One would imagine that the Devil has worse places to go than Hobart when he wants a holiday. But even we in this beautiful Island cannot escape his wicked finger poking at souls. The good can turn bad in a moment's inattention, causing God no end of trouble making it all good again. It takes many a pint in the Tavern, I can tell you.
We have a benefactor in Hobart who through judicious betting at casino tables has amassed a huge fortune with which he has endowed Tasmania, in Hobart, with a world-class museum and art gallery - the famous MONA. The Museum of Old and New Art. The old art consists of many a fine piece but the new leaves much to be desired and has much to be reviled.
Some of that new 'art' is 'performance' and takes place in the public square: to the dismay of many and the horror now of many more.
Admittedly some has been spectacular, such as the fingers of light which winnings have paid for.
Recently we were subjected to sheer horror. The local press had a few things to say in its usual wishy-washy way. And we had a guest, Clarissa, in the Oz room speaking of her experience of the spectacle. First the news:
Art’s lasting impressionAFTER five years of winter wildness and weirdness, Dark Mofo reaches an apogee of controversy the other weekend with Hermann Nitsch’s 150.Action.The city’s streets are heaving with visitors, the restaurants are full, an off-season cruise ship is docked on the wharves. This weekend sees a smorgasbord of action to confront, engage, entertain and perplex. Our invigorating winter has become more invigorating still. For those who are getting out and about to enjoy the festivities, be safe and have fun.This year, talk of our winter festival has been dominated by the fate of a bull. From the moment it was announced, Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s performance has dominated talk of the event.
Mofo describes 150. Action as “a bloody, sacrificial ritual performed by the patriarch of Viennese Actionism, his devoted disciples and an orchestra”.For those who have somehow missed the detail, the ritualistic and existential performances of the avant-garde Orgy Mystery Theatre involves a beef carcass, its blood and its entrails. Lots of them.The event has sold out, there have been petitions and there are likely to be protests aimed at the performance.For many, the performance is deeply confronting and upsetting. A petition against it raised thousands of signatures from near and far.
The debate and protest were quite ignored by the PTB. Gore and blood poured onto Hobart's otherwise pleasant streets.Lord Mayor Sue Hickey calls the performance “perverse”, Premier Will Hodgman has declined to intervene, noting the state government is not the art police.While he has faced court and even been jailed overseas, it does not appear Hermann Nitsch will breach any local laws.For many, the performance and the response to it raises questions about where the limits on artistic expression should be and whether freedom of expression should be absolute ... or have limits.Just as there is no right to be protected from confronting and even offensive ideas, there is no right that free expression may not be answered by more of the same. This has been a vigorous and passionate debate. No doubt there will be those who seek to show protest against 150.Action.Regardless of the emotion across the broad spectrum of opinion, tough times and tough debates help us define who we are and what we stand for.Art has the capacity to change the way we see ourselves and we see our world. Perhaps the enduring message to the people of Hobart of 150. Action is more profound and lasting than what the artist intends. Perhaps it’s not about meat and murder and death and shining a light on deep taboo.Perhaps we are forced to take something to heart whether we choose to attend, to turn away in disgust, or remain indifferent. It’s a lesson, a test and a reminder of how we conduct the most passionate of debates. And that’s peacefully and with respect.
We must be 'Tolerant' of 'Diversity' and not be 'Divisive'.
The Multiculturalism of Austria in Hobart has yet to bring Spain's offerings of Bullfights and death in the Bellerive Cricket Stadium. We may be thankful for small mercy but who knows what MoFo will bring next.
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore braved all including her soul and ventured to the orgy of blood to tell us about it.
Done to deathThe Hermann Nitsch experience‘I’m bored!’ declares my companion while yet another naked body is hoisted – like Jesus – onto a makeshift cross. ‘‘This is shit!’ he shouts above the discordant organ and brass band.Workers dressed in white pour blood into the mouths of the nude man and woman.
They are blindfolded. The liquid bubbles around their expectant lips and spills down their chests, creating a sticky red river. It gathers around their genitals and – drip, drip, drip – collects in a pool on the canvas floor.
And of the sense, of course. Abandon ye, all hope here.We are a third of the way through a three and a half hour performance by Hermann Nitsch that can only be described as a marathon of the dark arts. The Austrian artist is in Hobart to direct his 150th Orgien Mysterien Theater (Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries), otherwise known as ‘actions’, for MONA’s Dark Mofo festival. A sacrificial ritual involving 500 litres of blood, a bull carcass, and – later – lots of lithe bodies squirming in entrails, it is graphic and explicit, a ceremony that requires complete surrender to the senses.
Best charge your glasses with clean Ale before reading on.
With some 1,000 people loitering around the cold, cavernous warehouse, however, it feels like we, the audience, are being tested as much as the strung-up savants. Nearing 80 years old, Nitsch overlooks his bloody theatre like a macabre Santa Claus: rotund, with flowing silver hair and beard, he presides over a table where offal is displayed like glinting jewels on an altar.As ‘disciples’ are stretched naked – at one point, a woman is turned upside down on a cross, legs pressed together as crimson blood is poured into her crotch, creating the illusion of grotesque menstrual flow – only the slightest flicker of emotion crosses his forehead.
It reminds me of the Red Wedding, the infamous massacre scene in Game of Thrones, and Nitsch feels eerily omnipresent,....
a puppeteer silently egging on his charges to cross ever more into the obscene.Dark Mofo’s decision to put on 150.Action, of course, attracted the ire of animal rights activists: more than 22,000 people signed a petition demanding that the performance be stopped (festival organisers received death threats). On the day itself just a few dozen protestors stand outside holding up placards and hand-held mirrors – ‘to make you look at yourself,’ one tells me.Nitsch, too, calls himself an animal rights activist (the bull used for the performance was already destined for the slaughterhouse and killed at an abattoir prior to the event.) If nothing else his actions are a reminder of what eating meat really means in a sanitised supermarket world.
MONA founder David Walsh, a vegetarian who watched the entire performance wearing a shirt covered in kitsch neon grapefruits and clutching a plastic cup of red wine, stated in April: ‘I want the audience to ponder why meat for food is okay (at least people aren’t protesting at Mona’s barbeque), but meat for ritual or entertainment isn’t.’Nitsch is part of a group of Viennese artists known as The Actionists whose post-war, visceral, violent performance art demanded that the audience confront life at its most brutal: so controversial were the works that he was arrested in Austria three times. Half a century later, his pieces remain confronting and the so-called ‘relics’ – canvasses containing stains from the event or, more poetically, paintings with blood – are reminders of the carnage he carefully orchestrates.Saturating the room is the stench of raw flesh.
Captured by depravity, perhaps, Clarissa?More overwhelming still is the repetition. True, there is a build up of tension (one man’s privates are covered in animal organs; when he is carried out he shakes uncontrollably). Still, for many, the question is less if such performances count as art and more if they remain interesting.‘I won’t be going to see Nitsch because I think that as an idea and as a spectacle, his animal sacrifices and bloody entrails performances have been done to death… Deadly boring. Spare me; spare the bull. The moment when such a work was avant-garde is long… dead,’ wrote Maria Kunda, a lecturer in art theory at the University of Tasmania, in April. Or as one friend put it the night before, ‘Forget the cow! What about me?’Then, two hours in, something shifted. What was painful, dull, frustrating, becomes suddenly thrilling. Or, more uncomfortable still, moving.
Not a sight or sound of a naked Feminist protester though, 'raising consciousness' about male oppression of woman. Not a peep about treating woman as meat.A slight naked girl is lain down in front of Nitsch on the floor, blindfolded, a female sacrifice to a potent male force.
Behind her, wheeled out on a giant trolley, is, finally, the bull. As the music pumps up, its shroud is ripped off and the carcass is hoisted – headless, skinned, legs splayed – from a wooden pulley onto a chariot and paraded through the crowd. Finishing its cavalcade, it is disembowelled: disciples dive inside its guts in a frenzied, feverish dance.
Standing beside me, Walsh’s wife, American artist Kirsha Kaechele, whispered: ‘It’s beautiful.’And it was. Beautiful and disturbing. Not just because of the paganistic and religious overtones (the elaborate drinking of blood seems to channel drinking the blood of Christ) but because of the restraint and officiousness of the process, too.Directing the floor was Nitsch’s second-in-command, a graying man in white with a whistle around his neck, glasses perched on his nose, and a clipboard under his arm.
As the bloodbath unfolds around him, he refers to his schedule, slotting leaves into a folder. Reminiscent of the Nazis, who committed genocide with the tightest of paperwork, or the Aztecs, who went through elaborate rituals to kill children to appease the gods, the hysteria was less chilling to me than whistle and clipboard.
I stand behind my bartops, washing glasses, pouring pints and ladylike cocktails for my customers and ponder what goes on outside the Tavern's protective hedges. All is not well with the world and some parts are decidedly unwell.By the end, half the audience remained. In a crescendo operatic in scale, the bull is opened up entirely and the performers dive in, mixing fleshy tissue with oranges and grapes, a celebration of both death and fertility. The music heightens and Nitsch – until now, seated – stands up, eyes lifted to the heavens, and raises his hands to implore the disciples to go further, further still. I look over to my companion. He’s now in the midst of it all, cheering wildly, standing in offal, his face ecstatic. There is blood on his shoes.
Hobart is a place of Beauty. A place of Light. It has been 'corrected' by my Supplier from its beginnings as a prison. He makes all things Good. He gazes down on what we make of it all.
But that does not mean His main opposition does not try to spoil things.
Clean your mouths.