On Lars von Trier, Enfant Terrible of Danish Art Film


Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Anyone interested in contemporary art is likely to have spent a good deal of time pondering the nature and role of artistic provocation. Provocation as a crucial feature of artistic practice was largely unknown before 1800 (Walker 1999: 1). The idea of 'shocking the recipient' was, however, 'a dominant principle of artistic intent' for members of the various avant-garde movements that emerged in the early decades of the 20th century (Peter Bürger, cited in Walker: 2), and at this point the provocateur is a well-known and even expected figure in the landscape of art. It is not difficult to think of examples of artworks that are self-evidently about creating a sense of outrage. Let me mention just a few well-known works that prompted a public outcry: Rick Gibson's Human Earrings (1985), which consists of a mannequin's head from which dangle earrings made with twelve-week-old freeze dried foetuses (Walker: 150); Piss Christ (1989) by the Honduran and Afro-Cuban American artist Andres Serrano whose red-tinged photograph depicts a crucifix submerged in (the artist's) urine; Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (1991) by Canadian Jana Sterbak was exhibited, among other places, at the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1991. Made with 50 pounds of raw beef, the dress was displayed on a hanger alongside a photograph of a woman wearing it. An enactment of decay, this work involved the replacing of decomposed meat with new meat after six weeks. In 1971 performance artist Chris Burden had himself shot by an assistant, the very shooting becoming the work Shoot. With roots traceable to Viennese Actionism, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch, and the 'AA Kommune', Yugoslavian filmmaker Dušan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974) features sexually provocative scenes cast in quasi-political terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-29
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Parts of this article were presented, in the form of a keynote, at 'Denmark and the Black Atlantic,' University of Copenhagen, 2006.


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