Mona Foma curator Brian Ritchie on the surrealist behemoth he's crafted for 2019

Mona Foma will relocate to Launceston with arguably its most eclectic lineup yet.

Catching up with Ritchie, he’s on his way to Launceston in Tasmania’s north, preparing for the launch of next year’s Mona Foma program. Up until now, the festival has always been held in Hobart, but renovations at the museum mean it’s time for a change. 
“We’re going to be doing construction at Mona for the next five years or so, and that disruption to the site means we can’t do the festival there,” explains Ritchie. “We looked for a new horizon, which we didn’t have to look very far for – we found it with Launceston.” 
“It is true that the north of the state, in general, doesn’t get much support, so we thought ‘ok, let’s be fair about this and let’s do something in Launnie’.”
Relocating Mona Foma to the northern city has its perks, and Ritchie has made it his mission to transform the place into a Mona-esque playground. They’ll be incorporating spaces like City Park, Albert Hall and Cataract Gorge, as well as making use of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery [QVMAG]. 
“They [QVMAG] have two theatres. They have a bunch of gallery spaces, and then they have a huge outdoor area – which is a former railyard – and we’re setting up two outdoor stages there, so that’s the festival hub,” he says excitedly. “We’ll be able to stagger the stages, which is something we’ve never been able to do before at Mona, because we’ve only had one outdoor stage.”
This abundance of space is being put to good use, with a jam-packed program designed to entice and entertain. There’s a mix of local artists, mainland performers and international guests on the bill, some of which are well-revered, while others are more obscure. 
“Probably one of the most Mofo-type things that we’re having is [musician/visual artist] Oneohtrix Point Never,” says Ritchie. “That entails us building a special series of screens; it’s like a multiple screen projection, with electronic music of course, and some theatrical element. So, you know, that’s going to be one of these kinaesthetic types of things that we really like to do.”
Curating an event requires finding acts that not only work together in a cohesive kind of way, but also encapsulate the essence of what you’re trying to achieve. For Ritchie, putting Mona Foma together isn’t necessarily a formulaic process, but rather an exploration of the odd or offbeat. 
“We receive a lot of inquiry, and some of them are just blind inquiry, and others come to us from people who have been referred to us by other artists who have been in the festival before,” he says. “The other thing is we look at a lot of YouTube stuff. You know, we investigate, try to look for stuff.” 
“Sometimes I just type in random search terms and see if there’s anything like that I can recruit. Like, in this case, Les Filles de Illighadad is an all-girl Saharan psychedelic rock band – so you can find stuff like that on the internet.” 
In terms of local performers, this year has involved pooling artists and musicians from across the state. Having home-grown talent is an important part of Mona Foma, and Ritchie has made sure that there’s a nice balance to the program. 
“I was looking at the internet and somebody saying ‘oh, Mona Foma doesn’t support local artists’,” he explains. “So, I decided to actually look at it, and I broke it down and it was almost exactly one-third Tasmanian, one-third mainland, and one-third international. Which seems to me like a pretty healthy ratio.”
Aside from Oneohtrix Point Never and Les Filles de Illighadad, Mona Foma will also welcome performances from UK electronic generals Underworld, lauded Swedish rapper and producer Neneh Cherry, loved US folk singer Julia Holter, as well as homegrown indie legend Courtney Barnett.  
Other Australian artists include Launceston locals Bansheeland as well as Southeast Desert Metal, a band who hail from Arrernte land in central Australia. 
And while the Launceston location means something different for the 2019 event, Ritchie is excited for the future of the festival at Mona. 
“Once we finish this construction we will have a concert hall, a larger outdoor stage, a jazz club, and it’s going to be entertainment year-round there,” he says eagerly. “It’ll be kind of like Las Vegas, or something. Even weirder though.”

Get down to Launceston for Mona Foma from Sunday January 13 to Sunday January 20. You can snag yourself a ticket on the Mona Foma website