Tadeusz Kantor's "Poor Object" as icon of truth

Arts and Law
Monday 16th June 2014 (15:30-17:00)
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  • Drama research seminar

Speaker: Dr Martin Leach (De Montfort University, Leicester)

Title: Tadeusz Kantor’s “Poor Object” as icon of truth

Venue: Room 108, OLRC, Selly Oak Campus

Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) was an internationally renowned Polish artist who worked across a variety of media from painting, scenography, happening, installation, theatrical performance and theoretical writing. He claimed that his unique aesthetic – based on the idea of the ʻpoor objectʼ, from ʻthe reality of the lowest rankʼ – was forged during his work as director of the clandestine theatre under the Nazi occupation of Kraków. In categorically located his ʻpoor objectʼ ʻbetween the garbage dump and eternityʼ Kantorʼs aesthetic apparently bears an unlikely affinity with the ʻhammered gold and gold enamellingʼ – ʻthe artifice of eternityʼ of Orthodox icons. Although Kantor ostensibly drew on contemporaneous Polish sources, such as the metaphysics of Bruno Schulzʼs ʻdegraded realityʼ, his apparently peculiar marriage of symbolism and abstraction indicate a previously unexplored proximity, via the Russian avant-garde, with the mystical legacy of the aesthetic logic of icons. This connection helps to frame questions concerning truth and representation that are at the heart of Kantorʼs work and that are echoed in the concerns of the Russian avant-garde, expressed via the interest of its key practitioners in icons.
In a 1980 address Jacques Derrida characterised the problematic of representation as a ʻsendingʼ or ʻdispatchʼ – as envoi of truth. For Derrida the appearance of the envoi is not separate from that which it represents. Such a revision of the relationship between truth and representation derives from Heideggerʼs reading of Plato, which deconstructs the Allegory of the Cave into a narrative economy. The ʻimageʼ of truth enshrined in Platoʼs cave is seen in terms of a necessarily structured process of disclosure or alētheia. Such an ʻeconomy of truthʼ is also an inherent part of the Orthodox iconʼs uncanny power to act as the envoi of truth from ʻthe other worldʼ. Recent research has identified a relationship between the metaphysics of icons and the early twentieth-century avant-gardes in contemporaneous Russian writing.

This paper makes links between the work of the early twentieth-century Russian priest and philosopher, Pavel Florensky, on space and representation in the icon, in particular his 1919 essay ʻReverse Perspectiveʼ, and Heideggerʼs and Derridaʼs critiques of representation, drawing on recent research to shed new light on Kantorʼs aesthetic of the ʻrealʼ.

For information please contact Eleftheria Ioannidou at e.ioannidou@bham.ac.uk