The epoch of the “informel” art was drawing to an end, the great
and exciting moments of our time were over.
Many of its painters tried to spin out of the ruins of its former
glory and from their fond memories living nostalgic dreams about
forgotten landscapes and men who came back from past like
I did not want to indulge in recollections.
The time was not yet ripe for my journey into the land of the
past, nor for my “creation” out of the time past, with its
nostalgia and futility, as if from poor rags, of a tragic image
of the present.
It was still before I got an inkling of the relativity of time
and time’s ultimatum.
I asked myself: “Is the return of Orpheus possible?”
A return from Inferno. There, in my “Inferno”
I felt for the first time the touch of
La Belle Dame – Death, and got a sense of her power
over art. Nothing was greater
and more splendid than that. Many years later I was to face
Her, in Her “t h e a t r u m”.
The possibility of a return to the external world appeared to me
contemptible. It was too easy altogether.
That was an odd period for me, all those years. It was like
a void in which something happened but was hard to explain.
There, in my Inferno, the word “nothing”
acquired for me an unusual and disturbing significance.
That banal and totally worn-out word
came up with its irresistible ultimatum.
SOMETHING UNIMAGINABLE. The contours of the i m a g e were
blurred, yet I was strongly compelled to study all its details.
The old rationalist in me wanted to avoid
the TERROR of seeing that short word and replaced it
with the phrase ZERO REGIONS.
At that time I named my theatre a zero theatre.
As though I were afraid to pronounce another word
following closely the word “NOTHING” – the word “DEATH”.
It was then that I made my first E M B A L L A G E.
When I made my first GESTURE – so familiar to me later –
of cramming into a poor paper bag scraps of crumpled paper
and what not,
I had to be emotionally prepared not to return like
the Prodigal Son to his old HOME
with all its “i m a g e s”,
with the IMAGES of
Mother, Father, Children, Dogs, Domestic Animals,
Horses, the Sky behind the Window, Woods, Hills, Roads,
All those things, so dear and beautiful “in life”,
lost all their truth to me “in image”.
Now it looked as if it were a reproduction, a repetition.
I remember very well that moment, the crumpled-up paper
and other things.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 15.
A N O B J E C T.
Something that is O U T S I D E of me.
I could paint it.
I see almost anything in a ball of crumpled paper,
but then I thought it was not enough.
THE IMAGE was not the point.
T o d e s t r o y ?
To get an advantage over it even for a short while.
To ensure that it would that way unite with my body.
It was too easy and somehow too desperate.
To accept it as “a w o r k o f a r t”, “L’object pret”?
In the postwar world people rediscovered the term that had
gone round during the time of the First World War and Cabaret
I remember also that, quite unaware of it, I made the same
discovery in my Underground Theatre, during World War II.
However, in my case it was not as simple, rational or culminating
in an aesthetic point
as it was in Zurich, in the Cabaret named, not without reason,
The war was different. We were playing with death not in the
Cabaret, but at every step, night and day.
There was also Slavic Lyricism, blended with a tragedy of Fate
and a religious sense of Transgression, Sin and Guilt
Transgressing the sacred laws of creativity, which provide for
a strict and p a l p a b l e intervention. of the artist.
And in turn
the “reprehensible” u s e of
which until then had been inviolable and sacred
MODEL, like the tabernacle.
You owed it loyalty and prayers, you could even go as far as
interpretation, but that was always viewed with suspicion.
I this account, which may look exaggerated today,
I would like to evoke the circumstances an the atmosphere
of the year 1944, when I “took” the OBJECT out of the reality
of life and elevated it to the rank of work of art.
A MUD-CAKED WAGGON WHEEL
AND A ROTTEN BOARD FROM A FARMYARD FENCE.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 15-16.
Somewhere in the depths of my “religious” childhood
an awareness grew something akin to sin.
At the same time the other, “heretical” side of my personality
was given the most promising opportunities to act.
And one more digression.
In 1944 my OBJECT possessed one attribute. My
own: the stigma of P O V E R T Y. No trace of aesthetics!
Later in 1963 I coined another phrase for it: “by the rubbish bin…
between the rubbish bin and eternity…”
If that P O V E R T Y were nonexistent, the OBJECT could
only be upgraded to the level of a monument of art.
A monument of art… I despised it in the terrible years of
I was very much concerned about P O V E R T Y.
I did not want to let it go.
P O V E R T Y was to become for long, perhaps for ever,
the subject of my art.
But let me go back to my story of the OBJECT,
to the moment, when I held my poor paper bag in my hand
and did not know what to do with it.
Nonetheless I was to entrust my future to it.
I realized I could not repeat the gesture I had made in 1944
in spite of the fact that reality and the object
were still going strong, indeed,
were set to survive for some time yet.
I realised that what had been made against every
aesthetics during the war, was becoming
a sophisticated and… aestheticized gesture in 1963.
Then I did something that was to determine my
I h i d the OBJECT quickly and “stealthily”.
I am quite fond of that period of my life and creativity
that I called “Emballages”.
I still find it most precious. I do not want to leave it to
obscure interpretations and naive analyses.
That is why I beg for some more patience.
Today after a long lapse of time, I would like to r e p e a t
in some kind of logical sequence (now I think I can afford
that logic) what the outset was just a storm and groping for
the way in the dark.
It is going to be like a table of contents at the end of a book
of my life.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 16-18.
… I called the period of the “informel” art
“a descent into hell”, into an “inferno”.
The eternal world of object disappeared
and another world opened before me.
But my “inferno” did not resemble that of the antiquity.
It belonged to our own age, in which
our i n n e r s e l f turned into hell.
The image was simply an exudation of my inner self.
… After a few years I was fed up with… myself and
started to think about a return.
I asked myself if Orpheus’s return was possible.
His return to “our world”.
Unfortunately, there are no comebacks.
This is man’s tragic fate.
…Then the old wave came back. The time of o b j e c t.
That “something” exists at the opposite pole of my consciousness,
And the centuries-old striving to “t o u c h” it, at all costs.
The object which was deep inside me
was drawing attention to itself with a mixture of urgency and
… I had to do something about it.
I knew well that a traditional representation, its “image”
would not come back
since it was only a reflection,
just like moonlight.
Underneath it is dead.
But the object exists.
…I knew also that all “interpretations” of it were bankrupt.
The time was gone when it was enough to transform it, deform it,
subject it to stylistic manipulation and be convinced that one
is involved in demiurgic “creativity”.
I dismissed it as naive faith.
But the object had always existed.
U n d e f i l e d.
…Always the same moon
i n v i s i b l e s i d e!
Can you see anything on the invisible side.
Is there such a side?
To make it invisible!
… my old idea of postulating the derivation of “artistic” action
from the prosaic reality, from the reality that in comparison
with the “rich” i m a g i n a t i o n remains
P O O R,
played its parts in that process…
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 18-20.
I transposed with great anxiety
the gesture of W R A P P I N G U P,
performed in the most prosaic reality of everyday life
onto my work.
A work of art.
The uncertainty excited me: I was not sure if
the work itself
will survive that hazardous move.
I remember that for a long time
the prosaic everyday quality of that term could not be reconciled
in my consciousness
with the respectable notion of “creativity”
W R A P P I N G…
One could hear the word
everywhere, in the street, in shops,
when people talked about buying things…
The gesture acquired gradually the meaning of a ritual.
It became symbolic.
Somewhere on the borders
of pedestrian pettiness,
there appears abruptly
the growing shadow of noble elevation.
I sensed then
and in fact I have never stopped sensing a threat to the highest
values of the human spirit.
They had to be
p r o t e c t e d,
they had to be protected all the title
against primitive decrees of the authorities,
against the dull inquisition of official and stupid judges.
And a decision taken in what looked almost like a critical
t o w r a p u p!
IT WAS THIS PROFOUNDLY EXISTENTIAL FEATURE THAT
DISTINGUISHED MY WORK
from other works that seemed to belong to the same species.
But they only seemed to.
As in fact they were either purely aesthetic creations
or ordinary, vulgar plagiarisms.
I worked then (1958-60-63)
to a large extent instinctively,
under the pressure of necessity,
whose nature I could not comprehend.
It is always like that.
Only years afterwards we are able to find out that our
“spontaneous” and “individual” activities
by a higher Power,
the power of NECESSITY.
I would like to say a few words about it now.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 20-21.
There is one attribute of man that is exceedingly moving:
he is a creature towering over the whole of nature,
endowed by the malicious gods with consciousness,
which is his victory
and his defeat.
A creature inordinately brittle and delicate;
unable to cope
with his own self,
which we will call here sacred.
Man does not want
at any price
T O S H O W
the things he hides,
because showing always means
Man hides everything which is at the core of his life:
the force that enables him to survive,
the past, which he always cherishes,
the memories of his dear ones,
It is a human feature,
which resists everybody
in a desperate heroism –
not giving in even
to D E A T H.
Having created the idea of resurrection
it buries the dead body
in coffins and graves.
The image of Death itself,
enemy of life –
is “constructed” by man’s imagination
f r o m b o n e s,
the most durable parts
of the human body, which have the highest chance
of s u r v i v a l.
And what about the human flesh.
The brittle and “poetic”
the skeleton, of death,
of the hope
until the day of the Last Judgement.
I am closing now:
has a pure concept
of the inner self.
by the hostile, external world.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 21-23.
For many years I was involved in discovering the terrains where the word
EMBALLAGE would be more meaningful.
Like an incantation.
I find it even in my distant past.
As though a HAND had written there, at the very beginning,
the book of my life
and I were only turning its leaves.
1944 I turned Ulysses, the Homeric hero, into
that was wrapped in the filthy and dingy rage
of a military overcoat.
It was hard to see in that “baggage” a human being
or a celebrity for that matter.
Somewhere in the upper regions of that “something” the mouth
opened suddenly and spoke these few words only: “I’m coming
back from Troy…”
1957 The actors’ figures, their bodies and movements, all their
psychological states and charm,
the quintessence of scenic art,
was hidden in a big black
b a g;
I passed on to its jerky movements
all the emotions, passions and conflicts…
A great deal of determination and faith
in the possibility of pouring life from actors
onto inanimate objects
1962 Taken out of the rubbish heap, dingy paper
b a g s,
crumpled and worn out, I fixed brutally,
like specimens of rare butterflies, onto the immaculate
clean canvas of my paintings.
Their folds, which were impressed in the production line,
replaced the old sophisticated
d i v i s i o n s of abstractions.
How much dearer were they to me than had been those
proud and “avant-garde” ones.
The tortured, crucified bags,
i m p r i s o n e d.
1963 I put and arrested in my paintings
l e t t e r s – p a c k a g e s
with addresses of friends to whom they would never delivered.
And on them seals like suns in landscapes of their wanderings
and unknown destinations.
The picture became the site of
the P O S T.
That strange site of vacuum and nothingness
between the sender and the addressee,
between the beginning and the ultimate destination.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 24-26.
1965 Then I discovered a new place for expositions and varnishing
the P O S T – O F F I C E.
For purely practical reasons
neither the exhibition nor the varnishing day
could be held.
1967 But soon
the P O S T
returned. From the “real” Warsaw post-office
a procession of seven “real” retired P O S T M E N
carrying a gigantic L E T T E R,
14 metres long,
walked through the streets of Warsaw to the Foksal Gallery,
its destination point, where a crowd of the varnishing day guests,
continually informed about the progress of the letter,
tore it up spontaneously to tiny little pieces as soon as it
Then there were:
E M B A L L A G E S,
their strings tied up with obsessive pedantry
in infinitely complex combinations of knots
for unfathomable purposes,
and an old
S U I T C A S E
full of odds and ends,
undoubtedly belonging to a madman
C O M M E R C I A L B A G S
of no aesthetic value, with mysterious labels,
completely unintelligible to an outsider.
Then came a moment when I decided to w r a p u p
P E O P L E,
the living people.
In a Warsaw café I wrapped up a man
in tissue paper.
And endless unrolling band dressing the human body like a bandage
was a form of a Samaritan gesture.
I repeated it in Basel, in an old warehouse.
And then there was, what I called
“my little revenge on Hitler”
amidst the gigantic ruins of Hitlerjugendparadengelände.
It was nearly a Mass of human emballage.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 26-27.
1968 One day I came across a rhino.
This was almost like a meeting in the jungle, “face to face”
in the bleak wilderness.
It did not matter that the Rhino lived in a picture by Dürer.
I must have been waiting for it.
I had a feeling that the meeting could have important consequences
The rhino had lots of things to say.
It seemed to me that I heard it say:
“my skin, well indeed, have a good look at the
that interesting composition,
that texture meant no doubt to last for ages.
It is most impressive – here it stumbled for a word,
and had not yet discovered the word
And the Rhino carried on boasting –
a work of art,
I could easily be exhibited in the Louvre…
And what about the inside?
That doesn’t matter.
He passed over the question with a gentlemanly nonchalance.
Or perhaps he did not want to admit that his inside was no
different than anyone else’s.
There was some kind of pride in it all.
A disinterested one.
A work of art.
He helped me a lot
a year later when
I got hold of a dingy paper bag
and was trying to put…
it doesn’t matter what…
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 28-29.
1969 A year or two later I had another meeting with the Rhino.
In the film “Kantor ist da” *.
In a café-restaurant.
I was sitting at the table, dressed in black as usual, in a black
Coffee, cigarettes, relaxed.
Then somebody, or rather “something” /like the wartime Ulysses/
a dirty fellow, grey and bedraggled, in rags of a coat,
a shapeless baggage,
quite unlike a man.
He was carrying a monstrous rucksack that seemed to be growing
on his back.
He sat down at my table, unceremoniously, of course.
And I in black, smartly looking: black shining shoes, a scarf
and a wide brimmed hat, and all that which some people take
a buffoon of an artist.
But that’s what is in great demand here.
I ordered a giant pork chop and one or two other things.
“The Rhino” jumps at it
and devours it in a typically rhino manner.
I wait and then ask him a fee discreet questions:
where he is coming from,
tired or not,
what he is doing here.
The rhino roars out an inarticulate answer through the heaps
of devoured meat.
I pass on from the routine table talk to more essential
way of life?
perhaps an artist?
The Rhino has finished his meal
and answers the last question in one word
he gets up upsetting everything around. All that mass of God knows
what edges toward the exit.
At this point the police called in by the alarmed patrons
arrives on the scene.
The proprietor takes everything on himself.
I finish up my coffee unhurriedly…
Later the clothes alone would suffice.
But I could still hear the hollow sound made by a running rhinoceros.
This strange “addition” to a man.
To his body.
An “addition” whose matter has nothing in common with the human body,
with a h u m a n being.
Just trying to deceive us.
Involved in deceptive practices.
That is why attention has to be given to these practices,
to their pseudo-anatomy,
so as to penetrate it inside out
to uncover it.
Situations which are frequently dramatic ones.
Some bodily parts are as if trying to salvage themselves,
to break free from this prison.
To signal their presence.
To my mind it is a good opportunity to show the human being afresh;
immersed in the fate planned for him by civilization.
Of course, the theatre was of help.
A great area to display
all the pretence.
All the posturing,
the false appearance,
and . . .
the area so loved by me in fact.
*The film “Kantor ist da” was produced by Dietrich Mahlow for Institut für Moderne Kunst in Nuremberg and Saabrücken television in 1968 (footnote from the editors).
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 30-32.
The whole procession of figures wandering through my theatre
and my paintings:
The Grand Gymnast with a Backpack in “The Water-Hen”,
The Man with Suitcases (in “The Water-Hen” as well),
The Jew – an Eternal Wanderer with the Trumpet of the Last Judgement,
wrapped well in black funereal emballage.
Covered with pillows which old Jewish women
used to place in the windows in Wielopole. In red pillowcases.
The Eternal Wanderer performed an act of “deemballage” by
tearing up the pillowcases, out of which clouds of feathers
fell onto the audience,
Two Hasidim with a Board symbolising a Last Resort
in black, “ritual” emaballage,
The Crazy Woman with a heavy sack filled with unknown contents,
The Madman in the costume made of masses of black little bags,
The Well-Bred Young Girl “wearing” – literally – a prostitute,
An enormous bag travelling on a bicycle wheel.
I decided to “wrap up” museum figures.
Velazquez’s “Infantas”. Like relics or madonnas.
Wearing glamorous clothes,
in artificial poses,
with gloomy emptiness in their eyes.
They appear defenceless . . .
I have replaced Infanta’s famous chasuble-like skirt
with an old, well-worn postman’s bag.
Little pieces of wood, eaten away by the salt, left on the shore,
only gently allude to the inner skeleton . . .
I had the courage to create the emballage of
the object of “national devotion” – “Hołd Pruski” (“Prussian Tribute”) by Matejko.
I “wrapped up” the proud figures of kings, knights and bishops
with despair, fear and piety –
The only figure that I left alive was that of
Stańczyk – the Jester.
I used the same method of emballage
to make a portrait of my dear Mother.
From youth to death.
Now it is my turn.
I placed my own portraits on black cardboard boxes
Used in supermarkets.
Portraits from infancy up to now.
As many as 70 years.
This is really something!
All the pictures have been
shoved carelessly into something resembling
an open . . . grave
as if waiting for another Portrait – the Last One.
Tadeusz Kantor, “Intimate Comments”, 1986-88, typescript in the Cricoteka Archives, p. 33-34.