Local artists soak up Mona effect as festival wraps up

mona effect

Much has been made of the international artists that Mona Foma has brought to Launceston.

With hip-hop/RnB icon Neneh Cherry, African pop renegade Nakhane, and the founder of Ethio-jazz Mulatu Astatke, as well as ex-Tasmanian critical darling Courtney Barnett, and Australian dance music stars Pnau, it’s hard not be impressed.

But just as critical has been the opportunities, and large-scale audience, the festival has offered to Launceston’s own arts scene.

From traditional arts spaces such as the Academy Gallery and Poimena Gallery, to very much non-traditional spaces such as the Workers Club and Dicky Whites Lane, in Quadrant Mall, the festival has drawn venues large and small into its influence.

Festival curator Brian Ritchie said the event had a policy of one-third Tasmanian artists – and that they hoped to increase the Launceston offerings as the festival’s run continues in the North indefinitely.

“We’re putting everybody that we can find on the bill,” he said.

“We may not have found all of the great Launceston artists, but we are definitely trying to incorporate them in.

“Generally, we have one-third Tasmanian artists, one-third mainland Australian artists, and one-third international artists.

“But, obviously, now, the Tasmanian side of things is being skewed towards the North.”

They have also initiated a strategy of billing more than 50 per cent female artists on the program; a move which Mr Ritchie believes has been well-received by audiences.

Despite the wildcard of their move up North, ticket sales have been on par with the Hobart years of the past decade.

For him, the move from Hobart to Launceston has given Mona Foma the opportunity to bring new artists, and new parts of the community, into the much-written about ‘Mona effect.’

“We have a wonderful work that is by TasDance that is also a collaboration with the Bhutanese community,” he said.

“So just to be able to put together something like that, and to put these new immigrants onto a major stage in a major festival, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.”

Sawtooth ARI (Artist Run Initiative), in Cimitiere Street, is hosting two Mona Foma exhibitions.

The first is Sisyphina, from Tasmanian photographer and video artist Lou Conboy.

Her collection is an infrared fantasy of Tasmanian landscapes backdropping women in jarring costuming, that “reinvents the myth of Sisyphus with witch goddesses and she-trolls,” as the Mona Foma program puts it.

The second is the end result of the performative and sound work of Margie Livingstone and Dylan Sheridan.

Livingstone has spent the Mona Foma week dragging canvases through the streets of Launceston, with Sheridan capturing the accompanying sound.

The result is a strangely soothing collection of canvases presented alongside the sounds of the canvas scraping along the pavement, and scraps of conversation.

Both works will be exhibited until Saturday, February 2.

Casual gallery attendant with Sawtooth ARI, Catherine Phillips, said they had seen 300 people per day come through the gallery.

“That’s more than what we get on an opening night,” she said.

“There’s been lots of good feedback about the work, lots of interest in, say, this work by Lou Conboy – a lot of people have wanted to know where in the Tasmanian landscape the photos were taken.

“One man in particular said he like to see art that shows him something he hasn’t seen before – you know, he doesn’t want to feel jaded – and he said he walked in here and he had been exposed to something new, that he hasn’t seen.

“That’s always a good response. It shows that a small gallery space like this can be an extension of Mona.”

But beyond the amount of people coming in to see the works this past week, she is effusive about the potential implications for Sawtooth as a whole.

Events like Mona Foma, that draw a discerning, arts-oriented crowd, have the potential to elevate the status of small, Launceston galleries through simply getting the word out.

“Any exposure to new people is always good,” she said.

“Especially for an Artist Run Initiative – they’re not always as well presented as this.

“They can be dingy dark spaces, and this one is a well looked after, bright, commercial-standard gallery, but it is still artist run – so it’s a credit to Liam (James, director) and the board, the fact that it’s been chosen as a space to be an adjunct to Mona.”

She said the gallery would hope to continue their relationship with Mona in the future.

“I’m sure if the opportunity presents itself again they’d jump at it,” she said.

Caitlin Comerford is the artistic director of youth dance company Stompin, who are presenting their show Chameleon on repeat throughout the festival.

The company has brought three traditional performances a day to audiences, as well as a roving performance that incorporates audience participation and improvisation.

Ms Comerford said Mona Foma had given the company the opportunity and freedom to try a different approach, that had been less available at other festivals with which they had partnered.

“The dancers have been going really well,” she said.

“They’re improvising, ghosting people, making random shapes in random places and hopefully making people laugh.

“We always try and perform at festivals that come to Tassie, but obviously Mofo is a pretty special one and we’re excited to be a part of it.

“It’s a real shift with how we can engage with the public in terms of the festival’s facilitation.

“I think what’s really exciting is how much audience participation we can utilise, in this environment.

“Here, we’re invited to be experimental.”

Dancer with Stompin, Jasper Harrison, 14, said he appreciated the chance to improvise and play in the large festival crowds.

He was involved in four performances, before he unfortunately tore his hamstring prior to the final day.

However, he wasn’t feeling to glum about his lot.

“They’ve been very fun,” he said.

“Especially the tableaus, with all the improvising.”

He enjoys the opportunity to improvise, “because of the freedom, that you get with moving with your body”.

“This was my first time doing Mofo, and it’s been a great experience,” he said.

“I hope to be able to do it again.”

For Launceston acting mayor Danny Gibson, the implication of having Mona Foma in Launceston can not be overstated.

“Local companies, galleries and artists have engaged in meaningful collaboration and the results are extraordinary – music, dance, visual art and sculpture,” he said.

“It has been awesome.

“QVMAG was again humming as the centrepiece of Mona Foma, while the Gorge installation was stunning and the best marketing campaign you could ever hope for.

“This weekend demonstrates what connected and embraced arts looks like. Launceston’s event offering has been diversified with this amazing, dynamic festival.”

Mona Foma’s funding comes from a range of backers, including the Museum of Old and New Art itself, the state government, and in-kind help from the City of Launceston Council and a variety of other local sources.

But they have indicated that, funding dependent, they intend to stick around for as long as they can.

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