24 October 2008


The Dada movement started in 1916 in Zurich. It was primarily a reaction to the war by a group of artists who saw it as futile and wasteful. They treated the war with disdain and couldn't understand the patriotism which lead their compatriots to give up their lives for "the idea of the nation, which is at best an interest-group of fur-dealers and leather-merchants, at worst an interest-group of psychopaths ...". So said important dadaist, Richard Huelsenbeck, one of the early members of the Cabaret Voltaire, a performance space enterprise founded by Hugo Ball.

Ball was also German and also extremely anti-war, he was highly critical of his countrymen and peers' blind devotion to war: "What has now broken out is the total machinery and the Devil himself." The Cabaret Voltaire, which he opened in February 1916, was assembled by a series of favours, commissions, some good contacts and the inspiration needed to attempt something which aimed, as Hans Arp described it, to "destroy the deceptions of reason and discover an irrational order".

He obtained the hall from Mr. Ephraim; the prints, drawings and masks which adorned the walls were from various friends, including Arp and Marcel Janco, who also designed the performer's costumes; he approached the Zurich press for some notices, said, "we're planning to do some nice things"; and on February 5 the Cabaret Voltaire was born. From then, every evening he staged a varied programme of songs, readings, music and dances. Ball wrote some pieces himself and they also performed works by Frank Wedekind, Alfred Jarry, Guillaume Apollinaire, and the club's "patron saint", Voltaire. Musically, there was works by Debussy and Ravel and the dances were choreographed by Rudolph van Laban (of the Laban School) himself.

Having set the bar so high, Ball needed to continue to meet the expectations of his audience, who wanted ever-increasing spectacle. As time went on, the Cabaret Voltaire went from being an essentially Expressionistic event to encompassing what would come to be known as Dada. The total rejection of rules and conventions, the breaching of barriers, seemed to be the only way to continue the spectacle, the logical expression of their detestation of an illogical war. Thus, the programme was radicalised.

New methods of performance were experimented with, such as phonetic "sound-poems" which attempted to find meaning in 'meaningless' noises, toying with the traditional order of sounds, abolishing the interplay of sound and meaning as we know it. These poems, along with the "simultaneous poems" (where all the poets read their works simultaneously in one cacophonous confusion, analogous with the deafening din of war), eventually became the preferred performance method at Cabaret Voltaire and thus came to define Dada as anti-art. As Huelsenbeck said: "Dada means nothing. We want to change the world with nothing."

Lastly, and in a new thread, I want to mention the "random poems", which I was particularly taken by. As the name suggests, these "random poems" were random, created by reducing one's creative influence to a set of predetermined structures. Artist Tristan Tzara came up with a clear instruction for these poems. He suggests one take an article of one's choice and size, cut out every individual word, shake them up in a bag, then take them out one by one, just as they come, and write everything down conscientiously, "the poem will be similar to you". I really loved this idea, the rigidity of it, I suppose. The fact it's au hazard. One must give up control. I decided to glue the words I'd cut out onto a magazine tear so obviously one can have creative input here, with the choice of image, order of words, etc., but even so, it's all predetermined. Dada!


Blogger j. said...

you have one of the few blogs that can make me sit still and read through an entire post. (i cant even do this with my own blog)

just thought id let you know.


25 October, 2008 00:37  

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