Bloody rituals: The performance artist Hermann Nitsch has died. – Culture

People who absolutely want to provoke are often the greatest moralists. So if Hermann Nitsch, a marathon provocateur before the Lord, organized pseudo-religious blood orgies for more than 60 years, and is accused of blasphemy and cruelty to this day, then this is a clear indication for all less sensitive people: Here the priestly will to awaken things with the goal of better people prevails. His “Orgies Mysteries Theater”, the central action of the Austrian art druid, which he performed well over a hundred times, demanded of himself to conjure up knowledge and “deep acceptance of our tragic reality”. And of course only radical symbols could do that.

Spectators of these art rituals, which lasted hours to days, experienced processions and crucifixions, choreographed entwining of living and dead flesh, the smearing of blood and innards on naked bodies, accompanied by overwhelming music that combined oratorio with jazz and dissonant sound painting. Nitsch borrowed inspiration from ancient and shamanistic ceremonies celebrating death as a transition, from animism and satanism, from Sigmund Freud and de Sade, and combined these with Christian liturgies and symbols. With this private mythology he created his own ritual, which above all and repeatedly demanded catharsis. After purification through acquaintance with the extreme.

A painting assistant from Hermann Nitsch pours red paint onto an extra at the Bayreuth Festival. The stage design of the “Valkyrie” was designed by Nitsch in 2021.

(Photo: Enrico Nawrath/dpa)

The easygoing man with the long beard, who looked like the Lord in black, began his school of blood purification in that group of crazy Austrians who, at the beginning of the 1960s in Vienna, exceeded the limits of good taste, decency and state patience so far that some of them – including Nitsch – had to flee into German exile. Viennese Actionism knew nothing when it came to shocking people in order to show them how stuck and dull they lived. With excruciatingly incomprehensible texts, body art that went as far as self-injury, and actions in which all bodily fluids were used, the Viennese anger at the submissive, conformist and obedient to the authorities expressed itself in ever more shrill productions.

Nitsch began to cause a sensation in this circle in 1962 with a three-day “Blutorgel” performance together with Otto Muehl and Adolf Frohner, in which a sheep was crucified overhead and gutted in the finale. His famous “pouring pictures”, in which he poured blood on white linen, were also part of this initiation into the Order of Provocation Art. And from here, Nitsch continued to expand the ritual under the spell of death into sacred mysteries. From 1971, the Prinzendorf Castle in the Austrian Weinviertel was his Bayreuth for the total work of art of soul purification. His wife Beate had bought the morbid aristocratic residence for him.

First the disgust, then the realization

Only with volunteers who wanted to undergo the exhausting ritual of processions and immersion in slaughter products, Nitsch staged his overcoming of disgust to reflect on himself and the essentials. With this really radical art of metamorphoses, he quickly found recognition in the art world, which, however, often shared less the idiosyncratic metaphysical beliefs of Nitsch’s ideas of catharsis than celebrated the courage to go to extremes.

Harald Szeemann invited Nitsch’s Church of Blood Purification to documenta 5 for the first time in 1972, and he created the supreme discipline on the subject of “Individual Mythologies” with his “Orgy Mysteries Theater”. After the initial great excitement about his performances, the excitement eventually gave way to getting used to it, until even the Catholics and animal rights activists stayed away with their self-painted protest signs. Only with the fame of artists of the later generation who referred directly to Nitsch – such as Christoph Schlingensief and Marina Abramović – did Nitsch’s ordeal experience a renaissance. He showed the OMT in theaters in the noughties, with the performance in Vienna’s Burgtheater in 2005 representing a kind of great reconciliation between Nitsch and Vienna.

The doyen of provocation, who won sympathy in his public appearances primarily through humor, also conveyed his ideas of an all-encompassing artistic excitement with a spiritual horizon as a professor at various academies. His stimulating influence spreads as a role model for all artists who want to cross borders and pursue a moral idea of ​​life in harmony. On Easter Monday, the orgy priest of healing excess at the age of 83 experienced the transition of death himself. The date couldn’t be more fitting for a redemption artist obsessed with the Crucifixion story.

source site