The always colourful Dark Mofo event in Tasmania has outdone itself in the controversy stakes this year as rival factions quarrel over the ethical and artistic merits of slaughtering a bull for the sake of an art show.
The three-hour show at the centre of the debate, 150.Action — by Austrian "actionist" Hermann Nitsch — involves the use of a bull's carcass and entrails along with 500 litres of blood, as has much of the 78-year-old's work over the years, as a statement on ritual sacrifice.
But its inclusion in Dark Mofo's program — Nitsch's first performance in Australia — has provoked a stark, polarised response from several parties, including Animal Liberation Tasmania, the Museum Of New & Old Art founder David Walsh and even an animal sanctuary that has offered to rehome the bull presently marked for "humane" slaughter to spare it its current fate.
As ABC reports, Animal Liberation Tasmania has condemned the show, saying that, given that "nearly 700 million land animals were slaughtered in Australian slaughter houses" in 2016, it will see "this animal adding to that number for something so trivial as what people think is art".
"We do not agree with the notion that there is such a thing as humane slaughter," spokeswoman Kristy Alger told the ABC. "You cannot humanely kill someone who does not want to die."
The group has started a change.org petition addressed to Lord Mayor Sue Hickey calling for the performance to be blocked, garnering more than 16,000 signatures so far.
According to a separate ABC report, Hickey herself acknowledged the often confronting nature of Walsh's exhibitions, but described the show as "one step too far".
"If we allowed people to pay for tickets and go to a snuff movie where people are murdered for the sake of art, is that acceptable?" she said.
"I am not being hypocritical. This is brutal. It is just sick."
Walsh defended his decision to book the show (supporters of which have launched their own petition, garnering 54 signatures so far) in an online statement saying that it is designed to make its viewers "ponder why meat for food is OK by meat for ritual or entertainment isn't" — though, he added, "I still don't know whether Nitsch's performance is justified."
As The Mercury notes, given that Walsh has suggested that the artist's purposes have been served by "spiking a conversation" about human attitudes about meat, Tasmania's Brightside Farm Sanctuary has offered to rehome the bull, though Walsh declined to respond.
ALT spokeswoman Alger said: "We thank Mr Walsh and Dark Mofo for igniting such an interesting public debate over the ethics of our treatment of non-human animals.
"As Mr Walsh has said, his purposes have already been served [and] we now encourage him to accept our proposal to rescue this animal from slaughter in an ultimate act of mercy."
The saga will undoubtedly continue to unfold in the lead-up to the festival.
Dark Mofo runs in Hobart from 8-21 June.