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Bike is an exhibit from Tadeusz Kantor’s performance Umarła klasa [The Dead Class].The premiere took place in the Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków in November 1975. In the play was a prop of an “old man with a bicycle” going round and round, saying goodbye and leaving in step to the François waltz. The old man was played by Andrzej Wełmiński.

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Bike is an exhibit from Tadeusz Kantor’s performance Umarła klasa [The Dead Class].The premiere took place in the Krzysztofory Gallery in Kraków in November 1975. In the play was a prop of an “old man with a bicycle” going round and round, saying goodbye and leaving in step to the François waltz. The old man was played by Andrzej Wełmiński. The metal “bike” was modelled after an old bicycle with a support and a saddle, and an installed crank mechanism that moved the right wheel and raised the left arm of the attached mannequin of a pupil wearing a black school uniform. It was a kind of bio-object about which Kantor wrote: “An OLD MAN WITH A BICYCLE never parts with his bicycle, a pathetic and battered toy from the childhood years ... he constantly goes on night trips on it, but the space has become strangely limited to the school class around the benches... and it is not he that sits on this weird vehicle but, an outspread dead child ... all this happens during the NIGHT LESSON and in a DREAM...”[1]
During the second premiere performance on 16 December 1975, at the Grand Entrance when the “old man with a bicycle” was right in front of the audience and turned the crank, the large wheel detached from the body and the small balls of the bearing scattered at the feet of the viewers sitting in the first few rows. The actor had to carry the bicycle in pieces until the end of the performance.
This is how Andrzej Wełmiński recalled the story of the Bike after some years:
“The bicycle was to become my main partner in the play. I was supposed to go on night trips around the benches.
We gave much thought to what this bicycle should be like, look like and move like. Everyone pitched in some ideas while Tadeusz was drawing. On the next day the three of us — Kantor, Jasiu Książek and me — went to the ironworks.
The bicycle was completed in a couple of hours. We went through a pile of garbage to choose some wheels, toothed bars, pipes, screws and rods, and tried what would be best. And Jasiu welded.
Then we attached the mannequin doll of a boy, and I came up with the idea that its one arm should be moved by the eccentric mechanism.
This resulted in a moving sculpture (somehow similar to the kinetic, welded works of Tinguely). A large bicycle wheel was put into motion manually with a crank, but it did not drive the bicycle because it was elevated and did not touch the floor. The bicycle was pushed or, possibly, carried.”[2]
Tadeusz Kantor described it as a “complicated vehicle similar to a bicycle with an outstretched or outspread mannequin of a boy in a school uniform. Another Machine of Oppression created for Umarła klasa [The Dead Class] in 1975.” /T. Kantor/[3]
According to Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Umarła klasa [The Dead Class] was staged in the years 1975–1986 and in 1989, as well as after the artist’s death in the years 1991–1992, it was staged for a total of 500 times in 56 cities (apart from Kraków) in 20 countries situated on 5 continents.

Elaborated by Józef Chrobak, Justyna Michalik (The Cricoteka Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor), © all rights reserved


[1] T. Kantor, Postacie Umarłej klasy, [in:] T. Kantor, Pisma, Vol. 2: Teatr Śmierci. Teksty z lat 1975–1984, elab. K. Pleśniarowicz, Wrocław–Kraków 2004, p. 34;
[2]
 A. Wełmiński, Między Umarłą klasą a Wielopolem, Wielopolem, [in:] Teatr Pamięci Tadeusza Kantora. Wypisy z przeszłości, ed. J. Chrobak, M. Wilk, Dębica 2008, p. 30;
[3]
 T. Kantor, Komentarz, [in:] T. Kantor, Pisma, Vol. 3: Dalej już nic. Teksty z lat 19851990, elab. K. Pleśniarowicz, Wrocław–Kraków 2005, p. 440.

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Figures of the theatre of death

On the bench, there are seated: a Prostitute/Night-walker, a Woman with a Mechanical Cradle, a Woman Behind the Window, an Old Man with a Bicycle, an Old Man from the Toilet, the Old Man Podofilemiak, and Paralytics. In the procession of the characters, Pedel in Past Simple (the school janitor, in this case referring to the tradition of the Galician school) also appears as does the Cleaner/Death.

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On the bench, there are seated: a Prostitute/Night-walker, a Woman with a Mechanical Cradle, a Woman Behind the Window, an Old Man with a Bicycle, an Old Man from the Toilet, the Old Man Podofilemiak, and Paralytics. In the procession of the characters, Pedel in Past Simple (the school janitor, in this case referring to the tradition of the Galician school) also appears as does the Cleaner/Death. They take care of the “pupils”.
Figures from Dead class are created from memories, fragments, and remnants that are constantly falling apart.
In Dead class, Kantor tried to create a situation of exhibitionism, a “shameful procedure” of peeking, in which sublime matters mix with the most primitive, physiological ones.
He used wax figures of children, which became a kind of ballast for the actors who were joined with them: they represented the burden of childhood, which everyone carries within them.

Elaborated by Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also:
Children at their desk (The Dead Class, 1989)
Bike/Manikin of a child on a bike (The Dead Class, 1975)
Mechanical cradle (The Dead Class, 1975)
Dummy of Bedel — image of Kazimierz Mikulski (The Dead Class, 1975)

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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...

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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.”

Elaborated by: Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See:
Manekin Pedla (the image of Kazimierz Mikulski),  Dead Class, 1975)
Goplana and Elfs (Balladyna , 1943)
Fairy circle / Child’s dummy on a bicycle (Dead class, 1975)

Literature:
Tadeusz Kantor, Pisma, vol. 2: Teatr Śmierci. Texts from 1975-1984, selected and developed by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Wrocław-Krakow, 2004.

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“Bike”/“Manikin of a child on a bike” (“The Dead Class,” 1975)

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