Animals, art and death: Hermann Nitsch’s Six-Day Play

April 2022 update: RIP to the great man.  A shame he didn’t live to see the Six-Day Play performed again, stymied first by his tax affairs and then by COVID-19.

March 2022 update: it’s still going ahead, but only days 1 and 2 will be performed.

April 2021 update: the performance has now been postponed to July 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This post is linked in the Wikipedia article on Hermann Nitsch, and for that reason alone gets more hits than the usual pitiful hit count for posts on this blog. So I thought it might be useful to update it briefly, since Nitsch is finally getting around to his long-promised re-run of the Six-Day Play, which is now planned to take part in Prinzendorf in July 2021.

I wrote the post below in 2013, when my fascination with Nitsch was at its height. Since then, I’ve pretty much lost interest in Nitsch, for two main reasons. First, I left Vienna in 2017 and moved to Geneva. No longer living in the home of Viennese Actionism, and thus no longer being able to visit Nitsch’s castle in Prinzendorf or the Nitsch museum in Mistelbach, my interest in the whole scene naturally began to wane. What’s more, by then I had amassed sufficient Nitsch screenprints (original paintings were, of course, way out of my price range), signed books and LPs to last me a lifetime.

Secondly, and more importantly, I gradually became fed up with the loud and persistent way in which Nitsch’s staff were announcing his presence on social media. There were far too many events, Facebook posts and Instagram stories for my liking, all of which had the effect of demystifying an artist who had always relied on a certain amount of mystery for his impact. The first time I visited Prinzendorf for the annual Pfingstfest (Pentecost feast), it was hardly advertised at all save for a short notice buried deep in Nitsch’s website and the annual newsletter mailed out to subscribers. I suspect that Nitsch’s well publicized brush with the Austrian tax authorities, and the need to raise funds for the restaging of the Six-Day Play, made it necessary to start rattling the collection jar – which is something Nitsch, or rather his people, have been doing loudly ever since. As a result, the Pfingstfest has become uncomfortably overcrowded in recent years, which is not something I ever thought would happen at a Nitsch action. Anyway, it was time for me to bow out, and all things considered, I won’t be at Prinzendorf next summer.

Original 2013 post follows:

There seems to be a bit of a storm brewing over Hermann Nitsch‘s Three-Day Play in Leipzig next month. An online petition protesting at the planned killing of a cow and some pigs during the play has gathered over 6,000 signatures in just a few days. I can see this thing reaching the mainstream media any day now, so I’d like to use my little corner of the internet to inject some much-needed corrective thinking.

I have no idea whether any animals will be slaughtered as part of this play, although it wouldn’t surprise me. We went through all this in 1998, when Nitsch performed his Six-Day Play in Prinzendorf (a re-run of which is planned for 2020). Animals were killed there, to predictable howls of outrage and demonstrations outside the castle as the action took place. What those people didn’t understand, and the Leipzig protesters are also failing to grasp, is that the animals killed during Nitsch’s actions are due for the chop anyway. If they hadn’t been killed there, they would have been killed in the slaughterhouse. Furthermore, their meat is cooked and eaten by participants in the action, just as surely as it would be if they had met their end in the abattoir. This idea of animals being killed “in the name of art” is, therefore, entirely spurious.

As for me, I’m still seething over the fact that I’m not going to be able to make it over to Leipzig for this, Nitsch’s first major action in eight years.

7 thoughts on “Animals, art and death: Hermann Nitsch’s Six-Day Play

  1. If you’re going to slaughter animals “in the name of art”, that would seem to be the responsible way to do it… Really no story here.

    Btw I was in Prinzendorf in 1998 und zwar a 10 year old Bub! If one is going to be scarred for life by such things – and I certainly wasn’t – then I like to think I’d have more legitimate claim to outrage than adults who are perfectly capable of informing themselves of what Nitsch is about and steering clear in the event they don’t like the sound of it. In any case the experience is one that remained with me for all the right reasons and I’ve followed Nitsch’s work with interest ever since. An irresponsible Austrian godfather is really the best kind to have…

    • Hi!

      Thank you for your article. Could you give any link or source of information about the re-run programmed for 2016? It would be much appreciated!
      Thank you!

      • Hi Medit, thank you for the comment. Actually there is nothing definite planned for 2016. I got the information from speaking to his management at an event a few months ago, but since he now has problems with the tax authorities in Austria the whole thing is on hold. If I hear anything more I’ll update this page.

  2. Hi! Nitsch is about to present in Mexico. There is a lot of controversy and I was looking by my own information about him and if they eat the animals later, but either I just found negative reactions against the use of animals but without any further details or I just found very philosophical and aesthetics interpretations that then again don’t give real information about the whole process that the animals follow. Any link? Any information? I will thanks it a lot?

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. First of all I was very sorry to hear that the exhibition has been cancelled. I find this an unbelievable decision, especially since (as I understand it) there was no action planned, only a concert and exhibition. Why do you think the exhibition was cancelled? I’d be very interested to hear your views.

      To answer your question, there are a few words on this subject in a book called Blood Orgies: Hermann Nitsch in America edited by Aaron Levy (Slought Books, 2008), page 84:

      “Despite the displacement of animal slaughter to isolated abattoirs increasingly distanced from the city center, the practice was never abandoned in the country farms where Nitsch acquires animals for the OMT performances… The lambs and bulls included in the OMT rituals are then consumed during Prinzendorf’s feasts.”

      I seem to remember reading something else about this as well but I can’t find it right now, I will post again if I do.

      • Hi! Thanks for you answering. Mexico is a complex place. People is trying to be aware of animals rights buuut there is not yet a real position or a whole kwnoledge about all the implications of humans rights and furthermore we dont have a whole position as a society. I think people didnot understand completly what was it about the work of Nitszch and the Museum where we was supposed to present didnot help at all. There was not a clear idea about “what was suppose to be the exposition of his work”. I consider myself an art lover, and when I saw the negative reactions about him I try to find if there is a real harm to the animals or how its the process (for example if he gets the animals from a boutchery and they were animals that anyway suppose to be killed later for food, that’s ok for me, also for example if they eat the meat later) but when i try to look forward I could not find any real information not neither from the museum. I know english so I had this option, but most of the mexican population doesnt know english so there is not litteraly any info in spanish… if you just google Nitsch in google mex it just give creepy stuff. I think people got scared without really knowing further details :-/ Well, that’s Mexico! You are all the times scared of what you dont know…

    • It doesnt matter if the animals were eaten or disposed of. The fact that the slaughter of animals is made a spectacle is negative to me. Especially in society today, where we consume meat like it grows on trees. Where no thought is given to the process of eating an animal.

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