Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990)
Let the Artists Die / Niech szczezną artyści (1986)
Let the Artists Die opened a series of performances by Kantor in which reflections on his achievements and transformations of old motifs played a very important part.

Let the Artists Die / Niech szczezną artyści was created in collaboration with Nuremberg’s Institut für moderne Kunst and Milan’s Centro di Ricerca per il Teatro. Kantor also accepted an invitation to Nuremberg from the banker and art patron Karl G. Schmidt. The final rehearsals took place there (they had began in Kraków). The play premiered in the German city in 1985.

The performance’s title is linked to an anecdote often told by Kantor: the neighbours of a Paris gallery ran by Catherine Thieck didn’t want to agree to the reconstruction of this gallery located in a shared tenement building. One of the neighbours shouted in protest: “Let the artists die!”. The title also references the biography of one of the characters – Veit Stoss. After returning to Nuremberg from Kraków, the sculptor was punished for forgery by being branded on both cheeks. Kantor was very strongly affected by this story, which became to him an illustration of the conflict between artist and society.

The play had the subtitle Revue / Rewia. It blends childhood memories, images from the past (the committed-to-memory image of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who is called “You-Know-Who” in the play), scenes of death and burial, and references to Veit Stoss.

The artist told Krzysztof Miklaszewski what follows:

To me, the setting doesn’t exist this time, but the memories evoked time and time again cause the “shared room” to sometimes be a pub, a place of refuge for a gang of artists and crooks, sometimes a cemetery warehouse, whose inhabitants exist on the same terms as stored items and sometimes a nursery, in which a little boy plays with his imagination.

The topic of dying, taken partially from Zbigniew Uniłowski’s novel The Shared Room / Wspólny pokój (1932), became a very important component of the play. In the aforementioned interview Kantor explained that:

In this performance, I wanted dying to be an “adhesive”, joining various symptoms of life, and becoming almost a structure of the whole.

Kantor looks closely at his childhood memories and at his own death. As in the earlier performances, he is present on stage, he performs as “I – a real character, the main perpetrator of it all”. The twin brothers Wacław and Lesław Janicki play the part of a certain, double emanation of Kantor. One of them performs as “I – the dying one, a stage character”, the other as “Author of the stage character of the dying one, the one that describes himself and his own death in this character”. Kantor added the character of a small boy in a wooden pram to this split stage portrait of himself: “I – when I was six”.

After the room turns into a second-rate pub, Master Veit Stoss enters it to abruptly “assemble” his work with the assistance of his aggressive torturers. They attach the characters present on stage to whipping posts, creating a living sculpture resembling Stoss’ altar from St. Mary’s Church in Kraków.

Let the Artists Die opens a series of performances by Kantor in which reflections on his achievements and transformations of old motifs play a very important part. Jan Kłossowicz commented on this issue in the following way:

It’s clear to see how all the basic tendencies and stylistic qualities which predominated in his earlier performances meet in this one. There are “machines”, objects, objects-actors and bio-objects here. There are also “found” objects and characters. Happening activities recur and the actors’ actions are based on the principle of “circus vividness” – clownishness. The whole relates to The Reality of the Lowest Rank and takes place in a “marketplace booth”, a “theatre of thrills”.

Author: Karolina Czerska, December 2014 Transl. M.K.