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In 500 words: Light-Weight Gestures, Metal Teeth 0

By Anna Iltnere

Photos by Katrīna Ģelze 

On a rainy evening of June 26, in the neighborhood of the Riga nightclub “Nabaklab”, there was the smell of something burning; that’s because a 62 year-old artist from Canada was dripping his own blood onto a portable electric stove-top. An alternate beginning to this review could go like this: if the punk-rock veteran John Lydon had been born in Budapest, he would most likely have been Istvan Kantor. In a way. Because a very similar aura of personality radiates from this self-confident artist of Hungarian extraction – with his white shock of hair, mouth full of flashing metal, and surprisingly great physique. Kantor had been brought to Riga by the Estonian multi-artist Kiwa (also known as Kiwanoid), who is organizing Istvan Kantor’s solo show in Tallinn. The exhibition, open through July 15, is being held in the (illegal) Museum of Contemporary Art of Estonia, which has been housed in an abandoned city heating plant for several years now. Considering Istvan Kantor’s stance that museums are repressed, bog-downed institutions, the artist is really satisfied with the venue. It’s important to note that this weekend, the “Kantor Festival” will be held in what was once Tallinn’s prison – a suitable place, taking into consideration that Kantor has been arrested several times and often uses the written equation “museum=prison” in his performances. In 2004, Istvan Kantor was apprehended by the museum guards of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for spraying an “X”, with his own blood, on the wall, next to Paul McCarthy’s gold Michael Jackson sculpture; and while being escorted out of the building, Kantor angrily shouted “This is not an exhibition, this is a police station!” In 1988, the artist pulled his “Blood-X” stunt at New York's MoMA, right between two Pablo Picasso paintings. This light-weight gesture of drawing an “X” always resonates into an international scandal.

Istvan Kantor during his talk in the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art

There were only a little over a dozen people in the audience at “Nabaklab”, while in the rest of the world, people like David Bowie and Madonna are fans of his performances. Although at times the show seemed as a repeat of Kantor’s well-known “signature acts”, one should keep in mind the basic foundation of his art, which is that humans beings are like machines; he alludes that sex, salutes, making the sign of the cross, and other monotonous bodily motions, which actually never really change, are incredibly loaded with meaning. Kiwa, however, pleasantly improvised by unexpectedly appearing behind the podiums – done up in a red dress and with platform shoes surprisingly handily (what a strange word, when addressing to high-heels) switched on and off the various apparatuses lying on the ground. While Kantor, with his medical education, carefully pressed his finger on his vein to avoid bleeding to death, Kiwa made to change back into jeans, but gave up mid-way and continued to supply the accompanying clamoring noise, dressed in nothing more than lacy leggings. It seems that in rituals, it’s the straying off of protocol that causes us to approach a state of catharsis. 

Istvan Kantor and Kiwa