Paul Smith introduces Antonin Artaud in Ireland, a new project from Ranlagh Arts looking at the myth and influence of the avant-garde genius, and a fateful trip to Ireland undertaken in the 1930s.
"In the anguished, catastrophic period we live in, we feel an urgent need for a theatre... whose resonance is deep within us, dominating the instability of the times." - Antonin Artaud
Antonin Artaud, the actor, artist and writer best known as founder of The Theatre of Cruelty, envisioned a radical theatre of humour, anarchy and poetry that "wakes us up: nerves and heart".
His aim was to create a new language "halfway between gesture and thought" that elevated confrontational action, sound and spectacle above conventional sets and dialogue.
Fintan O'Toole regards Artaud as "one of the three major figures in 20th century theatre; Brecht, Beckett and Artaud really are the creators of post-war avant-garde theatre… it all comes out of those figures and Artaud is the first of those figures".
Artaud was first apprehended in the grounds of Milltown Jesuit College and held at the nearby Donnybrook Police Station. This overnight incarceration placed him squarely in the earliest incarnation of the new Irish Free State's system of officialdom.
In August 1937, just at the edge of contemporary living memory, Artaud made an ill-fated six-week pilgrimage to Ireland armed with a walking stick that echoed St Patrick’s Bachall Isu. The effect on his life is often described as apocalyptic. Signposted by Synge’s writing, Artaud’s search for pre-Christian rituals and sites brought him to the Aran Isles, followed by spells in Galway and Dublin and a sad, chaotic descent into mental illness and expulsion back through his original entryway of Cobh.
In Rossa Mullin's 2009 film, Artaud On Aran, Fintan O'Toole remarks that "there’s something close to the bone about the idea that one of the great geniuses of the first half of the 20th century in artistic terms visited us and we exported him in a straightjacket".
Indeed, Artaud was first apprehended in the grounds of Milltown Jesuit College and held at the nearby Donnybrook Police Station. This overnight incarceration placed him squarely in the earliest incarnation of the new Irish Free State's system of officialdom.
The subsequent deportation to his native France immediately fed him into their system of asylums and clinics that subjected him to the then ’cutting edge’ brutal treatment of some 51 electro-shocks, transforming the once strikingly handsome silent movie star into a haggard wreck.
Amazingly, Artaud carried on making work that shook the arts community and continued to influence leading contemporary artists around the world. His final months before his death in 1948 were spent in the comparative freedom of an open clinic in the Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, funded by a sale of artworks gifted by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Giacometti, Léger, and Dubuffet and signed books from Sartre, Gide, Eluard and Mauriac – a testimony to the high regard in which he was held by his peers.
As the first step in a biennial series towards marking the 90th anniversary of that fateful visit to Ireland, Ranelagh Arts is staging a series of events, including an exhibition, screenings and guided walk.
Composer Mathew Nolan presents his new live soundtracking of the 1928 silent film classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, in which Artaud plays a monk, at Sandford Church, Ranelagh on Friday 15th Sepember - find out more here.