Bloody Man: The Ritual Art of Hermann Nitsch

Hermann Nitsch (born 29 August 1938) is an Austrian artist who works in experimental and multimedia modes.  Born in Vienna, Nitsch received training in painting when studied at the Wiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchanstalt, during which time he was drawn to religious art. He is associated with the Vienna Actionists—a loosely affiliated group of off-kilter and confrontational Austrian artists that also includes Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Nitsch’s abstract splatter paintings, like his performance pieces, address the excessive beauty and intensification of human existence. In the 1950s, Nitsch conceived of the Orgien Mysterien Theater (which roughly translates as Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries or The Orgiastic Mystery Theater), staging nearly 100 performances between 1962 and 1998.                                                                           Nitsch’s Orgies Mysterien Theater performances (or Aktionen, as he calls them) can be considered both ritualistic and existential. The scene is often involved with slaughters, religious sacrifices, crucifixion, as well as blood and flesh. The performances are also accompanied with music, dancing, and active participants.   There were five kinds of objects at Nitsch’sexhibition:

(1) a lot of canvases smeared with blood-like paint (varying in colour from bright red to violet black), often incorporating a blood-stained smock – a priest’s vestment or maybe a surgical robe;

(2) tables with ritual objects such as ecclesiastical items, medical equipment (syringes, scalpels, bandages,etc), and containers with blood;

(3) colour and black-and-white photos made during performances;

(4) Nitsch’s drawings presenting both a map andscenario for performances, and

(5) video-recordings of performances showncontinuously on screens of four TV-sets arranged together ina corner of the hall.

All these formed a total space of Nitsch’s mystery. It was not actual mystery, of course, but only its documentation (as Nitsch himself emphasized in an interviewgiven one Sunday in the Gallery). However, it was enough to cause – if not a nervous breackdown then – at least spasms in your stomach.
The spectator was stund by the abundance. Images and objects acted as variations of a single theme, of one action, which enormously amplified their effect.
Nitsch, however, pursues something more then pureartistic aims. He seeks not only to startle the audience by some special effects but also in a sense to convert them. The total space of his mystery – space of a slaughterhouse – acqures symbolical and even mystical significance.                                                                                                                             In his theoretical wrightings (from which the most known is Orgien, Mysterien, Theater, Darmstadt, 1969) he proclaimed his wish to revive antient Dionysian and Christian rites and refers to Aristitle’s notion of catharsis through fear, terror and compassion. He believes that natural human instincts have been repressed by the social norms and conventions. The ritualized acts of killing animals and physical contact with blood are supposed to be a mean of releasing that repressed energy as well as an act of purification and redemption through suffering . He provides his own art with therapeutic and religious functions, which act, in fact, as one. (Mixing of medical and ecclesiastical symbols in his art is, of course, quite deliberate).

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