Agnieszka Sural: The last time that Kantor’s works were shown in Brazil was in 1967, as part of the International Art Biennale in São Paulo. And he was greatly appreciated on that occasion – he was presented with the Prêmio Bienal award. But almost half a century had to pass for Brazil to once again take an interest in the figure and the works of Poland’s most important artist of the 20th century?
Ricardo Muniz Fernandes: In fact, the work of Kantor as a visual artist had not been forgotten, even if his name was rather associated with theatre works, which are very famous both in the academic and in the artistic milieux. In Brazil, Kantor constitutes a point of reference for all those who are interested in theatre. He is studied in universities, he is referenced by all theatre groups, professional and amateur ones alike.
What kind of place has Kantor occupied in your own endeavours?
I've organised a few exhibitions about writers which have been important to theatre. One of these exhibitions was devoted to the figure of Mário de Andrade, the author of a novel called Macunaíma about a Brazilian anti-hero. Anutunes Filho created a performance based on this text, and he is a director who made Brazilian theatre famous across the world in the 1970s. This performance also constituted a part of this exhibition. Another display that I created concentrated on the literary work of Hilda Hilst. The stage on which her plays were read and performed formed a part of the exhibition.
I also arranged an exhibition about the dancer Kazuo Ohno, for which I invited butoh dancers from across the world. The artists performed pieces they created especially for this occasion as a tribute to the Japanese artist. I became the curator and producer of all these exhibitions because of my love for the authors they depicted. It was the same with Tadeusz Kantor.
I encountered his work for the first time at the Antunes Filho Centre for Theatre Research, which hosted a screening of The Dead Class. 15 years ago I also arranged a small exhibition dedicated to Kantor, for which I used the materials brought by Zofia Kalińska. Kalińska had been staging her Requiem for Kantor in one of São Paulo's theatres. We decided to show a few drawings and videos of this theatre’s backstage.
Since then, my passion towards Kantor has kept on growing every day, culminating in the Sescu exhibition. I have never seen any of his performances live, but in some kind of a way, he was always close to me, because Zofia left the facsimiles of many of his drawings in my library. They've been a point of reference for me until today. It’s important to me that together with the Polish curator of Tadeusz Kantor Machine exhibition, Jarosław Suchan, we can acquaint the Brazilian public with the grandeur of this artist’s oeuvre, which to date had not enjoyed a proper display in this country.
Have you had the chance to visit Poland?
In 1991 I came to Poland following the invitation of Leszek Mądzik. I wanted to visit the Cricoteka, but at the time it was closed. The desire to learn more about Kantor stayed with through to 2015 when I returned to Poland in order to complete research begun by Sebastião Milaré, the first curator of the Kantor exhibition at the Sesc. Milaré died suddenly as he was working on the exhibition, thus my input into the project also pays tribute to him, a great admirer of this artist.
Poland surprises me and intrigues me each time. During my first visit, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it fascinated me as a country that was different to those of the West but one that had potential not only in the sphere of theatre but also in that of graphic design. When, for a period of 14 years, I had been working as a theatre producer of the Secs, I invited several Polish groups there each of which presented this potential and their unique, heterogeneous creative paths. In 2015, when I visited Kantor’s studio and the new Cricoteka with its incredible architecture, I felt a new impulse. I was surprised by the potential of the Polish theatre groups that I encountered as well as the extraordinary work of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
The initiator of the Kantor exhibition in Brazil was the aforementioned critic and playwright Sebastião Milaré, one of the most prominent intellectuals of Brazilian theatre. Milaré invited Jarosław Suchan to collaborate on this project. With Suchan, the director of the Łódź Art Museum, they created the design for an exhibition based on Kantor’s manifestos. What can you tell us about the process of working on the exhibition once you joined the team of curators?
I collaborated with Suchan and Milaré by continuing the extensive curatorial work which they had pursued over a period of two years. My job was to create a space within which visitors would fall in love with Kantor’s work and within which they could develop their curiosity by following this feeling. Milaré and Suchan created a wide panorama of Kantor’s works, and together with them, I created mechanisms and strategies meant to animate everything and incite passion as well as means of learning. The idea of a constantly working machine, both in reference to Kantor and in reference to the spaces that merge into each other, was probably my biggest contribution to this process. I am an admirer of Kantor’s works, and not his researcher. I would like for each one to be able to fall in love with this work whether entering its world through the seven basic manifestos, or through the dream-like utopian Kantor machine and the discovery of it – that is what will sustain its infinite action.
What does it mean that Kantor is a machine?
Kantor’s oeuvre does not exist in stagnation as something complete, but continues to exist as something which continually operates, capable of showing its full potential on the condition of being depicted in movement. Hence the idea of a machine as something that still creates meanings and expands. It never stops functioning.
How does this machine emerge in the exhibition?
In the labyrinth of the space, different works are mixed in with the backstage of the exhibitions. Visitors creates a way for themselves, they traverse it step by step as they discovers the many faces of Kantor. The fact that this exhibition was not created for the space of museum but within a modified sports venue accounts for its character. It is a constant game between the viewer, the work of Kantor, and the space. It is something which constantly moves, something created by the viewers and invited artists who move about the exhibition and connect with the work – whether it is on a chronological or a chaotic trajectory. The exhibition is a Tadeusz Kantor machine which creates ideas and the meanings connected with them. Everyone leaves the place with something made in Kantor.
Are the manifestos going to be present at the exhibition?
The manifestos laid the foundation for the construction of a course, in order to ensure a legible presentation of Kantor’s work. We scattered numerous quotes around the exhibition which depict the multi-faceted and complex character of Kantorian thought. They point out directions and direct the viewer on paths that are often meandering and thus depict the genius nature of this artist. The manifestos show viewers a direction but the exhibition can also be traversed in any chosen way. No matter what choice we make we will witness the greatness of his oeuvre.
Performative actions prepared by the Antropofágica theatre group, who make politically and socially engaged art, are going to take place within the space of the exhibition.
Cia. Antropofágica has been active for many years, and Kantor’s work fuels its creativity and innovativeness. They are true anthropophages, cannibals who devour the courage and power of others, thus creating a different power. The power of great beauty and poetry. That is what Cia. Antropofágica, in collaboration with Ludmiła Ryba (a former Kantor actress) and Michał Kobiałka, are realising within their performances at the exhibition. The showings constitute a very important element of the Kantor machine.
At the entry to the Sesc building, visitors are welcomed by the Aneanthisational machine, an element from the production of The Madman and the Nun realised by Kantor in 1963. The machine, which comes to life every couple of minutes, also opened last year’s Nothing Twice exhibition at the Cricoteka in Kraków.
Maszyna aneantyzacyjna (Aneanthisational machine) is like an icon and an emblem of the whole exhibition. An unwarned viewer who does not know Kantor is faced with a machine that does not produce anything but rather troubles us with its non-rhythmical movement, as it disturbs our peace and makes it impossible to indulge in the artwork – it rather forces us to search for meaning and incites a desire to learn. It functions perfectly, like it once did in the performance which it was made for in order to destroy a habitual kind of reading and in order to dispose of what we always do and see to some different space. In order to place something different on the stage, in order to produce other things and break apart old machines with their trivial and banal functions. Maszyna aneantyzacyjna operates and disturbs, and it is an invitation to proceed further, to climb up the stairs, to see and enter the great Tadeusz Kantor machine.
What other works will we see at the display in Sescu?
There are nearly 130 works from different phases of Kantor’s creativity. Connoisseurs of his oeuvre will have the possibility of seeing the aura of these works, which is not something one can get from reproductions in art albums. They will also be presented with video recordings of his works, presented in their entirety with subtitles in Portuguese. Those who do not yet know Kantor will be able to discover the work of this artist in all of its greatness and timelessness, in all of its potential and infinity.
The architecture of the display was designed by Hideki Matsuka.
The project was created in a deep dialogue with curators and their way of seeing Kantor. Hideki is not an architect, but an artist who converses with the work of the prominent artist. He came to Poland with me, the space of the exhibition began taking shape through meetings with people who spoke of Kantor and during expeditions to places connected with the artist. The Machine was created over a period of many months in our office, because Hideki is part of prod.art.br, a collective of artists, producers, and publishers.
Hideki was present from the beginning of the construction work, he worked with the technicians and workers and created and re-adapted the display on the construction site. It is one of the special traits of this machine, the fact that it is somehow a living organism, in symbiosis with with the works of Kantor – his drawings, his canvases, sculptures and stage objects. I always work with Hideki when I am realising my exhibitions and his approach towards work is very intelligent and incredibly versatile.
How does the exhibition end?
We exit, having gotten to know Kantor’s work not like we would have during a lesson, but rather having a sense of his presence, of his understanding and with the feeling that his work is something living and infinite, something that functions in its entirety.