Hermann Nitsch (* 1938) / Otto Mühl (* 1925) / Ludwig Hoffenreich (1902–1975)
During his education at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in the 1950s Hermann Nitsch devoted himself to the study of philosophy, psychology and literature. In 1957 he developed the concept for the „Orgien-Mysterien-Theater” and wrote experimental poems and dramas. Influenced by Arnulf Rainer’s „overpaintings” he produced his first splatter- and wax paintings in 1960, at the same time he designed the first of three „Abreaktionsspiele” and staged his first painting action in November of the same year. In cooperation with Otto Mühl he organised a counter event to the Wiener Festwochen in 1963 which they called „Fest des psycho-physischen Naturalismus”. At this event Nitsch intended to perform his third action and Otto Mühl his first.
The image at hand, taken by Ludwig Hoffenreich, who was the photographer at many of Nitsch’s, Mühl’s, Brus’ and Schwarzkogler’s actions, shows Nitsch on a bed, covered with sheets drenched in blood and splattered with intestines. The white sheets on the walls and on the floor of the setting – Mühl’s basement studio in Perinetgasse – are also splashed with blood and intestines. In this action Nitsch played the part of the passive protagonist, Mühl acted as his assistant.
The performance started with the drenching of Nitsch’s body in warm water, blood and intestines and ended with a ritualistic tearing of a lamb executed by Nitsch. A large audience watched the spectacle through a window from the street until the police ended the event before it could finish. Mühl was not able to hold his action. The first public performance of Viennese Actionism ended with a police complaint for indecent behaviour and breach of the peace, both artists were sentenced to two weeks in prison.
In a text from the 1970s Nitsch describes his motivations and the cathartic effect his actions are meant to have: „[I] try […] to offer a kind of vent with my work, through which the oppressed, the suppressed can be abreacted.” He invokes Freud’s psychoanalysis, „that taught me to look into these abysses of ecstasy and aggression”.
Michaela Seiser, © WestLicht
Lit.: Viennese Actionism 1960–1971, Vol. 2, The Shattered Mirror, ed. by Hubert Klocker in cooperation with Graphische Sammlung Albertina Wien and Museum Ludwig Köln, Klagenfurt 1989, p. 19 and p. 267–290.