Tadeusz Kantor. The Cloakroom
With Lovelies and Dowdies, in the Impossible Theatre, I set a trap for illusion. The entire performance took place practically in a cloakroom, in a reality of the lowest rank. The cloakroom, especially in Poland, is a place that everyone would like to bypass, but it is brutal and indispensable.… There were two cloakroom attendants, who imposed their cloakroom rules not only on the whole audience, but on the entire play – on all artists. It was a degradation of the artistic condition to the level of the cloakroom.
THE CLOAKROOM… was a huge iron cage with hooks and hangers, similar to the primitive fixtures of a slaughterhouse, where they are used for cuts of meat, was a rather cruel “installation”. The audience who passed through this “installation” was forced to leave their coats there. Compliance was ensured by the two cloakroom attendants/torturers, who imposed these “draconian” laws on the whole artistic sphere of the drama. The whole plot of Lovelies and Dowdies unfolded in a THEATRE CLOAKROOM, not on a THEATRE STAGE, a place of holy illusion, but in its “antechamber”, a place of the Lowest Rank in the theatre.
In the performance Lovelies and Dowdies (1972), which represented a phase of the Impossible Theatre at the Cricot 2 Theatre, a monstrous cloakroom ruthlessly destroyed the artistic place and the comfort of the audience’s perception, moving the action to a storage room, a waiting-room, a cloakroom – a space of uncertain provenance, where everything that was happening impinged on the privacy of the spectators, engaging them in more extensive interaction than in the case of traditional theatre. What interested Kantor most about the performance was to push the stage action, actors, illusion and theatre in general, “out the door”, and to confront this illusion with the “space of everyday life”, filled by the spectators in the waiting-room outside the door. The contrast between illusion and reality, moving from “one territory into a completely alien territory”, constructing the performance as a “battlefield” and a “mechanism of oppression” in which it’s not clear who is more legitimate and who is an intruder (the actor or the spectator?) – it was the very fibre of the production.
The installation The Cloakroom shown at the exhibition was the centrepiece of Lovelies and Dowdies. The artist described it as follows: It is an installation of large dimensions, circa 2.50×3.00. / Metal structure. / Metal coat hangers. / Clothes bags with inscriptions. It performed another function for the artist through the aesthetic impact of its complicated form, the intricate composition of vertical and horizontal elements, falling into rhythmic sequences, the arrangement of uniform fabric bags hung on hooks, and the regularity of numbered wooden plaques hanging from the empty hooks. After all, by losing its stage function, it became / THE OBJECT OF ART, L’OBJET D’ART.
The placement of The Cloakroom in the Gallery-Studio of Tadeusz Kantor opens up a dialogue between it and the equally complicated, all-embracing construction of the attic and the timber roof truss, designed by the artist shortly before his death. The cloakroom seems to be bursting the boundaries of this space, annexing it completely, and just as in the performance, “imposing its prosaic laws on art.” The banners in French, English, Italian and German that surround it closely tell the spectators where they are, what they must not do, and how to behave – as with the performance of the Impossible Theatre: “Storage Room”, “Waiting-Room”, “Enter the theatre through the coat hanger only”, “No smoking”, “Wait”, “Please, do not lean out”, “Pray for waiting” or “No admittance to the storage room”. So the audience of the exhibition not only recognises or recalls the principal object from Lovelies and Dowdies, but also experiences tensions similar to those felt by the audience of the performance, and is still subject to the impact of the cloakroom and the pressure exerted by it on the spectators as well as the space in which it is located.
A cloakroom, headed in no direction,
is constantly, absurdly
and aimlessly there,
for its own sake
like art for art’s sake.
Cloakroom for cloakroom’s sake…
A cloakroom works,
annexes more and more spheres of the imagination,
it becomes indispensable,
The exhibition is the first in a series of presentations of single objects at the Gallery-Studio of Tadeusz Kantor.
Curators: Małgorzata Paluch-Cybulska, Bogdan Renczyński
Gallery-Studio of Tadeusz Kantor
7/5 Sienna Street, 31-041 Krakow
Friday – Monday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday – closed
Tadeusz Kantor, Moja droga do teatru śmierci, in: Tadeusz Kantor. Pisma. Teatr Śmierci, Teksty z lat 1975-1984, vol. 2, ed. K. Pleśniarowicz, Ossolineum-Cricoteka, Wrocław-Kraków 2004, p. 462.
Tadeusz Kantor, Miejsce teatralne, w: Tadeusz Kantor. Pisma. Teatr Śmierci, Teksty z lat 1975-1984, vol. 2, p. 382.
Tadeusz Kantor, Komentarz, in: Tadeusz Kantor. Pisma. Dalej już nic… Teksty z lat 1985-1990, vol. 3, selected and edited by K. Pleśniarowicz, Ossolineum-Cricoteka, Wrocław-Kraków 2005, p. 438.
Tadeusz Kantor, Szatnia, in: Tadeusz Kantor, Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1934–1974, vol. I, selected and edited by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Ossolineum-Cricoteka, Wrocław-Kraków 2005, p. 559. [All footnotes translated from Polish by RG]