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10 weird and wonderful things we saw at Mona Foma 2019

Written by
Delima Shanti

This year Mona Foma, the summer music, art and culture festival started by Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, had its inaugural full run in Launceston, 200 kilometres north from its original home. After a successful mini-festival in Lonnie in 2018, this year’s festival marked the first of three years that the MONA magic heads north. Seeing as the museum and its festivals and other associated businesses (which includes a brewery and winery) have pumped millions into the Hobart economy, it’s no surprise that Launceston wants a piece of that MONA pie. And why not? So we spent three days traipsing through Launceston’s streets and arts precinct to soak up as much art and culture as we could.

1. Flying on the Air Mofo flight
The flight to Launceston on a Qantas plane chartered especially for Mona Foma was never going to be your standard flight. The passengers, mostly competition winners bar a couple of rows of journos, had been promised a flight on a purple plane, and judging by past festival surprises, who knew what else the hour-long journey would throw at us? 

Passengers on Air Mofo
Photograph: MONA

Air Mofo didn’t deliver on the promise of a Mona Foma purple plane, but it was really the inside that mattered. Before take-off we checked out the ‘How to Launceston’ cards placed in the seat pocket in front of every seat. Made in the style of safety instruction cards, the card advised passengers not to touch the monkeys at City Park (because “they have STDs”) and that “if it’s weird, it’s probably art”. When the flight reached cruising altitude, drag flight attendant Rochelle, aka Simone Page-Jones, busted out a pitch-perfect rendition of the opera aria ‘La Habanera’ from Carmen (you know the one). Then after a round of bubbles from the service trolley – this time served by actual flight attendants – a performer in a glittery skin suit and tulle headgear, who looked like a prettier version of the American Horror Story gimp guy, danced along the aisle to Nicky Minaj’s ‘Barbie Dreams’ just before we touched down in Launceston. As you do.

2. Dancing to a sexy sax set Faux Mo, aka Lonnies Niteclub
Whether you’re a regular at Mona Foma and Dark Mofo or a first timer, the best nights you’ll have are when you let the flow of people take you at the festival’s famous party nights. On Friday night, after the festival’s first day wrapped up, I went into Lonnies Niteclub in town. The club was full of excited energy as punters covered themselves in glitter at the Glitoris station and spent the night shuffling between two sweaty party rooms at Lonnies and the outdoor laneway stage lest miss something cool. But that’s the beauty of Faux Mo; you don’t know what’s going to happen or what DJ or band is going to show up at what stage.

For example, you could miss a dance-and-draw session with nude models (one with a very cute dachshund on his lap) while a DJ spins trap tracks and drag queens in ball gowns sashay away in front on the naked bodies. Another sexy highlight was the brilliant saxophone metal set (I don’t know what else to call it, honestly) by Party Dozen. Look them up if you’ve never heard of them.

3. Swimming at Cataract Gorge around Parer Studio’s Man
Simply put, the Gorge is gorge(ous)! This was easily one of the major highlights of Mona Foma 2019. The decision to pair Parer Studio’s inflated sculpture titled Man with the stunning surrounds of Cataract Gorge was inspired. It gave visitors a little taste of Launceston life outside of the festival: the Gorge was full of locals and kids on school holidays swimming and diving off the rocks by the Gorge. The Buddha-like giant gave visitors an obvious cue to take a step back and contemplate the peaceful surroundings, but what was most moving was the idyllic atmosphere the place had. People could swim in the Gorge or in the swimming pool next to it, or walk along the tracks surrounding then Gorge. This is an amazing free public place where anyone can come together and play. This experience alone was enough to make me want to travel around Launceston and the surrounding regions properly next time. 

Parer Studio's Man in Cataract Gorge
Photograph: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

4. Experiencing two different kinds of meditation: Robin Fox and Ben Landau
On the second day of the festival, artist Ben Landau made meditation an endurance sport at the John Hart Conservatory in City Park. In Retreat, Landau hummed continuously for 24 hours, starting Saturday noon and finishing on Sunday. When I came in about 45 minutes into his humming marathon, the artist was lying flat on a blanket surrounded by lush green plants and blooming flowers. After the visual and auditory chaos of the Faux Mo party the previous night, a spot of meditation in a quiet plant nursery was a much-needed salve for my sore head. 

Ben Landau, Retreat
Photograph: MONA/Rémi Chauvin

Later on that evening, elsewhere in the city Robin Fox low-key got me feeling like Catherine Zeta-Jones in that sexy laser scene in Entrapment in his work titled Launceston Constellation. Laser beams ricocheted off crystal balls and rainbow swathes of light enveloped us as punters laid back on the floor or on bean bags, letting the light and pulsing bass and sound wash over them. The experience felt both soothing and also like we're hearing the beat drop over and over again in an EDM gig. Punters on chemical stimulants were frothing over this free show.

Robin Fox, Launceston Constellation
Photograph: Alex Whyte

5. Seeing Satu Vänskä and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO)
It was probably naïve of me to think that this would just be nice, straight classical music show. But of course it wasn’t just that – we’re at Mona Foma! As a novice classical music listener, I was lulled into a false sense of security when the TSO started their program of Nordic compositions with Einojuhani Rautavaara’s ‘Concerto for Birds and Orchestra’, which literally sounded like lovely little birds flitting across Finnish landscapes. This made way for Kaija Saariaho’s ‘ la terre’, a piece that makes you feel a little bit like you’re in a scary Scandi crime show that haunts you weeks later. The finisher was an epic violin concerto by Jean Sibelius that Satu Vänskä was visibly fighting to get through but sounded absolutely amazing doing so.

6. Nakhane, Nakhane, Nakhane!
One of the best things about going to a festival is finding an artist that you can’t believe you’ve never heard of before. This was me with Nakhane, the South African glam-pop artist who it turns out made it on The New York Times’ ‘10 artists to watch in 2019’ list. If you ask me, out of the Mona Foma line-up he’s the guy most likely to end up on subtle playlists titled ‘songs to have sex to’ this year. Wearing a see-through mesh shirt, the lithe performer was an absolute stunner on stage, his music a combination of South African pop and dance music. If you like Sade and Perfume Genius, you’ll love this guy.

Major babe Nakhane
Photograph: MONA/Rémi Chauvin

7. Drag interludes at Faux Mo by Aurum Argentum, Kat Daddi, Misti Delray, Pussay Poppins, Rosa Rita
They were your blink-and-you-miss-them queens whose performances at Faux Mo had them dancing to a killer trap set (a natural mix, it turns out), changing outfits more times than I could keep track of throughout the night and once sitting on the bar counter in light bondage gear looking bored. At one point Rosa Rita led a posse of minions in dog gimp masks while she dressed in a Cruella DeVille outfit. This ode to 101 Dalmatians ended in a face-off with a topless Misti Delray. who was lip-synching Lady Gaga’s ‘Scheiße’.

Mistress Rosa Rita and her dog minions
Photograph: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

8. Playing dress up at Launceston Workers Club
Who says art needs to be serious? Certainly not Rosie Deacon and Heath Franco. They shared the Launceston Workers Club as the site of their free shows. Franco’s weird video works took over the pub downstairs with DIY-style imagery. On our visit, the elderly locals sipping on beers at the bars didn’t seem fussed that a video of the artist gyrating was projected on a huge screen behind them. Upstairs, it was no less fun, with visitors encouraged to dress up and walk a runway in Rosie Deacon’s glitter-filled FFS (Fashion Forest Seduction), which was inspired by 1990s Australiana.

Visitor playing dress up at Rosie Deacon's FFS
Photograph: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

9. Neneh Cherry’s not-DJ set, featuring dancers Burn City Queenz, Silver Vice, Chuby Dice
Yes, Neneh Cherry’s festival set was terrific, and seeing her perform tracks from Broken Politics under an almost full moon was near hypnotic, but boy, does she know how to throw a party. Back at Lonnies Niteclub for night two of Faux Mo, Cherry played a set of bangers to partygoers who just hours earlier had seen her sing live on stage. She was at pains to say that she wasn’t doing a DJ set, saying “I’m not a fucking DJ, I’m just here to play some tunes so don’t look like me, just dance!” A handy assistant showed Cherry the ropes behind the decks, while dancehall dancers got the crowd moving. And if you’re wondering what Cherry would play at a party, she kicked off with dub bangers before launching into Ciara’s ‘1 Thing’, Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ and Cardi B’s ‘Bodak Yellow’.

10. Being served bangers after bangers by PNAU
For a last-minute addition to the festival line-up, festival closer PNAU definitely brought the energy with them. Although we missed out on Underworld and hearing ‘Born Slippy’ live, the Sydney electronic trio nailed their set, which featured songs from their 2017 album Changa and older singles ‘Wild Strawberries’ and ‘Embrace’. The crowd at the end of the festival was an inclusive mixed bag of MONA die hards, ukulele-carrying hippies, contemporary dance students who definitely knew how to bust a move, older ravers who were originally there for Underworld, and teens who bought day passes to see PNAU. They were a great representation of the pull that this weird little festival has on people, and if the happy raving faces were anything to go by, we’re willing to bet that Mona Foma will be getting plenty of repeat visitors to Launceston.

Photograph: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

Got FOMO from missing out on MOFO? Check out our Sydney Festival reviews, you can still catch some great shows.

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