Mannequins by Kantor
Mannequins in museum exhibitions often signify attempts to reconstruct history, they are a tool for delving into the past, which, however, does not fully achieve the intended goals (although, of course, these are subjective judgements and experiences). At the moment when theatre objects enter the space of the museum – in which two worlds meet: museum and theatre, it is worth considering the role that mannequins played in the theatre, including, and perhaps above all, in Kantor’s theatre.
The mannequins that appeared in Kantor’s performances for the first time in the production of Gosh/Kurka wodna (1967), at first „were like an intangible extension, some additional organ of the actor”. In the staging of Balladyna they duplicated actors, but as a props, dead actors, they bore the imprint of death. Mannequins were regarded as “poor” objects, they were an example of “the lowest rank of reality”. A figure that made it possible to execute transgression. An object that expressed Kantor’s conviction that life can only be expressed through contrast with its absence can only be understood through the context of death. Kantor proposed a new type of “Treatise on Mannequins”. He wrote:
„MANNEQUIN as a VIOLATION procedure
Mannequin as an EMPTY object. DUMMY.
Message of DEATH. Actor’s Model”.
Mannequins, just like wax figures, existed alongside the margins of art. Although Kantor did not agree with the idea of Craig and Kleist, according to which the actor can be replaced by a mannequin, he was fascinated by the potential of these artificial, created beings in his conviction that could best reflect the ideas of the Theatre of Death. Thus, mannequins were a tool that, through association with death, was to be a model for a living actor.
As Kantor said in an interview with Krzysztof Miklaszewski: “The mannequin in my theatre is to become a model through which a strong sense of death and the condition of the dead is to be transmitted”.
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Tadeusz Kantor, Pisma, vol. 2: Teatr Śmierci. Texts from 1975-1984, selected and developed by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Wrocław-Kraków, 2004.