Review: DARK MOFO Nude Swim

Photo by Rosie Hastie / Courtesy of Museum of Old and New Art.

Heard of MONA? Tl;dr: self-proclaimed ‘arseholic’ David Walsh makes a fortune playing blackjack (among other things), and invests in a Tasmanian museum now named MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) that he vamps out with art about – what else? – sex and death. MONA’s mantra? “We believe things like art history and the individual artist’s intention are interesting and important—but only alongside other voices and approaches that remind us that art, after all, is made and consumed by real, complex people—whose motives mostly are obscure, even to themselves.

MONA’s annual 10-day winter festival, Dark Mofo, celebrates the winter solstice (the shortest day/longest night of the year). Mofo features a myriad of art pieces, installations, and centuries-old rituals, originally followed in the hope that crops would flourish, babies would thrive, and livestock would be aplenty. After the long night and Mofo festivities, you can opt to hurtle your naked body into the icy cold water in the ‘Nude Solstice Swim’.

So… is it art? Interactive artworks have been around since the 1950s, with artists seeking to locate what the Tate Museum calls “less alienating and exclusive environments in which to show art.” The Nude Swim is a sort of interactive work in which participants stand around on the beach – normally an inviting sort of place, when it’s daytime and sunny, and you’ve got dogs to walk and such. But at dawn we wait, naked but for a towel, toes frozen in the wet sand, blue lips silently praying for the cue to run into the icy depths. Nobody wants to look at each other, and nobody wants to freeze to death. It feels like both are inevitable.

Entering the bracing cold water is meant to signify a bunch of stuff – animal mating, crop sowing, new beginnings and rebirth; also, that the chilly winter is only downhill from here. This sorta masochistic ritual made me wonder: how long do you think you need to endure something, in order for it to be achieved; how much cleansing is needed to make you clean? How do we feel about our modern lives, which rarely include group nudity (for most of us) or waiting, nervous, excitedly for over an hour? In her 2010 article ‘Interactive and Participatory Art’, Meg Floryan proposes that interactive art is snowballing because we now expect interactivity at all times. She also posits that by making art inclusive, the artist “…strengthens our understanding of the piece, and perhaps inspires the visitor to spend a bit longer on each painting or sculpture.” Maybe the torturously cold element of this interactive artwork makes any personal interpretation hit home harder, more than any other artwork in the entire Dark Mofo festival timetable.

Did I go in the water? Sort of. I got the giggles at all the naked bums in front of me, and didn’t even get my huge pregnant belly wet before I turned and ran back to the shore, laughing wholeheartedly. In summary:

Is it breaking a law? Not sure.

Will it be cold? God yes, it will be cold. Colder than you’ve probably ever felt in your life.

Why will you do it? The true reason is probably obscure, even to you.