Tadeusz Kantor Today
Metamorphoses of Death, Memory and Presence- Translated by Anda MacBride
Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Katarzyna Fazan – Tadeusz Kantor – Yesterday and Today
- 1. Actors and Witnesses Make a Grand Entrance
- Renato Palazzi – Kantor’s Greatness: An Inconvenient Heritage
- Loriano Della Rocca – Tadeusz Kantor, Krakow, 8th December 1990 – 8th December 2010
- Krzysztof Miklaszewski – The Actor in Kantor’s Theatre: A Visionary’s Questions, a Practitioner’s Answers and a Contemporary Post Script
- Andrzej Wełmiński – Function and Significance of the Theatre Company in the Development of Cricot 2 Productions
- 2. Paintings and Objects: Etymologies and Evolutions
- Lech Stangret – The Role of Drawing in the Creation of Tadeusz Kantor’s Self-mythology
- Dominika Łarionow – Tadeusz Kantor’s Mannequin and Edward G. Craig’s Über-Marionette: An Outline of an Idea
- Anna R. Burzyńska – Returns of the Rhinoceros
- Katarzyna Osińska – Don Quixote according to Kantor: Between Reality and Fiction
- Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska – Tadeusz Kantor: ... Velázquez’s Infantas as Sacred Relics or Madonnas
- Josep Maria de Sagarra Àngel – Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Emotions: Apropos the Spanish Reception of the Artist
- Amos Fergombe – The Door, Frame or Transcendental Threshold in the Work of Tadeusz Kantor
- 3. Revisiting Scenes from the Theatre: Between Life and History
- Klaudiusz Święcicki – Anthropology of History and Memory in the Theatrical Work of Tadeusz Kantor
- Grzegorz Niziołek – Anxiety and What Next…
- Wojciech Owczarski – The Theatre of Dreams in The Theatre of Death
- Cécile Coutin – La Machine de l’Amour et de la Mort de Tadeusz Kantor
- Mateusz Chaberski – What Can Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class Tell Us about The Dead Class? – The Political Dimension of Memory in the Work of Tadeusz Kantor
- Marek Pieniążek – Kantor – Reactivating One’s Own Reality: Late Productions by Cricot 2
- Michal Kobialka – Epilogue. Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Personal Confessions: Notes on Late Style
- 4. Writings, Recordings, Clichés and the Living Archive
- Jan Kłossowicz – The Anatomy Lesson: Kantor’s Plots
- Paweł Stangret – Reading Tadeusz Kantor
- Katarzyna Tokarska-Stangret – ‘Non omnis moriar’ of the Theatre Artist
- Jean-Pierre Thibaudat – Autour de la photographie de Wielopole
- Anna Halczak – CRICOTEKA – ‘The Necessity of Transmission’
- 5. Associations and Confrontations: Shared Topoi and Division Lines
- Marie-Thérèse Vido-Rzewuska – Kantor, Schulz, Malczewski, Wyspiański: Some Paradoxes
- Andrzej Turowski – Dazzling Afterimages
- Jaromir Jedliński – Kantor and Beuys: Parallel Processes?
- Rafał Solewski – Heritage and Identity in Tadeusz Kantor’s Oeuvre and Postmodernism
- Zbigniew Osiński – Tadeusz Kantor – Jerzy Grotowski: Two Concepts of Theatre and Art
- Ruggero Bianchi – Minor Notes on a Borderline Artist
- Klaus Dermutz – ‘The Horror of War and/of The World, with the Circus Mixed.’ Reflections by Anselm Kiefer on Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre
- Katarzyna Fazan – Shadows of the Polish Odysseus: Wyspiański – Kantor – Grzegorzewski
- Uta Schorlemmer – Present Absence in Tadeusz Kantor’s and Christoph Schlingensief’s Late Performances
- About the Authors
- List of Illustrations
| 11 →
Tadeusz Kantor – Yesterday and Today
(…) to create
a work of art.1
Time, space and death – these are the leitmotifs of Kantor’s art and reflection. Towards the end of his life, the artist wrote:
Time / which is to blame / for hopeless repetition / saves us / from mortal boredom. / It’s time that makes / those repetitions / horribly ad infinitum – / come closer / shrink / to zero, and it’s only then, / in that vacuum / as if in another dimension, / that the proper forms appear / and actions…2
A powerful, unique presence ‘here and now’, testing the appropriate form and sense of existence against the dynamics of time and space as well as their cohesion – all these became the characteristics of Kantor’s art spanning different traditions, places and times. Before the volume that we now place in your hands came into being as a record of the most recent contemporary interpretations of Kantor’s work, an exceptional, intimate encounter had taken place, filled with reminiscences about the artist, occasioned by another anniversary of his death. After more than twenty years had passed since Tadeusz Kantor’s death on 8 December 1990, regardless of any manifestation of memory, there also arose a definite need to revisit intellectually his opus and to define our stance towards it. We wanted to reveal a vista of memories as well as present new and original reflections. Such a re-interpretation of Kantor’s art made it imperative that in order to participate in this dialogue with his legacy, we should invite researchers and artists of different ← 11 | 12 → generations and from all over the world, both those who had experienced Kantor’s productions first-hand or, more than that, had participated in their creation, and those who were not in a position to experience the emotional impact of the Theatre of Death because they had been born too late. That approach allowed for a collage of free associations, a compilation of different outlooks and a panorama of divergent but complementary deliberations. The title of the present volume, Tadeusz Kantor Today alludes to Kantor’s last production, Today Is My Birthday (1990), as well as, in a sense, harks back to Dietrich Mahlow’s 1965 film Kantor ist da (Kantor Is Here, evoked by Uta Schorlemmer in the joint publication Art Is Crime: Tadeusz Kantor and Germany / Switzerland in 2007). We succumbed to time having taken its toll by our meeting in the circumstances of the celebration of an anniversary – as if in defiance of the contemporary disinclination for such conventional occasions. In our attempt to achieve the ‘impossibility’ of resurrecting the presence of Tadeusz Kantor so as to view the true form of his work in the contemporary metamorphoses of interpretation, we followed Kantor’s own conviction that there is a point in revisiting and repeating the past. At the same time, we initiated the process of reflection and re-assessment of the theatrical and painterly legacy of the artist. These deliberations have eventually come to fruition in the present articles and essays.
To invoke the exceptional atmosphere of the occasion that gave rise to the present volume of studies, let me record briefly its circumstances. On 8 December 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the death of Tadeusz Kantor was marked, as was the annual custom, by living statues with the participation of Cricot 2 actors Jan Książek as the Eternal Wanderer and Lesław and Wacław Janicki as the Two Hasidim with the Plank of Last Resort. In the ceremony and discussion that took place at the Krzysztofory Gallery, the general public met the artists of Cricot 2, including Italian members of the company who had come over especially for the occasion. There were academic presentations and contributions from artists invited to participate in panels as well as from curators debating how best to display Kantor’s material heritage; those present also had the opportunity to view the exhibition of objects used in Kantor’s productions and the exhibition of his drawings for Today Is My Birthday, staged in 1990 – the last production of the Krakow artist. This was an occasion to remind the audience of less well-known films and records related to Kantor’s art (such as the 1957 Attention!… Painting. Tadeusz Kantor Painting and Sacks, Wardrobe and Umbrella made by Dietrich Mahlow in 1968). There was also the first-ever public screening of Ken McMullen’s Lovelies and Dowdies – a recording of the production of the same title shown in Edinburgh in 1973.
Thus, the ambiance of the get-together-cum-symposium was far from that of a conventional academic gathering; there was no scope there for presenting already ← 12 | 13 → elaborated theses. One piece of evidence that the order of artistic and research procedures could be blended was brought back to the audience by a screening of a recording made during the conference entitled Art and Freedom which had been organised at the Jagiellonian University exactly twenty years earlier, in 1990. At the conference, Kantor had carried out impromptu interventions into findings put forward by academics. This time, the event initiated by Cricoteka and, again, by the Jagiellonian University, was hosted by the Krzysztofory Gallery. One more venue was provided by another co-organiser of the symposium, The Ludwik Solski State Drama School in Krakow, and this was the Classical Stage in the building in Warszawska Street. In the theatre there, Kantor’s Goplana (the object of Kantor’s theatre) was set up, a relic of the remote past; in the audience, there sat Marta Stebnicka – the actress who had played Skierka in the wartime staging of Balladyna (1943), based on a drama by Juliusz Słowacki, a Polish Romantic poet. It was there that projects of the future Museum of Tadeusz Kantor were displayed. And so the commemoration of the anniversary of the artist’s death, which continued for a number of days, took place in suspension between the past and the future, placing a singular significance on the word ‘today’.
This ambiance of the event overflowed into the tone and rhetoric of some of the texts. There were those that had the form of a spontaneous or improvised statement, only later tidied up by being put in writing. Others sounded like manifestos or scripts for a theatrical monodrama. Side by side with reflections deeply steeped in living memory – memory that, according to Kantor, is ‘madness if it concerns time lost’ – there appeared reflections written with a sense of detachment, which introduced unexpected comparisons and methodologies. Thus, we are dealing here with a continuation of research – the repetition and development of thought processes – of authors who had spent years devoting their time to encounters with Kantor, as well as comments that stemmed from the novelty of the experience of one’s own discovery of Kantor the artist from the past, an artist of the last century. For yet other authors who have contributed to the present compilation, the opus of the creator of the Theatre of Death is a cognitive episode that belongs to a broader spectrum of stage and aesthetic phenomena they have been involved with. This is also a chance to hear the voices of the researchers for whom Kantor is an artist from a different cultural sphere, voices that are decidedly revitalising. The volume is deliberately polyphonic – allowing insights from within art as well as statements distanced from it; the details of Kantor’s legacy are sometimes scrutinised almost micrographically, whilst some approaches view his opus within the parameters of a broadly conceived culture.
Perhaps it is a coincidence (coincidences being so much appreciated by Kantor himself) that the participants of the get-together were primarily interested in the genesis and history of Kantor’s paintings and artistic objects: in the interpretative ← 13 | 14 → landscape, there appeared drawings, the figure of the rhinoceros, the mannequin, the Infanta, Don Quixote, frames, windows, doors, thresholds… (for instance, in the contributions from Lech Stangret, Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska, Katarzyna Osińska and Amos Fergombe). Another theme that engaged Kantor researchers was that of the ‘memory scenes’ and repetition in his Theatre of Death – which compelled one to return in various ways, frequently in the original contexts, to The Dead Class, perceived not so much as a watershed moment as a time of inhibition and anxiety (in Grzegorz Niziołek’s take), to Wielopole, Wielopole (through the analysis of a single photograph in the essay by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat Autour de la photographie de Wielopole), The Machine of Love and Death, in the interpretation of the French author Cécile Coutin (La Machine de l’Amour et de La Mort de Tadeusz Kantor), or I Shall Never Return, construed as a challenge to Kantor’s status as an actor viewed various perspectives, as an artistic work that exists ‘in suspension’, revolving around the mystery of the borderline/threshold moment of existence. It was perhaps due to the circumstance of the anniversary of Kantor’s death, with its mysterious influence of Death, whom he called The Mistress, that the reflection centred overwhelmingly on Kantor’s late achievements, on his productions from the time of the Theatre of Death. The very theme of the artist’s ‘late style’ (as Michal Kobialka referred to it, applying a concept of Theodor Adorno and Edward Said) drew the attention of many authors in the volume, contemplating (as for instance Uta Schorlemmer did) death as a work of art. The art, with its complexities in positing eschatological questions, attracts various systems of reference: philosophical, historiosophical and aesthetic. Admittedly, a revival of Kantor’s opus has been helped by the renaissance of contemporary historiography, which values individual memory, and by contemporary strategies of exploring the theatre as an autonomous statement – a creative act not anchored in text. It turns out that Kantor used devices such as photography and film, reality and repetition, in a truly trailblazing way in relation to the theoretical and conceptual framework of the existing artistic practice. It often seems that it is only today that, armed with the notions of the postdramatic theatre and the category of postmemory, we can properly access Kantor’s intuition eternalised in art. On the other hand, the ephemerality of its stage forms provokes questions, which are frequently apparent in the texts presented here, concerning the validity and use of the analysis of artistic objects or structures without a live stage appearance. To express disquiet occasioned by the transient nature of theatrical art is not, however, synonymous with giving up the desire to reconstruct it.
Side by side with the analysis focused on the anatomy of Kantor’s work, there has arisen a host of ‘illegal’ statements that constitute a ‘trespass’ (to use the artist’s own phraseology) by invading the fortress of Kantor’s formidable sense of his own individuality, which he did not tolerate being in any way subjected to ← 14 | 15 → comparisons or juxtapositions. The vista of confronting his art with that of other authors has allowed one to observe it clashing with strong individualities, while at the same time combining the areas of visual art and the theatre, disciplines which – as can be appreciated from the present perspective (something that Kantor intuited very powerfully from early on) – both co-exist and stimulate each other. Kantor’s art has been juxtaposed here with that of such authors as Władysław Strzemiński, Joseph Beuys, Jerzy Grotowski, Joseph Chaikin, Dario Fo, Cristoph Schlingensief, Anselm Kiefer and Jerzy Grzegorzewski. The presented texts investigate similarities but also analyse differences, allowing for the autonomy of a genuine work of art.
It is a pity that only a few texts, mainly by practitioners, touch on the topic of the acting in Cricot 2. The artists of ‘The Fairground Booth’ have provided first-hand accounts of Kantor’s method and have staunchly upheld his concept of the actor – a figure who for the creator of the Theatre of Death was, as we recall, a ‘naked image of man’. This appears to be an important pointer towards an area of Kantor research, largely neglected until now, that merits new investigation.
The compiled pieces of analyses do thus fill in some gaps but also highlight blank spaces that need to be filled in on the Kantor map. New possibilities of alternative approaches to Kantor’s art seem to be accessed by analysis of his texts (by Jan Kłossowicz, for one), using film documentation or employing new strategies of thinking (such as Andrzej Turowski’s surprising juxtapositions and comparisons). Also, to a lesser extent, the potential has been unfolded for a radical critical reinterpretation that would controvert Kantor studies to date or even the artist himself. This is certainly evidence of Kantor’s powerful charisma still exerting its absolute pull. Rather, a thread of opposition against the prevailing forms of reception of his work appeared in discussions taking up such themes as the need to find a fitting vocabulary for the opus of the creator of Cricot 2 outside its own sphere of reference and the artist’s own terminology, or the need to abandon the proliferation of traditions and ever-repeating contexts, something that Kantor himself pointed out. Nor was it possible to open the interesting topic of the revision of the meanings and classification proposed by Polish painters since the turn of the century in their vigorous, polemic confrontation with Tadeusz Kantor, as evidenced, for one, by the exhibition The Impossible Theatre and its catalogue3 in Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art. In turn, the directors and ← 15 | 16 → playwrights of the new generation invited to enter the discussion (such as Paweł Passini, Krzysztof Garbaczewski, Michał Borczuch, Marcin Wierzchowski) – the majority of whom had not had the opportunity to get to know Kantor’s art during his lifetime – when debating about Kantor’s ‘impossible tradition’, emphasised its objective significance and their own positive attitude towards it, albeit mostly devoid of any tangible dependency thereon. The panel confirmed the observation made by Renato Palazzi at the opening of the symposium that Tadeusz Kantor’s influence on contemporary artists was oblique; he had pioneered ways of treating painting and theatrical substance as well as directing and working with actors rather than evolved any clear-cut techniques or strategies that would lend themselves to emulation by others. Kantor himself had foreseen this when, in the throes of his drive for the archiving of his own opus (described at the symposium by Anna Halczak), he remarked that the basis of the ‘living archive’ that he had designed for his works was to pass it on to his successors: they would be creating the next stages in the evolution of the theatre and art, probably – as he suspected – in a spirit of opposition.
The symposium was thus very intense; and yet, now that ‘today’ has become ‘yesterday’ and the statements that it has generated are being systematised and presented in no more than a single volume of work, there is a growing sense of incompleteness and of the need for further revisiting and revision of the themes. In this, the effect of Kantor’s great gift is evident: that his art finds its moment to explode with an unexpected contemporary force. As Klaus Dermutz has noted, in Kantor’s (and in Kiefer’s) art, it makes sense to ‘link “today” with Walter Benjamin’s historical and philosophical term “time present” (“Jetzt-Zeit”)’. In his essay Theses on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin describes ‘cessation of happening’4 as energy exploding outside the fragmented historical continuum burdened with the past. The present can also be found – according to Kantor – in memories of the past that forever haunt the present continuous. The fragile today inevitably evolves into yesterday and it is only art that can transform yesterday into a liberated realness.
1 T. Kantor, an excerpt from the poem O, Seigneur, originally written in French and translated into Polish by M. Rostworowska, in: T. Kantor, Dalej już nic… Teksty z lat 1985–1990, Pisma, vol. III, comp. and ed. by K. Pleśniarowicz, Kraków–Wrocław 2005, p. 443.
If not otherwise indicated, Tadeusz Kantor’s texts have been translated by Anda MacBride, the translator of the book.
2 T. Kantor, To wszystko jest prawdą! in: idem, Dalej już nic… Teksty z lat 1985–1990, Pisma, vol. III, p. 203.
3 The exhibition, curated by S. Folie, had been shown earlier in the Kunsthalle in Vienna (2005) and at the Barbican Centre in London (2006). It was accompanied by the catalogue Teatr Niemożliwy: performatywność w sztuce Pawła Althamera, Tadeusza Kantora, Katarzyny Kozyry, Roberta Kuśmirowskiego i Artura Żmijewskiego – The Impossible Theatre: Performativity in the Works of Paweł Althamer, Tadeusz Kantor, Katarzyna Kozyra, Robert Kuśmirowski and Artur Żmijewski, Warszawa 2006.
4 W. Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. and with introduction by H. Arendt, trans. by H. Zohn, New York, 1969, p. 263.
| 17 →
Actors and Witnesses Make a Grand Entrance
| 19 →
Kantor’s Greatness: An Inconvenient Heritage
We are here to ask ourselves what remains of Kantor in the theatre today. I mean, what remains, beyond what will always be deeply imprinted in the minds and hearts of all who knew him closely, beyond the perception of an inexpressible, absolute genius, of creativity that admitted no limits or boundaries.
It is clear that none of us can imagine our own death without thinking of a twin, our alter ego bowed beside the bed, hat in hand, ready to give us a final farewell. It is clear that none of us can think again of our childhood without a perfect child’s handcart appearing before our eyes. And we all are now aware of carrying on our backs a waxwork of what we once were.1
But what has really survived of Kantor in the daily practice of the theatre? I think that it is neither justified nor actually right to have high hopes in this matter. Kantor’s personality, as we all know, was unique and unforgettable thanks to his history and the artistic results achieved. This uniqueness testifies to his greatness, but it may also be viewed as his misfortune, the reason why he was denied the chance to leave a legacy that one could gather and carry on.
Trying to repeat, or worse, to imitate what Kantor did, would be impossible or even deplorable. I am, therefore, convinced that very little remains now on the stage of Kantor’s disruptive innovation. If we think of recovering the high poetry of the Theatre of Death, the secret of Kantor’s ability to meld laughter and pain, clowning and tragedy, we must resign ourselves to the fact that all this is gone with him, and that it can never be revived by anyone else, however talented.
If we think we can reconstruct Kantor’s dazzling ability to express in a gesture, an object or an image all the contradictions and all the horrors of the century in which he was a participant and of which he was an incomparable witness, a century which he depicted as an unparalleled compendium in his works, we are wrong: this possibility slipped away together with the twentieth century, with its world wars, with its carnage, with its bloody dictatorships.
Now, there are new wars, new bloodshed, new dreadful dictatorships, but they are different, ambiguous and unsettling and they need to be depicted in a more indirect way. The image of trainloads of deportees is painfully lodged in the dark ← 19 | 20 → memory of our times, but there are other abuses of power and violence that the media show us every day.
Moreover, the company of Cricot 2 themselves, after the death of the master, had a clear perception that their career could not continue, that the impulse – originating in the flesh – to go back to practising, to the creative processes cultivated for decades, had to be suppressed, however ruthlessly, since to follow it without Kantor would result in an inevitable externalisation.
We must beware of apparent similarities, of easy parallels that might be misleading. While asserting the genius of Eimuntas Nekrošius, for example, many have been tempted to find some ‘Kantoresque’ ancestry in his visionary and obsessive use of objects or of timber. But it is important to remember that merely to quote another artist, in a more or less intentional or deliberate way, is not sufficient to be proclaimed the bearer of his heritage. It is quite impossible to compare Kantor’s total freedom on the stage to the qualitatively different, restless world of the Lithuanian director, with its Stanislavskian references.
By the same token, the young French choreographer Gisèle Vienne fills her performances with puppets and eerie life-size wooden dolls, but it would be absurd to confuse these dislocated Lolitas, victims of rapes and brutal murderous fantasies, with the paltry ‘doppelgangers’ that question the identity and self-awareness of the living, whose features they awkwardly reproduce.
There is simply no style, technique or method of directing used by Kantor that can be replicated. The elements of his language are so distinct and full of implications that they must dissuade everyone from trying to imitate them in a banal way. It is, therefore, groundless to think that something of him may have survived in this sense.
But such an explosive experience as Kantor cannot really vanish without leaving a trace.
We may say that something of Kantor’s personality lives in the minds of all those who are engaged in the idea of the avant-garde as an extreme vocation, an absolute faith, beyond the results achieved and the currents in which it appears. We may say that something of Kantor remains in all those who live their role in the theatre as a need, those driven to the extreme, breaking down conventions and ceaselessly violating the rules of their times, regardless of what the rules are and in what way they are violated. If all these people have found somewhat steadier ground on which to move, this is certainly also due to the persistent opening of doors by Kantor and his Cricot 2 actors.
This is, however, a rather general assumption. Perhaps Kantor himself would have found it a bit too rhetorical.
So one wonders whether it is not the way in which we ask the question that is wrong – whether it is not wrong to ask what we can find of Kantor in the theatre ← 20 | 21 → today, instead of asking more concretely and pragmatically what we could and should look for, knowing from the start that what we search for and what we may find will coincide only in part, and that we will, in any case, be able to identify not particular points but rather trends and areas to research.
I believe that we can look for something of Kantor in all those – and there are many of them now – who see the theatre not as the representation of a plot in the full meaning of the word, a chain of events in a text, but as the development of pure action on the stage in its own way: the set of gestures, tics, behaviours more or less pointless, that purposeless form that Kantor would have called the mix of daily reality.
We can look for something of Kantor in all those who practise a theatre (also gaining popularity) not aimed at a mere interpretation of pre-existing characters, conceived by an author, but at bringing to the fore actors from other spheres or disciplines, figures ‘taken from life’, real people, who are ‘found’, rich in artistic truth or existentially deeper.
We can look for something of Kantor in all those who recognise the expressive value of the raw material (of whatever origin); material taken as it comes, not treated or reworked aesthetically. We can look for it in all those who want to treat the stage as a physical and mental place where you do not reproduce defined environments, but where the matter accumulates and expands, giving form and tracing its borders.
We can look for something of Kantor in all those who come to the theatre from the visual arts, painting, design, video art – like most Italian directors of the new generation – and who view the language of the performing art as a space of a non-narrative construction as well as of a dazzling metaphorical synthesis.
- XXXII, 426
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2014 (August)
- performance acting manifestos Maler Theatertheoretiker Absurdes Theater experimentelles Theater
- Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XXXII, 426 pp., 54 b/w fig., 1 graph