David Walsh is no stranger to controversy. The multimillionaire professional gambler and founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Australia has been shocking visitors with his private art collection since it opened to the public in 2011. It comes as no surprise then that Walsh’s latest project, which involves the use of a bull carcass to perform a “bloody, sacrificial ritual” has stirred up a maelstrom of protest.
Part of MONA’s yearly winter solstice festival, ‘Dark Mofo’, the performance is the brainchild of Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch. A founding member of the Viennese Actionism movement, Nitsch is notorious for using disturbing imagery and themes of violence, ritual and religion in his artwork.
According to the artist, his past performances have resulted in “several court trials and three prison terms”.
With this latest work, entitled ‘150 Action’, Nitsch plans to source a local bull, which is to be “slaughtered humanely” and then used to stage a three-hour ritual involving local volunteers and an orchestra. Restricted to viewers over 18 years of age, it is scheduled to take place on June 17 in a shed at Hobart’s Macquarie Point. A warning on the Dark Mofo website advises that the work “contains distressing imagery, nudity and strong adult themes”.
Outraged by the planned event, over 16,000 people have signed an online petition launched by Animal Liberation Tasmania calling for Hobart City Council to intervene. The petition asks Lord Mayor Sue Hickey to cancel the event, which “trivialises the slaughter of animals for human usage, and condemns a sentient being to death in the pursuit of artistic endeavours”.
Defending the piece, Walsh wrote in his blog on 19 April that it has ignited a necessary debate about “why meat for food is okay (at least people aren’t protesting at Mona’s barbecue) but meat for ritual or entertainment isn’t”. “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”, Walsh writes.
Commenting on another of his performances, which was scheduled to take place in Mexico City in January 2015 Nitsch expressed the belief that “factory farming is the biggest crime in our society.” That performance was cancelled out of concern that its bloody nature might distress a country already shaken by violence and political unrest.