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The “pillories” are extremely characteristic objects from the Niech sczezną artyści [Let the Artists Die] play at the Cricot 2 Theatre. The play had its premiere in Alte Giesserei in Nürnberg on 2 June 1985.
The “pillories” appear in act III of the play and become the key objects with which the later stage plot, right to the epilogue in act V, is associated.

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The “pillories” are extremely characteristic objects from the Niech sczezną artyści [Let the Artists Die] play at the Cricot 2 Theatre. The play had its premiere in Alte Giesserei in Nürnberg on 2 June 1985.
The “pillories” appear in act III of the play and become the key objects with which the later stage plot, right to the epilogue in act V, is associated. Their appearance on stage is connected with the figure of Veit Stoss, an artist from Nürnberg, and his most distinguished work of the Gothic “Altar of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary” in St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków (1477–89). From the very beginning, the figure of Stoss and his work were the essential elements of the play for Tadeusz Kantor. The artist wished to reconstruct St. Mary’s Altar. He wrote about the play in his notes: “All were too sacred and untouchable. I was enticed by the thought about the potential scandalous profanation and perversity committed on this sacredness. I deemed it as an excellent piece of material for my practices.” St. Mary’s Altar, on the stage at the Cricot 2 Theatre, was reconstructed with wooden pillories. Actors played the roles of the Apostles.
“Master Veit Stoss” is one of the characters of the performance, played by Andrzej Wełmiński. He appears on stage to the tune of Holy God, interrupting a cycle of simultaneous actions of actors performed in relation to the objects assigned to them. In the performance programme, Kantor calls their banal and ordinary actions as the “hell of everyday life”: they wash legs, play cards, wash the dishes and summon the Mother of God, the old mother moves on a wheelchair, the hangman keeps hanging himself.
At Stoss’s sign, “Two Executioners” (Jean-Marie Barotte and Wojciech Węgrzyn) drag the pillories through the doors and onto the stage, and then run up to the figures leading them to the pillories and sit them in the machines. The straining and shouting actors suddenly become motionless; the doctor checks all of them for a pulse and pronounces them dead. St. Mary’s Altar was built in this way subsequently by the Pillory with “a Pimp-Card Player” (actor: Lech Stangret), pillory with “the Author” (Wacław Janicki), pillory with “the Dirty Fellow” (Jan Książek), pillory with “the Hangman” (Roman Siwulak), pillory with the “I-Dying” figure (Lesław Janicki), pillory with “the Scullery Maid” (Zbigniew Bednarczyk), and finally the pillory with “the Goody-Goody Woman” (Ewa Janicka).
When comparing the performance altar to the original, only the figure of the Goody-Goody Woman reflects the attitude of the Mother of God most accurately (the arrangement of the other actors in the pillories displays a quite loose formal connection). She is given special attention on the stage. Before pushing the actress to the pillory, Veit Stoss himself dances with her and then solicitously arranges her body, head leaning and hands folded in a special manner. Kantor frequently contemplated on St. Mary’s Altar. Despite a totally different style, his reconstruction was to closely draw upon the retable of the main altar from the scene of the Blessed Virgin Mary falling asleep on the middle panel of the altarpiece. Apart from the pillory of the Virgin Mary, Kantor has six pillories of the Apostles, while the original in St. Mary’s Basilica has only five of them. The director probably moved the sixth apostle to his stage composition which, in Stoss’s altar, belongs to the scene of “Assumption” depicted right above the line of the apostles’ heads in the dormition scene. The composition motif from the scene of the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is based on the popular medieval Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine dating back to the 12th century.
Placing the protagonists in the pillories and thus suspending their movements reminds one of the frozen, convulsive gestures of figures in the actual St. Mary’s Church. Both works share a kind of sacrum and profanum game that takes place in two different ways. In the late-medieval altar of Veit Stoss, the mysticism is combined with a naturalist realism. The sublime religious scenes were mixed with the images of everyday life, while the gilded garments were accompanied by ordinary medieval clothes. The unblemished beauty of the Madonna is juxtaposed with the realist depiction of the figures of apostles with the illustration of their bodily defects. Kantor chose an opposite approach. Amorphous, grey and poor figures who perform ordinary actions over and over again “to the point of boredom,” the typical representatives of the “reality of the lowest rank”, are raised to the level of saints, and the place of their existence, called a “den” or “a night shelter” by Kantor, is elevated to the sphere of sacrum and brought to the best known Gothic altar in Poland.
The coarseness and poverty of the altar in the Niech sczezną artyści [Let the Artists Die] performance was to help the artist illustrate another problem. As Kantor explains: “Here are the FIGURES and their OBJECTS/ that they carry with them throughout life,/ their PILLORIES of everyday life. Soon they will change/ into other pillars of MARTYRDOM.” Then “the ALTAR is transformed into a PRISON CELL/ TORTURE HALL.” Therefore, Kantor starts to identify the condition of the work of art with the condition of a prison, and equates the prison to a “condemned cell.” In the intense essay entitled Moje spotkania ze śmiercią [My Meetings with Death], Kantor asks: “Have I touched then at the great mystery of art,/ hiding the tragic condition of CREATION...” In the play, the martyrs become rebellious and leave the altar. Together with Veit Stoss they send the message with the alphabet of prison knocks. They place their pillories (torture machines) in the middle of the stage to form “the PILE of martyrdom pillars.” In combination with other objects used in the performance they form a monumental “BARRICADE,” almost a sculpture that is built in the last and most spectacular scene of the performance. It seems that Kantor defined the essence of the work of art, and thus the theatre, as a kind of closure and a need to go beyond.
The pillories are intricately designed torture machines. They are made of aged wood covered with acrylic paint. All the pillories are placed on wooden platforms on wheels. They are typical bio-objects functioning in conjunction with the actor (see: Wardrobe – the Interior of Imagination in the collection from Małopolska’s Virtual Museums). The fabric and metal elements are attached to them to support the actors in strictly determined postures and emphasise their imprisonment in the object. Every pillory has wooden elements installed that draw upon the machinery of the medieval instruments of torture. Tadeusz Kantor drafted many sketches of pillories and drawings of actors in the pillories (their gestures, body postures). The one particularly worth mentioning is the 1985 large-format oil painting from the collections of the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent (S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent).

Elaborated by Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska (The Cricoteka Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor), © all rights reserved

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“Let the Artists Die”

During the vernissage at the Galerie de France in 1983, Kantor met Gerhard Schmidt (the owner of one of the most renowned galleries in Nuremberg), who convinced him to prepare an artistic project related to the 450th anniversary of the death of Wit Stwosz. Kantor did not approach the above idea enthusiastically, but he expressed his fascination with the nail, which probably pierced the cheeks of the author of the St. the Mary’s Basilica altar.

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Where did the name of the performance come from?

During the vernissage at the Galerie de France in 1983, Kantor met Gerhard Schmidt (the owner of one of the most renowned galleries in Nuremberg), who convinced him to prepare an artistic project related to the 450th anniversary of the death of Wit Stwosz. Kantor did not approach the above idea enthusiastically, but he expressed his fascination with the nail, which probably pierced the cheeks of the author of the St. the Mary’s Basilica altar. The history of an outstanding artist, who got involved not only with Kraków, but, above all, with Nuremberg, for him was an example perfectly illustrating the thesis that artists are the victims of society.
The owner of the gallery, Catherine Thieck, joined in the conversation, quoting a certain exemplum, when, during the renovation of the tenement she decided to mount additional doors to increase the safety of works of art deposited in the gallery, she was forced to obtain the consent of all the co-tenants of the building. One of the shrews (quarrelsome women of easy virtue) present at the meeting, who did not share her enthusiasm, as well as the arguments of Catherine Thieck, expressing her indignation with an “irrational idea”, exclaimed: “Let the artists die!” Kantor took these words up, using them as the title of the performance, which, despite initial doubts, he agreed to realize.


Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

 

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“Pillories of characters” (“Let the Artists Die”, 1985)

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