Storm erupts over Nitsch’s bull slaughter at Tasmanian museum

Campaigners demand axing of performance by Actionist at MONA's Dark Mofo festival


Animal rights campaigners are calling for the cancellation of a performance in Australia by the Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch, one of the founding members of the Viennese Actionists.

The event in question, which is scheduled to take place in Tasmania on 17 June, will involve the slaughtering of a bull before the performance begins. Actors and an orchestra will then use the animal carcass to stage a “bloody, sacrificial ritual”, according to the website of Dark Mofo, an annual music festival organised by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

On 18 April the activist group Animal Liberation Tasmania launched an online petition on asking the city of Hobart to block the performance because it “trivialises the slaughter of animals for human usage, and condemns a sentient being to death in the pursuit of artistic endeavours”. At the time of writing, the petition had been signed by over 6,000 supporters.

Dark Mofo's creative director Leigh Carmichael says in an email: “The Hermann Nitsch work in question uses meat, fish, fruit and blood, live performers and an orchestra as part of the performance. The animal to be used is specifically on the market for slaughter. The carcass will be sourced locally, and the animal will be killed humanely, adhering to Australian standards.”

In a blog post on 19 April, MONA founder David Walsh said: “For my purposes, it is good art. I believe that it has already spiked a conversation about the appropriateness of slaughter, and Dark Mofo hasn’t even happened yet." He added: "I want the audience to ponder why meat for food is okay (at least people aren’t protesting at Mona’s barbeque) but meat for ritual or entertainment isn’t.”

He continued: “If Nitsch’s performance is wrong… get out there and stop it. And you should also have a crack at getting your own house in order. You should, of course, stop eating meat and rapacious crops, and you should stop doing anything that has cost (economic, social or environmental).” 

The controversy follows the cancellation in January 2015 of a Nitsch exhibition at the Jumex Collection in Mexico City, which also galvanised animal rights activists. In a statement released at the time, Nitsch said: “Everybody who knows me, knows that I am an animal protector. From my point of view, factory farming is the biggest crime in our society.”