Mikala Dwyer's performance piece at ACCA in which BalletLab dancers open their bowels, if they feel so moved.

A performer enthroned during the dance sequence of Goldene Bend'er and hopefully participating in what artist Mikala Dwyer says is our most democratic act.

Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts - so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting last night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

The two-hour act saw the six dancers, masked but naked beneath sheer garments, move around a room in the gallery before sitting on transparent stools and performing - only if they were moved to do so - what is usually one of our most private and rarely discussed daily acts.

Dwyer said the one-off performance was not designed as a mere shock tactic. Rather, she hoped ACCA visitors would think and talk about something we have been socialised to consider dirty and shameful, and have historically hidden from view, even though it is perfectly natural. In turn, they might transform other institutionalised ideas about the world.

Stools of thought... excrement has made many appearances in the arts over the years.

Stools of thought... excrement has made many appearances in the arts over the years.

The Balletlab performance is a small part of a much bigger Dwyer exhibition of sculpture and painting called Goldene Bend'er. A video of a private version of the performance, in which Dwyer participated, is also on view.

While it all might set tongues wagging, Dwyer, a highly respected artist with an impressive CV who is a painting lecturer at the University of Sydney, hopes we will do so with seriousness, maturity and sensitivity. As she said, this is humanity's most democratic act: from royalty and supermodels to politicians or the tiniest newborn baby, we all participate in this necessary biological function. ''Shit has a great truth to it,'' she said.

ACCA director Juliana Engberg said the centre exists to support each exhibiting artist's vision. ''Of course, contemporary art is sometimes very challenging, but ACCA's role is to work with challenging ideas,'' she said.

''When Mikala brought this idea of a performance and film dealing with material transformation and ritual to us, we evaluated it as a key and bold move in her practice, one that links to a long artistic legacy looking at alchemical transformation and magical performance. The work, while challenging taboos, never becomes sensational or gratuitous. It's wonderful, powerful work.''

ACCA did extensive public and occupational health and safety risk assessments.

The transparent seats were covered at all times during the performance and exhibition opening.

They were partly emptied, disinfected, sealed and returned to the gallery after the performance and no staff handled them.

The exhibition runs until July 28. accaonline.org.au