Anatomical Theatre

The project will be focused on one of the most important and most inspiring works by Tadeusz Kantor – the happening The Anatomy Lesson According to Rembrandt (presented three times: 1968, 1969, 1971). By interpreting the famous painting Kantor became part of a long line of artists using autopsy as an artistic theme, and at the same time inspired next generations to enter into a dialogue with him.

Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp depicts an autopsy carried out by the title Dr. Tulp (who commissioned it) in the presence of witnesses. Universally regarded as a masterpiece, the painting inspired many artists: painters, writers, performers, directors.

By referring to the famous painting and animating the scene it depicts, artists refer to the tradition of anatomical theatres, very popular during the European Renaissance. The dramatic character of processes occurring in an anatomical theatre is multi-faceted. It derives from the existing primary theatre situation: the actor-audience relationship, action and its reception. Various confrontations occur within the space of an anatomical theatre: the living and the dead, knowledge and ignorance, middle class virtues and the world of crime, law and individuality. Things become additionally complicated by the status of an ‘actor’ in an autopsy show; the person performing the procedure (and their assistants) are both actors and directors, or rather – according to the current terminology – performers (instead of re-enacting their parts they present themselves in direct connection with a situation and focus on the mere dynamics of action, not its meaning).

However, the role of an actor is also to some extent played by the cadaver (it is at the same time a ‘place of action’ and a ‘prop’). If we look at an autopsy from the perspective of a broadly understood performance, we will see a vast area of problems related to the function performed by the human body – dead or alive – in the process of constructing meanings.

Throughout the six week series of the Anatomical Theatre cycle Kantor’s happening will undergo a thorough analysis during lectures, seminars and performative workshops and will be placed in a broad context: historical (history of the idea of theatrum anatomicum), contemporary (literary and theatrical interpretations of the theme) and current one (accomplishments of artists who in many ways enter into dialogue with Kantor: creators from the field of visual arts such as Katarzyna Kozyra, Zbigniew Libera, Grzegorz Klaman, as well as theatre directors and performers such as Christoph Schlingensief, Wojtek Ziemilski, Barbara Wysocka, Krystian Lupa, Krzysztof Warlikowski).

Anna R. Burzyńska
project curator