Monday, March 07, 2016

DADA 100

DADA was invented 1oo years ago and celebratory events are happening around the world.

It's a delight to delve into DADA again. It's inspiring and I feel its something that I've been looking for. You may feel the same way.

This post begins with 'Memoirs of A Dada Drummer' by Richard Huelsenbeck - which is widely regarded as one of the most influential accounts that has shaped our modern understanding of Dada. 

He believed that Dada is the only appropriate philosophy of our age. In 1949, he wrote that "Dada was the beginning of the revolution of the suppressed personality against technology, mass media, and the feeling of being lost in an ocean of business cleverness." He saw the threat of a new totalitarianism in technology.

This book has special personal meaning for me because it was a 50th birthday present from Mike Edwards, a fine artist who was also the first drummer in my band BoHo. I really like that two drummer thing. It's inscribed: 'Many Happy Returns from a BoHo drummer and his Missus.' Cool.

The book is like box of magic tricks. It begins with a quote from Huelsenbeck, that reads in part:

'Have we ever had more reasons for blowing red-hot smoke out of our noses or being prouder? We killed a quarter of a century, we killed several centuries for the sake of what is to come. You can call it what you like: surgery, kleptomania, calligraphy; for all we can say is: We are, we have worked some - revolution, reaction, extra! extra! we are - we are - Dada first and foremost - first and foremost a word, whose fantasticness is incomprehensible.'

Then comes a Foreword to the Paperback Edition by Rudolf E. Kuenzli of the International Dada Archive in Iowa City - an extraordinary resource. Its a stunner. Here's the opening quote and Kuenzli's opening comment:

In his essay entitled "Dada Lives," Richard Huelsenbeck predicts that "everywhere, throughout the world, where forces are at work to turn back the wheel of history, Dada will be hated. Therefore it is not difficult to predict a great future for Dada."

' Dada's aggressive, vital, scandalous spirit has indeed been activated by writers and artists throughout the twentieth century in their opposition to stultifying, moribund institutions and social value.'

Tristan Tzara, a Dada founder who we'll come to in a minute, describes Dada as a "virgin microbe" which, says Kuenzli, 'has infected artists and writers throughout the century.' Tzara also called Dada a "chameleon of rapid, interested change."

Dada begins in the middle of World War 1, then becomes part of the Surrealist revolution and, in Germany, joins both the Communist movement and Constructivism. During and after World War 2, it activates existentialism and Abstract Expressionism amongst other movements. In the 1950s/60s, 'Neo-Dada' emerged though Pop Art, Fluxus and Happenings and through the Situationists in Paris. In the 1970s, Dada was discovered by counter-culture punk and rock musicians. Dada later played its part in eastern bloc oppositional movements and, writes Kuenzli, 'Dada tactics have been used 'to expose and critique the cultural codes and values propagated in advertising.' Its still active today as we will see later.

To cut a long life story short, Huelsenbeck emigrated to New York in 1936, where he became a psychiatrist and later founded the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. He also changed his name to Charles R. Hulbeck. He was the only living Dadaist in America from 1936 to 1969 who had been in Zurich and Berlin at the beginning. He distanced himself from Dada for many years until, in 1949, he began producing his reinterpretations of the meaning of Dada, its history and constructed a new manifesto. 

These accounts completely suppressed the political aspect of Berlin Dada, which had embraced Bolshevism. This was because of the rise of McCarthyism and his very real fears that he might be deported. He had changed his name to Charles R. Hulbeck but he was still investiagted by the FBI.

Huelsenbeck redefined Dada's goal as being "human development, towards spirituality and freedom."  He said his new manifesto is "a free declaration of men who have recognised the need for a constructive movement and discovered to their joy that they have never been far removed from such a movement. The worst that can be said is that the world has indeed come to a sorry pass if even the Dadaists feel it necessary to stress the positive and constructive aspect if their nature and principles."

He also described Dada as being the individual's revolt against general banality and stupidity and as a "struggle for a creative life, for growth and becoming, for what may be only divined."

In the end, Huesenbeck left America and his alter ego behind and spent his last years in Europe (where he died in 1974) because he did not feel that Dada could exist in America. He said:  

"I  wanted to be a hippie again, a dadaist hippie in my own style with short hair and with a good fitting suit - but a hippy anyway. My desire to be disorderly, chaotic and malfunctioning...became overwhelming. I wanted to go back to some kind of chaos: not a chaos that kills, but a chance that is the first step to creativity."

The Introduction by Hans J. Kleinschmidt is fascinating. It begins with a 1970 lecture to young students, many of whom were actively protesting against the Vietnam War and for civil rights in which he talks about Dada being  "a collective struggle for individual rights."

Kleinschmidt gives an excellent history of Dada which leads into Huelsenbeck's own wonderful account, In brief, Huelsenbeck met Hugo Ball in 1912 in Munich, a gifted writer and poet, and they founded the magazine 'Revolution.' together. They both then moved to Berlin in 1914 where, when war broke out, they organised meetings and readings for poets killed at the front. In 1915 Ball left for Zurich and Huelsenbeck followed.

A few weeks before his arrival, Hugo Ball and his muse Emmy Hennings founded the Cabaret Voltaire. Two Romanians Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco joined the party. Other founder members are considered to be Hans (Jean) Arp  and Sophie Taeuber-Arp.

Although Tzara mad claim to having coined the term Dada, Kleinschmidt says categorically that 'there can be no doubt that Huelsenbeck was the one who came upon the magic word in an edition of Larousse.' In January 1917, Huelsenbeck left for Berlin because his father was  seriously ill and there joined forces with others to found  Dada in the city

There we will leave this marvellous book. So much more in it to explore and enjoy. I hope I have whetted your appetite.

In THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE, I am fortunate to have a copy of the English version of the DADA ALMANAC that was edited by Huelsenbeck and originally published in Berlin in 1920 to coincide with the end of the First International Dada Fair. The English version, presented by Malcolm Green, was published by the Atlas Press in 1993. The Almanac is a wonderful collection of Dada publications, artworks and portraits. In his Introduction, Green says Dada means 'hobby-horse' or 'gee-gee' and it 'was found by chance in a French dictionary [the Larousse referred to earlier] whilst looking for a title for the group's magazine.' Dada was also the name of a range of Swiss toiletries. Green says the discoverer of the word is a subject of much debate.

Another treasure from the library is this Dada monograph, published by Academy Edition in London and St. Martin's Press in New York in 1975, from which these portraits and the one above of Marcel Janco come.

Celebratory exhibitions and events:

DADA 100 Zurich 2016:

Dada Universal/National Museum Zurich

Dadaglobe Reconstructed/Kunsthaus Zurich: 

Dadaglobe Reconstructed/Museum of Modern Art New York:


In February this year, the actual month of Dada's 100th anniversary, Adrian Notz, the  director of the  Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, announced that it was facing financial crisis. As a result, he said that they would be attempting to sell the club as a $13.1 million sculpture. He told Art Net News: "It would be nice to offer the sculpture as a living space for artists who would manage the house and run it as a slightly more international meeting place. The art market is currently so crazy that it might actually work!" 

This is not the first time that the building at Spiegelgasse 1 has been threatened. In 2002, conceptual artist Mark Divo  led an occupation by artists calling themselves neo-Dadaists, to protest against a plan to convert it into luxury apartments. The Cabaret Voltaire reopened as a cultural venue in 2004.

The building is owned by the huge insurance company Swiss Life who may or may not be willing to sell. In the past, the theatre had been subsidized by the city government but, in 2008, the right-wing UDC party opposed this funding and Swatch withdrew its financial sponsorship. As a result, the Cabaret Voltaire has had to rely on its shop, bar, events and performances for funding.

Another account  by Tony Perrottet from the Wall Street Journal [Jan. 19, 2016]
'By mid-1916, unable to afford the rent, the Dadaists were forced to move to other venues. Cabaret Voltaire was turned into a bingo parlor in the 1920s and a series of pubs in the 1980s, enjoying a strange half-life among Dadaism’s admirers as a shrine. Its fate looked grim by the 1990s, when the structure was abandoned, then bought by an insurance company to convert into luxury apartments. Swiss artists were outraged, and in 2002, squatters occupied the site and staged vaguely Dadaist events, such as throwing 2,000 francs from a window to attract supporters. The Swatch company offered to fund its operation as a cultural center if the city council would pay the rent—315,000 francs a year—allowing Cabaret Voltaire to reopen in 2004 and become a fixture on the lively Zurich art scene. Recent visitors include Marilyn Manson and the satirical performance artists Reverend Billy and the Yes Men, who were inspired to dress up as human mops and “clean” a local bank by rubbing themselves on the walls and floor. “They were a bit disappointed nobody called the Zurich police,” says Notz.'
Is Lady Gaga the face of 21st-century Dada? 'An  exhibition at the Cabaret Voltaire asks what Dada looks like in the 21st century—and Lady Gaga is one potential answer. 
“We have extended an open invitation to Gaga” to be blessed in a “Holy Catholic Mass”, says Adrian Notz, the director of Cabaret Voltaire. 

Should the pop star affirm her commitment to Dada, Notz will baptise her in a nearby pool. “She can finally become art,” he says.'

[The Art Newspaper]

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