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Hermann Nitsch (1938 - )

Lifespan: 1938 -

Related: Viennese actionism - Vienna - performance art - body art


Hermann Nitsch is an Austrian performance artist, associated with the Vienna Actionists.

Hermann Nitsch is known for his ritualistic performance actions, often combining fake crucifixion with the disembowelling of lambs and other animals. He created the Orgies-Mysteries Theatre, staging nearly 100 performances between the years of 1962 and 1998. In 1998, Nitsch staged his 100th performance (named the 6-Day Play after its length) which took place at his castle in Austria, called Schloss Prinzendorf. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Nitsch [Aug 2004]


For Hermann Nitsch, violence and art co-existed. His performance art events, called 'Aktions', began in 1962 with the disembowelling of a dead sheep. They reached their zenith in 1998 with the Bacchanalian excesses of his six-day orgy of blood, gore, and entrails. Franko B, though displaying none of Nitsch's frenzied blood-lust, nevertheless also uses the bleeding body as the basis of his art. With Otto Muhl, Gunter Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Nitsch formed the Weiner Aktionismus collective, whose performances involved coprophagy and masturbation. Muhl's performances/aktions reached a wider audience as they were filmed and released as the compilation Beyond The Edge Of Depravity (1975). The less anarchic side of 'body-art' was represented by performance artists such as Marina Abramovic and Chris Burden. Abramovic's work explored the nature of suffering and culpability, such as her performance Rhythm O (1974) during which she gave razors to her audience and allowed them to cut into her flesh. Burden tested the limits of bodily endurance: for Shoot (1971) he was shot in the arm and for Trans-Fixed (1974) he was crucified onto the roof of a car. --http://www.matthewhunt.com/taboo/death.html [Aug 2004]


(Irm and Ed Sommer, West Germany, 1969)

A scene from Herman Nitsch's sacrilegious happening which combines cruelty, sexuality, and visual shock for ideological purpose; here a young women is "crucified" and defiled with a lamb carcass that has been disembowelled. The idea of re- demption is intensified into pornography to offer a forbidden glance into our prohibited sado-masochistic impulses.

Since 1963, the German avant-gardist Hermann Nitsch has created a series of live happening, which (like Otto Muehl's Sodoma) combine cruelty, sexuality, defilement, and visual shock for purposes of purification, and "ab-reaction" of sado- masochist impulses. This is a film record of his most contro- versial creation: the crucifixion of a young woman, the dis- embowelling of a lamb carcass, and her defilement with it.

"By the act of crucifixion, disembowelment, defilement, and dismemberment of a lamb carcass the sadistic urge to kill and masochistic wish for self-sacrifice are substituted. Historically, these drives have found no outlet in culture and religion, the potentialities of the sado-masochist instinct being guarded by secret and prohibition. The substitute act of the lamb crucifixion is a brief, forbidden, lustful glance into this potential and serves as partial resolution of that connec- tion with displacement which Nitsch also calls ab-reaction."

In the Maria-Conception-Action, the eroticisation and desubli- mation of the idea of redemption is intensified into pornography ... it complements the flesh of the lamb carcass with that of the female nude and is crucified allegorically like the lamb and together with it. The slitting open and evisceration of the lamb carcass corresponds visually to the opening and pushing apart of the vagina; the defilement and dismemberment of the lamb corresponds to the pouring over or covering of the nude female body with blood and entrails, and finally, to the sex act itself, which Nitsch -- again in an allegorically obscene substitute act -- completes with a godemiche." - Peter Gorsen, Sexualaesthetik, 1972 --Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel

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