Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Tadeusz Kantor - Inbetween Structures / Allegories and Existence

In 1972 when Richard Demarco first brought Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor and his Cricot 2 company's production of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz's play, The Water Hen, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it was described as one critic as 'the least publicised, most talked about event' in town. Forty-three years after Kantor first captured the city's imagination, and a century after his birth, the maestro's legacy lives on in a series of events programmed in response to Poland dubbing 2015 the Year of Kantor.

In Edinburgh, the Royal Scottish Academy celebrates the legacy of Kantor's influence with a showing of a recently unearthed and hitherto unseen film of The Water Hen that forms the centrepiece of work culled from the Demarco Archive in The Water Hen: Kantor, Demarco and the Edinburgh Festival. This will be seen alongside documentation of performances from this year's Hidden Door festival by younger Polish and Scottish artists inspired by Kantor. This included a remarkable durational piece by Karolina Kubik, who crawled from King Stables Road onto the Grassmarket and around the block, marking her trail with a giant piece of chalk held in her mouth.

As part of its own Festival programme, Summerhall promises to do something similar with Tadeusz Kantor: Inbetween Structures, which focuses on the early part of Kantor's career between 1954 and 1965, not long before The Water Hen was first seen. Inbetween Structures features a series of collages, photographs, paintings, drawings and gouches that will orbit around a film which up until now has remained as rare as The Water Hen.

Attention...Painting! is an impressionistic document of Kantor's multi-faceted approach that won the prize for experimental film at the 1958 Venice Film Festival. While The Water Hen shows Kantor manipulating his performers in a way that seems to have filtered down into the onstage antics of Mark E Smith, the frontman and mainstay of wilfully truculent post-punk band The Fall, Attention...Painting! marks an even earlier fusion of forms in a way that has become increasingly influential to a younger generation of artists.

“I've seen a lot of Kantor exhibitions,” says Marc Glode, the Berlin-based art historian, critic and curator of Inbetween Structures, “but when I saw Attention...Painting!, it opened up a whole different way of thinking about his work.”

Glode has been working on Inbetween Structures with the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Institute in Berlin and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw, who are co-producing the exhibition.

“At the time the film was made Kantor was exploring all of these different forms,” Glode points out, “and there were all these different angles going on in his work that went on up until the end of the sixties when he abandoned art for Happenings. The film very elegantly brings different things together and raises questions about what is an action and what is a concept, whether that's in collage, film or theatre.”

With Kantor's theatre pieces themselves living collages, it is appropriate that Inbetween Structures runs alongside Allegories and Existence, a series of exhibitions which in part looks at the relationship between the visual arts and performance.

Allegories and Existence will be flagshipped by the first UK solo show for several years by Herman Nitsch, the Austrian Aktionist whose ritualistic performances between 1962 and 1998 under the auspices of Das Orgien Mysterian Theater (which roughly translates as Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries or The orgiastic Mystery Theatre) are documented in a series of Dyonisian-inspired images.

Summerhall's Exhibitions Programmer Holly Knox Yeoman has also programmed work by twelve artists presented by disabled arts commissioning body, Unlimited, and performance-based works by Scottish artists David Sherry and the three Orton sisters – Anna, Katie and Sophie – who make up Ortonandon.

With the umbilical links down the generations plain to see, Knox Yeoman plans to theme future programmes even more in this direction, and observes that “Performance used to be something a lot of artists were uncomfortable with, but in some ways its become the norm now. People expect to be taken out of their comfort zone, but it's also about coming together and understanding the importance of that. In Summerhall, where there's so much going on, having younger artists seen alongside pioneers like Kantor and Nitsch is really interesting.”

Glode sees the rise in performance-based work among artists as being a reaction to the immediacies afforded by new technology.

“There's been a shift in how we receive information and how we can get so much information for free online,” he says. “That's created this urge to experience the nowness of things, and one of the ways to do that is through performance and theatre. To do that you have to make the effort to go to the theatre and stay there for two hours, and in an age where we can get everything online that's quite a commitment. People aren't used to making that sort of commitment anymore, so when they do it's quite an intense experience, but there's a sense of authenticity that comes from that.

“For me, this expansion of nowness is very important, and allows for a lot more openness, where even the smell of objects can be really crucial to the experience. That's why there are re-enactments of important events. A lot of people see theatre as something that's really old school, but at its heart is this very basic experience of nowness.”

Tadeusz Kantor - Inbetween Structures forms part of Allegories and Existence, Summerhall, Aug 5-Oct 5. The Water Hen: Kantor, Demarco and the Edinburgh Festival, Royal Scottish Academy until September 5th.

The Herald, August 11th 2015


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