Read Our Conversation With the Last of the Great Actionists, Hermann Nitsch

Photograph by Luci Lux

Herman Nitsch is considered the last of the great ‘Actionists.’ Together with fellow Austrian artists Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, he developed what would become one of the most violent and “depraved” artistic movements of the 20th century. In reaction to a complacent post-war society, Nitsch aimed for realism…shocking, brutal realism, which he insists is only a mirror to man’s own innate brutality and thirst for violence and defilement. His performances, which are held under the title of The Orgies Mysteries Theater, were so shocking and real, that he has been arrested multiple times and even exiled from his own country. His action performances, or “aktionens,” vary in length – sometimes they last several days – but they always convey a sense of pagan ritual, replete with human and animal sacrifices, copulation, blood drinking and bloodletting, disembowelment, intestines spilling from carcasses, dance, music, and audience participation. In one filmed performance, held in Germany in 1970, you can find Nitsch disemboweling a goat, removing the intestines, forcing participants to drink the blood, placing a female participant on a crucifix and then inserting his penis into her vagina through the entrails. Autre was fortunate enough to have a chat with Hermann Nitsch from his studio in Vienna – our conversation ranged from development of The Orgy Mystery Theater, how the artist embraces his work in the face of possible jail time, the success of his current show in Palermo and what he likes to do for fun. Click here to read the full conversation.