Death in The Name of Art

David Walsh is no stranger to controversy.

MONA itself is one mass of controversy. Walsh even goes so far to admit that the theme of Hobart’s most infamous museum is sex and death – two things that, for most people, find quite confronting to discuss.

That’s why when I heard that Walsh had organised for Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch to perform at this year’s Dark Mofo, I found it hard to be too surprised.

Nitsch’s work is ritualistic and existential, often involving slaughter, religious sacrifices, and crucifixion. It is for this reason that his involvement with this year’s Dark Mofo has been met with such anger and controversy.

It’s because a bull will be slaughtered prior to Nitsch’s performance on June 17, and its corpse will be mutilated and hung up for all to see in the name of art.

In an interview with Vice, Nitsch discussed why he uses flesh and blood as his medium.

“There are no limits in art. In my opinion, everything can be art. Although at some point you might have to face the penal code and your own conscience,” Nitsch said.

“I try to produce real events in my theatre, which can be experienced with all five senses, thus being an artistic synthesis. That’s my effort: to deal with immediate colour, real flesh, real entrails, the human body.”

Nitsch’s aim to produce an ‘artistic synthesis’, however, has caused a massive stir with Tasmania’s animal rights groups, politicians, and the public.

On April 24 a petition on by Animal Liberation Tasmania with over 20,000 signatures was handed over to the Hobart City Council with the aim to put a stop to Nitsch’s 150th Action.

The petition stated that the performance “trivialises the slaughter of animals for human usage, and condemns a sentient being to death in the pursuit of artistic endeavours.”

David Walsh does not seem to be phased.

In Walsh’s blog post on MONA’s website, he discussed his thoughts behind the drama.

“These performances are pretty gory, and superficially (perhaps at every level) pointless…For my purposes, it is good art. I believe it has already spiked a conversation about the appropriateness of slaughter and Dark Mofo hasn’t even happened yet.” Walsh said.

“In my opinion, people consume meat because they like it, and they consume art because they like it. When art (even accidentally) makes explicit what eating meat entails (slaughter, pain, blood, guts) they don’t like it.”

Creative Director of Dark Mofo Leigh Carmichael also had this to say about the performance.

“We understand that his work will be confronting and difficult, but we will not shy away from presenting work that challenges us to consider the ethical implications of our actions both today, and in the past.”

The performance, which comes with a warning due to the distressing imagery, nudity, and strong adult themes involved, seems to still be going ahead. All ticket allocations have been filled as of May 6, but apparently more are to be released soon.

David Walsh and Dark Mofo have done their job. Nitsch’s involvement in Dark Mofo has opened up a dialogue, and many people are now deeply considering the implications of the slaughter of animals whether it be for art or for consumption.

The whole of Tasmania, if not Australia, are now debating the issue and discussing the ethical and moral issues with art and the use of meat.

And, as David Walsh says: Dark Mofo hasn’t even happened yet.


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