“I entered eternity countless times by experiencing the most intense moments of happiness.” Performance artist and founder of Viennese Actionism movement, Hermann Nitsch, in conversation with Antoine Schafroth about his ecstatic action painting, the idea of total artwork and his passion for tragedy.
You were a fundamental part of Viennese Actionism. Can you explain to our public what this movement was about and how it reflected, in the sixties, an important shift in the arts?
the viennese actionism was a group of like-minded artists. brus, mühl, schwarzkogler and i, were disgusted and cramped by post-fascist austria. we were locked up for our artistic achievements. brus and mühl protested politically with their art against devastatingly conservative social situations. the liberation of the sexual was important to all of us. nevertheless, don’t define my work in terms of my participation in a group. i am primarily interested in building up my own project, the orgies mysteries theatre. in an apolitical way, i was concerned with the intensity values of the tragic, the tragedy. i wanted to create an intense feast from the start.
Your practice, even when you produce paintings, is deeply performative. Do you perform differently as a human than you do as an artist, or is it a whole?
my ecstatic action painting, the sensually intense acting out, is the first stage of my theatre. the painter acts out even on the surface of the canvas. the next stage is the performance with blood, viscera and acting naked bodies. the canvas is left. the expanded theatre, the stage-less space of the event is found. man and artist are identical in excitement.
Since the beginning of your career, you have worked with the idea of total artwork – gesamtkunstwerk. Which of your work best reflects this notion? Is it linked with some kind of spirituality?
with the staging of real events, the total work of art is found. a real event is experienced through all five senses.
the use of all the senses is condensed by the shape and thus becomes an aesthetic work of art. i want to create the greatest feast of mankind. the intense experience of the senses causes the mysticism of being. my life-affirming philosophy goes the way of the mysticism of being. the deepest philosophical concept of the affirmation of the fact that is, that being is, underlies my work.
In 2007, the first Nitsch Museum opened in Mistelbach, Austria and then in 2008 it followed the one in Naples Italy. How is it to have two museums with your name? How are you involved in their programming?
i am proud to have both of the museums available to support my events. it always enables me to show my latest works, also in terms of my total work of art, my action and my music. a healthy communication with the international audience can arise.
When you think about your career, do you have a memory that overcomes all the others? If yes, can you share it with us?
the most tragic event for me was the death of my wife beate nitsch in 1977. on the other hand, i am in the fortunate situation that i was and still am allowed to do my work, and also i entered eternity countless times by experiencing the most intense moments of happiness.
What are you working on at the moment?
the score of my 6-days-play is completed. now i am working towards its realisation in prinzendorf scheduled for 25-30 july, 2022.
* the answers are written in full lower cap at the request of the artist.