Buried alive: Performance artist Mike Parr begins 72-hour entombment

From The Age, 15 June 2018
by Melanie Kembrey

For a man about to be buried alive, Mike Parr made little fuss.

To the cheers and camera flashes of a large crowd, the 72-year-old swiftly climbed down the ladder into the steel container where he will be interred for three days, without food, beneath one of Tasmania’s busiest roads.

Mike Parr will spend 72 hours buried underground in this chamber.
Mike Parr will spend 72 hours buried underground in this chamber. Photo: Supplied

Parr is famous for pushing art, and human endurance, to its limits. The Australian artist’s intense performances have included sewing up his face, nailing his arm to the wall and being splattered with his own blood.

Shortly after he entered the specially-built chamber (it measures in at 4.5m x 1.7m x 2.2m) on Thursday night, the bitumen was resealed above him and the busy thoroughfare outside Hobart’s Town Hall re-opened to traffic.


A crane closes over Parr's home for the next three days, as the crowd in Tasmania watches on.
A crane closes over Parr’s home for the next three days, as the crowd in Tasmania watches on. Photo: Supplied

Beneath the ground for 72 hours, Parr has with him a copy of Robert Hughes’ account of the colonisation of Australia, The Fatal Shore, a sketchpad and pencils, a meditation stool, a light, bedding, water, a folding stool and wash and waste buckets.

Air is being supplied through a fan and there is a panic button in case of emergency (organisers say that they can excavate Parr in a matter of minutes).

The work, entitled Underneath the Bitumen the Artist, is Parr’s third and final for the Museum of Old and New Art’s annual winter festival Dark Mofo.

It has been described as a tribute to victims of 20th-century totalitarianism, and a monument to the Aboriginal victims of British colonial violence.


Cars driving over Parr's newly-sealed chamber.
Cars driving over Parr’s newly-sealed chamber. Photo: Supplied

Dark Mofo curator Jarrod Rawlins described Parr as “very calm, very relaxed, very focused” in the hours leading up this burial. Parr has been fasting in preparation, and did not give any interviews in the immediate lead-up to is entombment.

“There are many points to this piece. The artist doesn’t make a claim for anything specific about this piece. You bring to it what you will,” Rawlins said.

“Mike wants to talk about totalitarian violence throughout the world, not just in Australia, and so it is a global issue for him. But Mike is very careful to make sure everyone understands that this is not a representation of anything. This is actually about what what you want to bring to it.”

While some Tasmanian Aboriginals have said they were “insulted” by the work and the fact they were not consulted beforehand, others came to show their support for Parr.


This is actually about what what you want to bring to it.


Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre spokesman Michael Mansell said too many people were in the dark about the near total eradication of Aboriginal people in Tasmania and Parr was making “a very, very courageous point”.

“This man here said, ‘I’m going to be buried for three days because I think too much truth is being buried’.

“That’s the point we have been trying to make for the last 200 years and it takes things like this to make people sit up and listen.”

Parr will be unearthed on Sunday, 9pm and his steel chamber and its contents will be back-filled, preserved under the road for future generations.

Dark Mofo takes place in Hobart, Tasmania, until June 24.

Melanie Kembrey travelled to Tasmania courtesy of Dark Mofo.

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