Magazine article Artforum International

Cruel and Composed

Magazine article Artforum International

Cruel and Composed

Article excerpt

The stunning schedule of events for Hermann Nitsch's Six-Day-Play, a happening held last August at his Schloss, in Prinzendorf, Austria, reads like a cross between death-metal theatrics and harmonic-convergence hippiedom. The day begins, "5:32 AM: Sunrise. Slaughter and disembowelment of a bull." This kicks off a tight lineup: Primal Excess, Primal Beginnings, Matricide, Patricide, Fratricide, the Murder on the Cross, and the Fall. There's a lunch break - nothing like fratricide to work up an appetite - followed by "Partial mounting of the mythical leitmotif," with a unison hooting of all the assembled orchestras and brass bands. The next day's events begin at sunrise. At 9 AM, brass bands walk around the castle in opposite directions; at 10, in the granary, Nitsch and some actors in the play make paintings by dripping blood onto white surfaces. Lunch again, followed by the blinding of Oedipus, ritual castration and regicide, and the crucifixion of Christ. And so on, until the end, when, under a rising sun, "the participants kiss and hug one another."

No one has ever accused the veteran of Viennese Aktionismus of underdoing it. A multimedia artist (painter, composer, dramatist) whose work alternately directs reverence and violence toward the big Catholic totems, Nitsch is just as much a Fitzcarraldo-like obsessive about documentation. Since the early '60s, he has filmed and photographed the productions of his "Orgies Mysteries Theater," but sound is as important a component as visuals in these Gesamtkunstwerks. Nitsch has said that the form of the symphony lies underneath the six-day play, and has gone so far as to call the third day a "scherzo." He cites the nineteenth-century composers Scriabin and particularly Wagner rather than any visual artists as inspirations. But while his drawings and paintings have been shown extensively in the context of Aktionismus, his caterwauling music has only recently received much of a separate hearing.

What's made the difference is the patronage of Gary Todd's Organ of Corti label, in Malibu, California, which has also brought out the work of various minimalists and maximalists like Terry Riley, Derek Bailey, and the Los Angeles Free Music Society. Nitsch's fourdisc Island: Eine Sinfonie in 10 Satzen, recorded in 1980 in Iceland and originally put out by Dieter Roth Verlag, is now being issued by a record label with an extra-art world identity; the result is that Nitsch's work has been pushed toward the noise-loving wing of the contemporarymusic audience, rather than its European Conceptual-art counterpart. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.