On the eve of my fourth visit to MONA – Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, I casually sent an email (from bed HQ, or electric blanket lady land) to Mona’s general inbox, inviting the creative director to do a Q+A with me. I wasn’t really expecting any response, let alone a positive one. If you haven’t been to Mona or Dark Mofo, you must. It will change your life.
Here is Mona / Dark Mofo Creative Director, Leigh Carmichael for The Garb Wire.
TGW: What keeps you up at night?
LC: I’ve lost a lot of sleep worrying about rain at outdoor gigs, and box office targets are a nightmare. I sleep fairly well, but festivals and events are not for the fainthearted.
TGW: Have you ever turned a disaster into a success?
LC: To be honest, until I was 30, my career was a disaster. (But I had a nice folio ;-))
One of my philosophical heroes, Joseph Campbell, said, “where you stumble and fall, there you will find your gold.” I swear this is true (if you can see it).
“Failure is a far greater teacher than success can ever be.”
TGW: What drove you to stay in Tasmania when all your peers left in the mid 90s?
LC: I honestly remember thinking, with the internet (new at the time) there should technically be no reason why I can’t do great design work from Hobart. And I wanted to live here, so I stayed. For ten years it was the worst decision I ever made…
TGW: To date, have you found any of the Mona installations too intense/confronting/physically repulsive?
LC: I found the Aboriginal DNA testing (that was confusing people as [being] real, by Christoph Buchel in June 2014) highly offensive, but I understood why he was doing it. There is a lot of work that is intense, but I think life is too safe these days, we don’t get out of our comfort zones enough, myself included, so I support/enjoy provocative art.
TGW: Name a film that remains unresolved for you?
LC: ‘Inland Empire’ by Lynch. It’s totally fucked up. I ‘think’ it’s a comment (emotional journey) about cheating on your partner and the consequences of that action, but every time I watch it, I’m less sure.
TGW: What’s your favourite mindless distraction?
LC: Online chess.
TGW: When is the moment you feel at home, and where?
LC: Getting off the plane at Hobart airport, at night, when the air is bitterly cold, it’s so clean I take a deep breath. I’m always glad to be home.
TGW: When was the last time you felt free?
LC: It’s a constant battle, whether to conform to society’s norms (safe) or create your own path (risk). I feel that I am completely free to make that choice.
TGW: What is your proudest achievement?
LC: Dark Mofo.
“Seeing families with little kids, wandering around the Hobart streets at night, in the middle of winter, in awe of large-scale public art, makes me so proud of our city.”
TGW: Some people believe that being happy can stifle creativity. What’s your experience?
LC: I get fairly bad anxiety when I am not creating something new. I have learned over the years that it’s very important to be busy and focused. And I’ve heard it’s easier to explore dark places from a safe space, so I’m not sure!
TGW: What song lyrics have stuck with you?
LC: “It doesn’t matter if we all die” – [it’s the] opening line of ‘One Hundred Years’ by The Cure. As soon as I read the question I thought of it. When I see campaigns of people ‘saving the planet’, I smile with the absurdity of the endeavour. It’s not the planet that is in danger, it’s us. The planet will recover, despite our stupidity.
TGW: Elvis or The Beatles? or Coldplay?
LC: The Beatles.
TGW: Have you ever been to Paris?
LC: No, but my 15 year old daughter has.
TGW: If you work at Mona, is it encouraged or compulsory to wear only black, textured, structured, off-the-bias black?
LC: It’s such a cliché, but I don’t feel comfortable in any colours.
TGW: One of my friends cringed recently at an email he received, that read “nice to e-meet you”. What’s something people insist on writing or saying that irritates you? Mine would have to be “How are we?” or “Thanks for reaching out”
LC: This one had me stuck for a while, but I hated that phase, when everyone ended with
Best fucking what!?
TGW: Have you ever had to uninvite someone to an event? Awkward, cringe worthy, social suicide moment…
LC: No, but I wish had, many times.
TGW: “Leigh, Mr. Lynch on the phone…” What do you do in those private moments, before you pick up?
LC: I wander about my office, and drink lots of water. I get very nervous about anything like this.
TGW: Have you ever had the chance to meet one of your idols, only to be disappointed? Discuss.
LC: Not really. I met PJ Harvey and she was so sweet it was ridiculous. Usually the artists are so fucked after their gigs, I avoid putting them through the bullshit.
TGW: In Jay-Z’s ‘Most Kingz’, he raps “everybody look at you strange, say you changed…like you work that hard to stay the same”. Looking back at the time you’ve worked at Mona, would you say you’ve changed? How? Are you glad?
LC: I’ve completely changed. I have always been driven, and still am, but I am so proud of my time at Mona, that I am now content with what I have achieved. Prior to Mona, I was just sad and desperate to do something that mattered.
“If it all ends tomorrow, I have given it everything I have.”
TGW: When Antony and The Johnsons take the stage on 16 June at the Odeon Theatre, will you stand up the front and sing every word, without taking a breath?
LC: I’m a Gen X’er… I tend to find the spot in the crowd with the best sound, (in the middle towards the back), and stay very still while I seek my moments of transcendence.
Leigh, it was a pleasure to e-meet you!
The Garb Wire
Dark Mofo runs in Hobart until June 22, with highlights including Maria Abrémovic’s Private Archaeology exhibition, Antony & The Johnsons playing sold out shows at the Odeon Theatre and the City of Hobart Dark Mofo Winter Feast.
Click here to read up on The Biennale of Moving Images exhibition at Mona