THE 73-year-old buried alive in a steel container under a busy street in Tasmania’s capital has silently emerged after three days.
A crowd of hundreds watched on a drizzly Sunday night as performance artist Mike Parr was dug up from Macquarie Street in the heart of Hobart.
It took around two hours for road workers to dig through bitumen before machinery lifted out Parr’s temporary underground tomb. He slowly climbed out just after 9.30pm to cheers and walked into a nearby building.
Parr had spent 72 hours without food in the coffin-like box as part of the Dark Mofo exhibition at the famous Museum of Old and New Art.
Oxygen was pumped into the 1.7m x 2.2m container to keep him alive and he was supplied with bedding, water, waste buckets, sketchpad and pencils.
The artist spent his time meditating, drawing and reading Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore.
Parr practiced fasting and gradually lengthened his meditation sessions in preparation for the performance.
The artwork “Underneath the Bitumen the Artist” was billed as a tribute to the victims of 20th century totalitarian violence.
But Dark Mofo curator Jarrod Rawlins added: “There are many points to this piece. You can bring to it what you will.”
Parr was “very calm”, Mr Rawlins said before the installation. Signs were placed near his lonely home just inches below the speeding traffic to let those who looked know that Parr was underneath the thoroughfare.
If things went wrong, it’s understood he had a panic button and could be dug out in a “matter of minutes”.
Some onlookers were left scratching their heads. “I don’t take anything away from it all,” Carolyn Bowerman from Townsville told AAP. “I’m just amazed that someone would put themselves through this and go to this much effort.
“I don’t know what to make of it.”
Parr admitted to feeling cautious ahead of the performance, telling The Australian: “I am starting to pull back from society. I’ll become isolated and try to visualise what it’s going to be like, to find areas of anxiety where I might panic.
“I feel very apprehensive. But, then, if I didn’t feel apprehensive what would be the point of it? That is the difference between theatre and performance art: you rehearse theatre.
“Everything is knowable and then you add style. Performance art is the very opposite of that. The good pieces condense that feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. That’s when you know you’re on to a good thing.”
Mr Rawlins said Parr would go home and rest after he resurfaced.
Some Tasmanian indigenous groups branded the work insulting but Aboriginal community member Nala Mansell was supportive. “Aboriginal history in Tasmania has been buried for over 200 years and I think it’s a great way to symbolise the fact that people are still unaware of Aboriginal history in Tasmania,” she told reporters.
Parr is no stranger to audacious works of art, having once hacked through his arm with an axe in front of a shocked audience. The audience was unaware the arm was prosthetic and he had filled it with minced meat and fake blood. On another occasion, he sewed his lips together.
The artist failed to gain approval to stage the “burial” performance in two other cities.
And it almost didn’t happen in Hobart. Mayor Ron Christie told ABC Radio Hobart he supported the annual winter festival but was concerned about the impact on traffic. “There are around 29 buses going out of the city at that time of the night,” he said. “They could’ve found somewhere else.”
Dark Mofo Creative Director Leigh Carmichael said the performance acknowledged two deeply linked events in Tasmania’s history: “The eventual transportation of 75,000 British and Irish convicts in the first half of the 19th century, and the subsequent, nearly total destruction of Tasmania’s Aboriginal population.”
“To my knowledge, it will be Tasmania’s first monument referencing both the Black War and The Convict System, because the abysmal treatment of the indigenous people and the extreme violence of the punishment meted out to the convicts are two sides of the same coin.
“It is a story that is not well known, but is ever-present, just beneath the surface of our contemporary culture. The fact that Mike Parr’s work will happen underground, just out of sight, as everyday life continues above it, is clearly no coincidence.
“In my mind at least, this has already made the most poignant and profound statement imaginable.”
When Parr eventually exits from the chamber, concrete will be poured over it to fuse its contents as a time capsule for future generations, according to the project’s directors.
MONA’s Dark Mofo also provoked controversy this year by displaying inverted crosses on the city’s waterfront, angering some Christians.
Last year, the festival was criticised by animal rights groups over a bloody sacrificial ritual that included a bull carcass.
Organisers from Dark Mofo declined to comment on Parr’s burial, leaving first words to the artist when he speaks at a public forum on Tuesday.
The container will be filled with concrete and resealed.