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Collective escapism

10 June 2023

An interview with the Berlin Atonal curators Laurens von Oswald and Harry Glass on their upcoming project at Dark Mofo.

Dark Mofo 2023, the highly-anticipated annual festival held in Hobart, Tasmania, is set to provide a bold and immersive experience. In a unique collaboration, renowned curators Laurens von Oswald and Harry Glass from Berlin Atonal have joined forces with Dark Mofo to infuse the festival with their distinctive blend of experimental music, innovative arts and avant-garde performances.

Berlin Atonal has become a significant event in the experimental music scene. The annual festival has gained global recognition for its inimitable structure, and continues to attract music enthusiasts, artists and industry professionals from around the world.

Celebrating its 10th year, Dark Mofo 2023 promises to be a remarkable milestone that combines the creative forces of two iconic events from opposing corners of the world. Drawing upon their expertise in curating exhilarating experiences, Laurens and Harry aim to transcend boundaries and explore the depths of artistic expression within the dark and mysterious realm of Dark Mofo. Through a carefully curated line-up of artist performances, Berlin Atonal's participation in Dark Mofo 2023 will exemplify their commitment to fostering experimentation, collaboration, and exploration within the realms of music and arts.

This collaboration also invites attendees to contemplate the profound impact of Tasmania's geographical isolation, as well as the interplay between art and other disciplines. The curators from Berlin Atonal engage with these themes to enhance the overall experience and inspire meaningful connections between the audience and the artists.

A few weeks prior to kick off, the curators caught up with to Be editor Hugh Barton to discuss the upcoming project titled Laterne at Dark Mofo, the importance of escapism, isolation and collectivism.

HUGH BARTON Morning Harry and Laurens. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Where are you both?

LAURENS VON OSWALD We’re both in Berlin. I'm at my house, Harry’s at his house. I guess we'll meet at the office in a bit. Where are you based?

HB I'm based in Melbourne, but up in Sydney at the moment. When was the last time you visited Australia?

HARRY GLASS We both grew up in Sydney actually.

LVO: And left at different times ... I left in 2006 and Harry left in 2011. I'm German originally, I went to high school in Australia. When I finished, I moved over to the UK to study and then I actually couldn't get a visa to return to Australia for a longer stint. But we regularly travel back to Australia.

HB And how's life been over in Berlin since?

LVO It's good. I mean it's changed a lot over the last ten years. Our office is based here, our whole team is here and it's quite central geographically. We're bound to a venue and our basis is here.

HG Like Laurens said, it's changed a lot and I guess we've changed a lot too. We started Berlin Atonal when we were in our early twenties. I think we’ve changed as much as the city has over the course of us starting and maintaining this project.

HB That's the beauty of growing, especially in context too.

HB Dark Mofo is reaching its 10th edition, marking a significant milestone. Can you share some insights into what the curators have planned to commemorate this special occasion? Are there any thematic elements that you were interested in celebrating?

LVO Despite the anniversary, there was no pressure from the festival. Working with Dark Mofo usually starts out in the same way as most of our curatorial work: scoping out the location and looking at opportunities to activate in the space. So, we went out to Tasmania and had a look at where they were planning on activating because that's such a big part for us. The festival is not in a specific venue, it's really throughout Hobart. In terms of set design and staging, we like to plan with the artists in mind, rather than have a place that they then have to fit into.

HG I think a while ago, we got freaked out by the idea of putting four acts sequentially on a stage, with ten minutes change over in between for everyone to grab a beer. From previous projects, we really enjoy the dynamism that you can get from having musical events start in different positions, overlapping, coming from different parts of a room. We've been experimenting more and more with setting up situations like that. And in Hobart, in the big venue of MAC 02, we're playing around a bit with that as well.

HB That’s so important for the artists, curators and the festival overall. In terms of Tasmania's location, how do you think the geographical isolation contributes to the artistic experience and atmosphere of Dark Mofo?

HG It's massive. It's obviously not isolated for the people that live there and it’s important to be conscious of what the local audience might want. But for us, we're also thinking about people that are travelling there because they want to be there. It's not something you can just think about at 5 p.m., and then rock up at 8 p.m. People are there for a reason, they plan it out, they make this journey to Hobart in order to have these experiences. They're ready to see something they might not be able to get at home. What's great about Hobart is you can have a ‘total’ experience, everything around you is somehow tied to the festival. It transforms the city in a way, which is a pretty unique opportunity for a festival programmer who can not only think about what's happening inside the buildings, but also what's happening in the streets.

HB There is an amazing feeling you get in Tasmania. There's certainly a difference in pace especially compared to Melbourne or Sydney. Escapism really comes into it as well.

LVO Exactly, that's actually such a special thing about Hobart. A massive part of Dark Mofo is its escapism. It's not like Sydney or Melbourne where you just rock up to a venue for a couple of hours and then go home again. A lot of the people who do end up travelling to Hobart are there to go to the festival. And as Harry said before, the community is isolated, but I think that’s something many people really enjoy. That's part of the reason why a lot of people decided to, if they're not originally from Tasmania, move there — they don't want to be part of the everyday big city life anymore. That's also a cool aspect of Hobart: the people who have decided to settle there are also interested in the art and music scenes that are a bit off-centre.

HB It's a total experience, especially given that Dark Mofo is specifically programmed to bring light to the city in the middle of winter. It also has such a big focus on the exploration of the dark and the mysterious aspects of human existence. How will these ideas manifest in the curatorial direction of the festival?

LVO Those are in fact the themes we really like; they are themes that have led us to the art that we're interested in. I think artists also have a sense to engage with these themes because it breaks or pushes their fantasies.

HB How do you see the discipline of art feeding into and influencing other practices in the festival context? And how does Berlin Atonal embrace or explore these intersections within its programming and curation?

HG I think that's one of the things that attracted us to working with Dark Mofo and MONA in the first place. It really resonated with us, this idea of being transdisciplinary, particularly in the sense of opening up the art world to music, and opening up the music world to art. We’ve been convincing people whose main practise is art to do things in a more performative context and vice versa. Its really exciting for them to move away from spaces that are institutionally run and toward public spaces where thousands of people can see your work from start to finish. It's a very different proposition and this really convinces artists to produce new work.

LVO When you do engage with artists on a level that allows you as curators and organisers to think differently about how to present work, it’s very exciting. And coming back to your question – in terms of those two stiff frameworks, it doesn't matter whether it's a punk rock or a philharmonic concert, there's always a kind of stage and there's always a kind of audience.

HB Could you share some insights into the selection process for artists and performances at Berlin Atonal, and how you curated the line-up for Dark Mofo?

HG We're in a lucky position working with Dark Mofo and really grateful for the opportunity because it allows the artists to stretch their legs a little bit. With Blackhaine, we were able to support his ambitious projects through different contexts. We’ve been working with Caterina Barberi since she started out in a lot of different capacities too – the show at Dark Mofo is culmination of a show cycle that we've been working on for more than a year now. With Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet, we've worked with them before, also in different formats. We know that they are people that are interested in site-specificity and they're open to changing the way they present things to maximise what theyre trying to say.

LVO You also have Rainy Miller’s performance at Dark Mofo. It's all about isolation and being a somehow slower entity in an otherwise very fast-moving environment. As Harry said, we've been working with Catarina for so long and are so familiar with her work. She’s someone who uses her art in a really powerful way. It's layered and it will be interesting to see her and Blackhaine performing in sequence together. Blackhaine’s work also cycles through so many different things in a relatively short amount of time, but it's so visceral and you get a lot from it emotionally, there's actual text that come to the table. And the Amnesia Scanner production is very telling of the time. That's always been their approach — to take stock of now and try to accelerate certain methods – theres fun to it too - what's the most absurd way to think about now. All in all, its a really diverse but somehow harmonious programme.

HB That brings me to my final question, why is it important to bring people together for art and music?

HG It's so important to bring people together in general. I think it’s about what we were saying before, about collective attention. This is something we've been a little bit obsessed with over the last years. We've been experimenting with different formats of exhibitions and performances, and what is in between those two things is the sense of everyone focusing on something at the same time. It’s a collective experience that's becoming less and less common.

LVO I totally agree with Harry, I think that's such a massive part of it. Nowadays, there's this sort of isolation in everything we do, even the way we consume television and current affairs. It’s also a massive responsibility, the ‘collectivity’ of it all. When you choose to come to Dark Mofo, you’re not only showing interest, but you're also opening yourself up to someone's version of something. Its really quite cool to witness, especially when you're doing it all together.

HB It becomes really memorable. Excited to see it all unfold this month.

LVO Great, thank you. Enjoyed the chat! Hope to see you over here or there.

See Laterne by Berlin Atonal at Dark Mofo this year, a night of high-powered sonic artistry, curated by the German capital’s renowned music festival.


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