was at the centre of that row.
After interviewing Carmichael for The Australian Financial Review, Gabriella Coslovich wrote: "As Sydney moves on from dangerous ideas, Hobart is just getting started."
Carmichael told Coslovich: "We feel there’s a space in Australia to be able to have discussions about really confronting philosophies and ideas, and we’re going to step in.
“We’re not doing shock for shock’s sake. We do believe in what we are doing. This isn’t about trying to create a nightmare for ourselves.”
Last year Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch's centrepiece performance at Dark Mofo included a mock crucifixion and a freshly slaughtered bull carcass being torn apart.
The festival team received countless threats and reported more than 100 of the most menacing to the police.
Carmichael was told: "If the bull dies, you die!"
However, ticket sales for Dark Mofo jumped by almost 60 per cent to $2.1 million. Attendance figures soared from 300,000 to almost 450,000.
Despite of, or because of those experiences, Carmichael intends to feature a DDT "panel" this year that includes a sniper, an ex-jihadi and a promoter of Sharia law.
Walsh has given his blessing to the three-day DDT talkfest, with the caveat: "This cannot be a lefties' love-in!"
DDT is directed by former New Yorker Laura Kroetsch who has built a local reputation since 2012 as the Director of the Adelaide Writers' Week.
“We’ll be asking her to draw on her wealth of experience as we program some of the more challenging and dangerous ideas being discussed in the 21st century," Carmichael said.
"We’ll be looking at a broad range of issues, but it’s unlikely we’ll stray too far from the core themes of [sexual activity] and killing.”
Kroetsch said: “The ambition is not just to preach to the converted, but to have a conversation between people who don’t necessarily agree with each other."
Dark Mofo will be extended to span three weekends this year, running from 15 to 24 June.
An all-night CBD block party titled Night Mass will bring five nights of music and performance to the streets, a dozen bars and other venues, including the Odeon Theatre.
Carmichael expects a crowded, all-in event, much like the Winter Feast at PW1 which was a popular success in 2017.
A perceptive writer on the complexities of the MONA Effect, Coslovich observed: "For a festival that flirts with death, Dark Mofo is deeply life-affirming, luring people out to revel in the cold, under the stars, away from their screens, stirring their senses, laying bare the sacred in the everyday."
Coslovich questioned both Carmichael and Walsh about their sometimes tense relationship.
“We’ve had a fairly difficult few years, and I would like to see us working together again rather [than] in competition,” Carmichael, 42, told her.
“It’s not good for me if I’m in competition with David, because I’d lose. There is no competition.
"My projects are better for having him in on them and across them. And he’s proved with Pharos [the new wing of MONA] that he doesn’t need me.”
Carmichael's role as Creative Director at MONA changed in 2016 to focus on Dark Mofo, the redevelopment of Macquarie Point and other entrepreneurial ventures that might emerge and that Walsh would be prepared to back.
Carmichael is now the Creative Director of a think tank, DarkLab, that is a MONA subsidiary.
“It was his suggestion for me that we break away,” Carmichael told Coslovich. “I made some remarks about maybe letting go of some of the commercial stuff because it was getting too much for me.
"David and I had a fairly heated meeting and, for whatever reason, he decided it was time to separate Dark Mofo from MONA."
Walsh told the reporter: “DarkLab will justify its existence if all it ever does is provide support and vision for Mac Point and keep Dark Mofo being an engaging and slightly dangerous spectacle.”
And what about Carmichael? “Leigh does resist. He’s an interesting character at times. He’s abrasive, he’s extremely creative, he will take a lot of the burden off me as a target."
Walsh said Carmichael had been grumpy initially over his planned redeployment.
"He interpreted it, that he was being pushed out of it. And maybe [he] was,” Walsh said.
Image courtesy of DarkLab
8 March 2018, Edition 192