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19 juni 2020 

Bloody Bacchanalias and Dying Gods in The Orgies Mysteries Theater of Hermann Nitsch

Hermann Nitsch (b. 1938) is an Austrian artist famous for his outrageous performances involving naked actors, animal blood, wooden crosses, and other attributes of what we imagine to be the Ancient Greek ritual. Nitsch founded The Orgies Mysteries Theater in the 1950s and became a remarkable figure among Viennese actionists in later decades.

Scandal-provoking

Because of his scandal-provoking performances, Nitsch drew a sentence of half a year on probation in 1966. Now he is a maestro of actionism with the one thousand pages long monography on his art. Anyone can take part in his mass performances for a contribution. So if you want to know what it’s like to be a Greek bacchant, he is an artist who can provide you this sort of entertainment.

Hermann Nitsch the Orgies Mysteries Theater

Fig. 1. Senza titolo, 1984. Taken from artnet.com. Nitsch often uses guts and carcasses in his actions which reminds of works by Francis Bacon or Chaim Soutine.

Of Nitsch and Nietzsche

Speaking of his theater, Nitsch says that the reason to found it was his urge to create “a total work of art” or a Gesamtkunstwerk as Richard Wagner would call it. Just like this German composer, Nitsch considers drama to be the best art form to represent a synthetic work that gives you all arts in one. The first famous work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy From The Spirit of Music (1872) was devoted to the Greek culture and Greek tragedy in particular. According to Nietzsche, the death of Dionysus was the only plot of every performance. Characters like Prometheus and Oedipus were masks of the suffering god.

Fig. 2. 2005.11.19. Burgtheater, Vienna 8 hours action. Photo by Georg Soulek (nitsch.org)

Bestial Instincts

The principal function of these tragedies was to allow the audience to experience catharsis or release. Looking at the lead character’s fate, people could realize the evolvement of being, the transcendent law of the Universe, which reigns over every creature, even over the gods. Nitsch has the same goal when he makes his actions. Being born in war times, he saw a lot of violence around him and wanted people to release from their primary bestial instincts.

Bloody Floods

The sight of bloody floods, crosses, and actors in white сlothing is supposed to give people an emotional freeing. The blood of the animals from the near butchery replaces billions of liters of blood that people spill during wars. Actors hanging on crosses embody all divine creatures about whom people fantasized and whom they murdered so brutally in every myth or legend.

Fig. 3. Senza titolo, 2001. Taken from artnet.com

Fig. 4. 107 Aktion, 2001. Taken from artnet.com

Sensory Experience

There is one thing that makes the difference when we speak of Nitsch’s theater. The artist refuses the language in his dramas and appeals to human senses instead. “I demand from my audience direct sensory experience. The play had directives telling them to taste, smell, look, listen, and touch. Flesh, innards, and fruit were given to the audience to touch and feel. Odors were spread, incense and other materials were burnt, liquids like blood, fuel, vinegar, milk, urine, petrol, turpentine, ammoniac, hot water were poured throughout the theatre venue” (Nitsch on his first play staged at the end of the 1950s).\

Fig. 5. Aktion 8.12.1969, photograph by Ludwig Hoffenreich (artnet.com)

Fig. 6. Left: 122. Aktion 2005.11.19. Burgtheater, Vienna, 8 hours Photo by Georg Soulek (nitsch.org). Right: Francis Bacon Painting (1946)

Fig. 7. 1975.7.26 Prinzendorf, 24 hours action. Photo by Kurt Will (nitsch.org)

Underlying Sensuality

The art of Hermann Nitsch is not sensual or erotic in the conventional sense of these terms, but the exposed flesh of the suffering god has a certain eroticism in it. The nature of cloistresses’ ecstasy in front of the crucifixion is close to the sensual tension.

Fig. 8. 1975.7.26 Prinzendorf, 24 hours action. Photo by Kurt Will (nitsch.org)

Fig. 9. Untitled. Taken from artnet.com

Porn Industry

If we look at the porn industry, there are plenty of blue movies using the image of blood as a stimulus of sexual desire, e. g. Rasputin: Orgien am Zarenhof (1984), where you can see not only orgies but also bleeding czarevitch Aleksey.

Fig. 10. Scene from Rasputin

Fig. 11. Left: 96. Action 1996.5.26, Studio Morra and Vigna San Martino, Naples, 12 hours, Photo: F. Donato (nitsch.org). Right: Kuniyoshi, ‘Crucifixion of Okoma’ (‘Okoma no karitsuke’) from Kaidan hyakki yagyô, 1830.

If you want to learn more about this artist, visit nitsch.org

Click HERE for two articles on subversive designs in shunga….!!

Can you advice us on future topics concerning sensual art? Leave your reaction in the comment box below….!!

About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
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