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.  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.