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The presented object was created for a performance of Cricot 2 Theatre, Today is my birthday, on which the artist worked from October 1989 to early December 1990. Tadeusz Kantor died after one of the last rehearsals, on 8 December 1990. The premiere took place shortly after in January 1991 at Théâtre Garonne in Toulouse; then the show was shown in 22 cities around the world until June 1992.

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The presented object was created for a performance of Cricot 2 Theatre, Today is my birthday, on which the artist worked from October 1989 to early December 1990. Tadeusz Kantor died after one of the last rehearsals, on 8 December 1990. The premiere took place shortly after in January 1991 at Théâtre Garonne in Toulouse; then the show was shown in 22 cities around the world until June 1992.  
The place of the performance is the artist's studio transferred to the stage. In the Guide to the Performance, we can read:

The thing takes place on stage. / Actually. Let us assume! I decided to live on the stage—/ have a bed, table, chairs / and of course paintings. Mine. I often imagined my apartment in the theatre, inside, almost on stage—not in a hotel. So, my—as I call it—- Poor Room of Imagination—on the stage. I have to arrange it. / It should not look like a decoration. / Collect on stage / items from my room. / As if I did, if I really decided / to settle and live(!) on the stage. / So: bed, table, chair, / door (important), / stove with pipe, / and ‘canvas’, on the easel. / Room. / Mine. / Own. / Private. / The only place in this world / governed by absolute laws / mass, universality / community. / (...) where hounded by community / individual human, man, can take shelter (...) [1]

The stage action area was constructed by Kantor through three large frames, resembling a painting frame. Set in the back of the stage, there were elements through which the characters of the performance got through to the stage boards, from behind a black, canvas background. The largest frame was located centrally — two diagonally on the sides. One of them, on the left, interests us here, the self-portrait; the second, on the right side, the image of the infanta.
At the birthday party, there would have been members of  Kantor's family, selected artists, figures from earlier plays of the Cricot 2 Theatre, and figures referring to the discourse with universal history (mainly World War II), which Kantor had been conducting in his work for a long time. The appearance of these characters on the stage from the thought and memory of the artist—and ,also from his imagination and dreams—is associated each time with crossing the frames of images set on stage, thanks to which they could revive and appear again.
The self-portrait was an object that would refer directly to the figure of Tadeusz Kantor — the Owner of the Poor Room of Imagination—who, in the performance, had to sit in front of the stage. It should be emphasized that this performance, like the previous one — I shall never return (1988) — is Kantor's personal confession. The artist, his life, intimacy, and fears are the subject-matter of the spectacle. The Self-portrait of the Owner of the Poor Room of Imagination, played by Andrzej Wełmiński, was equipped with attributes strongly associated with the figure of Kantor, like a hat, scarf, suit, and — above all — the actor imitated his manner, gestures, and manner of speaking.
The artist's character was duplicated in the show twice: through the Self-portrait of the Owner of the Poor Room of Imagination and by the Shadow of the Owner of the Poor Room of Imagination, played by Loriano della Rocca.
The play of the Self-portrait took place mostly within its frame, where the actor sat on a chair near the painting palette. His cyclic crossing of the frame (as that of the other characters of the performance) is associated with one of the most important ideas of the performance. It is a game played on many levels between reality, illusion, and fiction. The discourse of the merging of fiction and reality also appears in the planes of images created in parallel, including: ‘A figure fell out of the picture and it turned out that it was just a fiction’ (1990). The operation of being in the painting and, at the same time, outside of it, specific for this performance, was of great interest to Kantor also in the field of painting, for example, in his paintings from the series The dead class (1982–1983) and Nothing else (1988–1989).
The object refers, in its form, to the painting easel, on which the painting was set in thick wooden frames. Boards of green timber were covered with grey acrylic paint. The wooden frames were supposed to be ‘poor’, aged, and give the impression that they ‘are barely holding’. The depth of the image is created by a black canvas on a metal structure, which simultaneously becomes the background for the ‘living image’ appearing on the wooden platform. It should be emphasized that the model of the wooden chair was used by the artist for the first time in the performance, “Madman and a nun”, of Cricot 2 Theatre (1963). Attention should be paid to the wooden palette, frosted with silver paint, with a hole for the fingers, on which there is an imitation of paint in the following colours: pink, red, navy blue.
A detailed description of the materials and the techniques used is as follows. Frame and background: wood painted with mordant, painted metal, fabric (canvas), wheels; platform: wood painted with mordant, varnish, fabric; wheels; pallet: wood covered with polyvinyl chloride and painted with acrylic; brush: wood and metal painted with acrylic, natural bristles.

 

1] T. Kantor, My room on stage, [in:] T. Kantor, Writings, Vol. 3: Nothing else... Texts from 1985-1990, elab. K. Pleśniarowicz, Wrocław-Krakow 2004-2005, p. 232.

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

 

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Recording, documentation

The reconstruction of Kantor’s work on his performances is possible thanks to, among others, the video recordings of rehearsals which were made on the artist’s request, starting with the play Niech sczezną artyści [Let the Artists Die] from 1985. Forty eight hours of rehearsals were recorded during the preparation for the play Dziś są moje urodziny [Today Is My Birthday].

 

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The reconstruction of Kantor’s work on his performances is possible thanks to, among others, the video recordings of rehearsals which were made on the artist’s request, starting with the play Niech sczezną artyści [Let the Artists Die] from 1985. Forty eight hours of rehearsals were recorded during the preparation for the play Dziś są moje urodziny [Today Is My Birthday].
At a certain stage of his work, Kantor began to attach great weight to the documentation and arrangement of his realisations and collections.
All recorded rehearsals from Cricot 2 Theatre can be watched in Cricoteka Archives in Kraków at 2-4 Nadwiślańska Street.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska (Cricoteka Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor) and the Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museum, © all rights reserved

See the exhibits created for play Dziś są moje urodziny [Today is My Birthday] at our collection:
Infanta’s Portrait
Painting of Self-portrait
Tank
The artist’s table

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“Self-portrait” (“Today Is My Birthday”, 1990)

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