From Vienna Aktion to Dionysian New York

I know you’re all probably trying to block out that recent post where I went all retro-70’s feminist artist & drew on my husband’s body with our post-coital fluids, but I mention it again because it got me thinking about the idea of art as spontaneous occurrence, and then, art as a process rather than a final result. So how fortuitous it was that Eric got a notification that Hermann Nitsch would be performing his first aktion in the U.S. in over a decade at the Mike Weiss gallery. Nitsch was one of the artists originally categorized as the Vienna Aktionists (and also the one who spoke rather dismissively about the term). How serendipitous to witness an action–an artwork where the process speaks as much as or perhaps more than the finished piece–and from an artist quite known for working in blood!

Well, when we arrived it turned out the medium was to be paint rather than blood, and we were asked to sign a waiver before entering promising not to hold the gallery responsible for injuries or anything ruined. This seemed perplexing until we saw how many in the crowd had come to this event in designer jackets and high heel shoes, despite the nature of the event. Yes, we were in Chelsea. However, the stultifying air of money was overpowered by the even more breathtaking air of art, magick, and ritual. Some of the quotes I’ve read regarding the event stated that Nitsch “was building a church”. And this was apparent not only in watching the motions with which paint were applied to canvasses and smocks, motions that were at once loose and achingly precise, but in the energy charged atmosphere.

Hermann Nitsch & assistants at workAt times long periods of time passed between any paint being applied, as Nitsch studied the walls, in a seemingly meditative state. Patterns, colors, motion that seemed to Eric & I like Sephiroth colliding with one another, as I suppose they very well may, no matter how many neatly lined up Quabbalistic diagrams I’ve seen of them.

Despite the air of mystery their workings generated, both Hermann Nitsch & his longtime assistant, Giuseppe Zevola, were warm and affable, smiling and nodding hello. At the close of the day’s events, a conversation was struck up between Zevola, Eric & myself as they smoked outside, and he invited us to return tomorrow. He also indicated having seen Eric play drums somewhere in the 80’s, and percussion was discussed. I learned the word in German for “drummer”, which I seem to have forgotten just as quickly. (Eric says it’s “schlagzeuger”! In Italian “bateria”.)

Upon returning the next day for what we figured would be an added public event, we discovered the gallery was closed, but we were brought inside anyway. I entered in awestruck silence realizing that for some reason, they had permitted us to return to watch the private completion of the aktion and seated myself quietly on the paint spattered floor next to Eric to observe. Again, Nitsch and Zevola smiled and greeted us, allaying my anxieties that I was somewhere I didn’t belong. The gallery people were as perplexed by our admission as I was (one fellow in conspicuous designer garb even wrinkled his nose a bit as if we were contagious. Though by the end he shook our hands.) But they acquiesced to the artists’ wishes.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from the private day, because I was basically just too grateful to be there that I wasn’t about to pull out a camera. At the end we thanked them again, and were asked to bring some recordings of Eric playing, which we did today. (Didn’t hang out though. The aktion complete, everyone was hectically preparing for the show’s actual opening tomorrow night.)

So I guess that’s my whole story. I feel incredibly appreciative not only to have witnessed one of the Vienna Aktionists at work, but grateful to the kindness of both Hermann Nitsch and Giuseppe Zevola to my husband and myself. The whole thing was certainly quite an experience and has given me a lot of inspiration and things to mull over, which is probably a really good thing, since now we’ve been approached to do an event regarding the Dionysian and the socio-political climate, ourselves. Destruction into creation, dissolution and rebuilding, flux, creative process. The primal unbridled. Dammit, nobody better show up expecting a fukking toga party or a neo-Pagan sing-along, ok? Yeah, good.

Hermann Nitsch himself


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