Provocation: How Far Can an Artist Go?

Steven Berkoff
25 August, 2008

Why you should listen

Steven Berkoff

What is the role of an artist? Why do artists need to provoke and how far is too far? Often controversial and always entertaining, UK actor, director, playwright and author Steven Berkoff attempted to answer these fundamental questions when he appeared at Sydney Ideas. In the wake of the Bill Henson controversy, where Henson’s images of children were removed from a Sydney art gallery after accusations of child pornography, Berkoff looked at the role of artists to challenge ideas and ideals and staunchly deplored any form of censorship. “My feeling is there are absolutely no limits beyond which you should ever be afraid to go,’ he told the Sydney Ideas audience. “Art is limitless. It has to be limitless. It has to free us of all the things we think, feel, worry about, concern ourselves in the most profound and deepest fundamental core of our being.” Despite opposition from the establishment who feared that this could “encourage all the psychos, deviants, perverts and maniacs,” he argues that this was “exactly what we want.” He says that in “allowing the raging neurotic creators” to work, “in the end we might find something quite wonderful, something quite profound.” The East-End born Berkoff is renowned for his high-octane work playing villains in Octopussy (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) as well as roles in Clockwork Orange (1971) and Decadence (1994). Most recently he has become known for his highly acclaimed theatrical performances, direction and stage adaptations, including adaptations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Macbeth and Oscar Wilde’s Salome. In 1997 he was honoured with a Total Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award at the Edinburgh Festival. Berkoff was in Australia to tour his work One Man.

“There is something mesmerising, gleeful, vulgar and outrageous about Steven Berkoff's adaptability as an actor which makes an audience take notice even when he's not uttering a word”Bryce Hallett, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2008