Jeremy Millar

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Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf

Although the Polish artist and writer Stanislaw Witkiewicz did not follow his childhood friend, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, to Papua New Guinea, the country did nevertheless become an important place for him, emblematic of what one might term 'tropicality'. Indeed, as the Witkiewicz scholar Daniel Gerould has noted of the writer, ‘The tropics and revolution were fundamental to his concept of the strangeness of existence.’ This is seen, perhaps most clearly, in his 1921 play, 'Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf: A Tropical-Australian Play in Three Acts'.
   Although this strange play is set in New Guinea, and in Australia, it had never been staged in either country; indeed, it seems only ever to have been performed three times since being written. Therefore, I invited two theatre directors — Adrian Guthrie in Adelaide (where Witkiewicz and Malinowski stayed), and John Doa in Goroka (Eastern Highlands, PNG) — to stage the play in the manner they considered most appropriate to their cultural circumstances; Doa's production was performed in Pidgin, for example. These performances were filmed and will be shown in separate rooms at the National Maritime Museum, during the exhibition 'Given'.

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