Over a year after his first happening, in January 1967, Tadeusz Kantor organized a happening in Warsaw, the hero of which became one of the fetishised objects often used by him – a letter.
Kantor had previously noticed the qualities of letters and the fascinating area of postal services. In the note Envelopes 1963 / Koperty 1963 he wrote:
Since 1964, during my long travels, I have been making them (ENVELOPES) everywhere I go: in Paris, Stockholm, Basel, Hamburg, New York, Chexbres…
At exhibitions from 1963, Kantor showed letters which had the form of packages (or emballages), and a series of paintings (which the artist described in his commentary Envelopes, Packs / Koperty, pakunki). In this series:
The emballage takes on the form of envelopes and mail packages tied up with string, bearing addresses, stamps, with forms attached, a whole accumulation of different sizes, very small ones and big ones.
The unrealized project Exposition à la poste (an Exhibition at the Post Office) was created in 1965.. The artist came up with the idea for this project in New York. There is a trace of Exposition à la poste in the form of a photographic collage. The short text The Idea of an Exhibition at a Post Office / Idea wystawy na poczcie explained that:
The exhibits were to be not only paintings but also “ready-made” objects that one can find at a post office – packages, parcels, packs and sacks.
To the artist, the post office was a place where he could leave the traditional gallery space, a place where objects “elude their fates” and letters or parcels are in a transitory state and exist in a void between the sender and the recipient.
Seven postmen, “post officials”, were engaged for the 1967 happening The Letter / List. Their task was to carry an unusually large letter (two metres high and fourteen metres long) from the Main Post Office in Ordynacka Street through the streets of Warsaw. The postmen were dressed in postal uniforms and the march was escorted by police. The event lasted two and a half hours and ended at the Foksal Gallery, where the letter addressed to this gallery arrived.
Zbigniew Gostomski reminisced that:
Kantor positioned commentators along the route who were to provide commentary on this event, as if it were a football match. I was the last commentator, who announced the entry of the letter into the Foksal Gallery, as if the letter were a ball entering a goal.
This is a transcription of a recording of one of the voices of the commentators:
Ladies and gentlemen, a decisive moment is coming up, the letter is now near the Journalists’ Club, it has passed by, the tired postmen are stopping for a moment, (…) the letter is moving forward again, the postmen-retirees are in great form once again, the letter gallops by me, the quick turn of events is forcing me to leave my post, over…
Apart from Kantor, the participants of The Letter were: Zbigniew Gostomski, Edward Krasiński, Wiesław Borowski, Mariusz Tchorek (the commentators), Maria Stangret and Anka Ptaszkowska. Additionally, Kantor employed a recording of the voice of the poet, dramatist and art critic Henry Galy-Charles (recorded on magnetic tape in 1966) delivering his text entitled Enveloppe (envelope), which was inspired by Kantor’s exhibition in Baden-Baden.
There was an audience in the gallery which was kept updated on the part of the happening involving the postmen. The action effectively took place in two places. Those gathered in the gallery at a certain point took out their own private letters and began to read them out loud.
In the score of the happening written by Kantor, the title object seems to be a living organism: when the giant letter arrived at the address listed on the envelope…
The endless white carcass of the letter
the black interior of the room
among a packed crowd,
filling it almost entirely
falls to its sides,
… the audience members rushed to the letter and destroyed it.
Apart from the fascinating materiality of the letter, the potential of which was very useful to Kantor, a certain play on “the immaterial” was also important. Joanna Mytkowska wrote that:
To Kantor, a letter is a crossed object that opens the perspective of the “impossible”, which this time was emphasized by an aura of the unknown. The author assigned himself the role of inconn – the mysterious addressee of the message that justified the size of the letter and was never disclosed.
Author: Karolina Czerska, December 2014
- H. Galy-Carles, Tadeusz Kantor – a Stricken Man (in:) Hommage à Tadeusz Kantor: edited by K. Pleśniarowicz, pub. Cricoteka - the Jagiellonian University - Académie Expérimentale des Théâtres, Księgarnia Akademicka, Kraków 1999
- T. Kantor, Metamorphoses. Texts about the Years 1934-1974 / Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1934-1974, selected and edited by: K. Pleśniarowicz, pub. Ossolineum-Cricoteka, Wrocław-Kraków 2005
- J. Mytkowska, An Accidentally Recovered Object / Przedmiot odzyskany przypadkiem (in:) Tadeusz Kantor: Niemożliwe = Impossible, edited by: J. Suchan, Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków 2000
- Tadeusz Kantor: from the Archive of the Foksal Gallery / Tadeusz Kantor: z archiwum Galerii Foksal, edited by: M. Jurkiewicz, J. Mytkowska, A. Przywara, pub. Galeria Foksal SBWA, Warsaw 1998