Greetings one and all to my first post for the Dada project. The intention of these series of articles throughout the year will be to highlight the importance of the early 20th century movement known as Dada or Dadaism. Although officially not a movement to it’s practitioners, it grew out of a group of writers and artists banded together in neutral Switzerland in the middle of The Great War as an angry reaction against the brutality of the conflict. Dada always intended to provoke an emotional reaction towards the general public by creating shock and outrage through it’s poetry, performance and art which was often satirical and nonsensical in nature. Dada was also anti-bourgeois and had political affinities with the radical left. Influenced by the earlier avant-garde movements of Abstraction, Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism and Futurism, it eventually became an international movement with key groups in Berlin, Cologne, New York and Paris. Although the Dadaists were united in their ideals, they had no unifying style and often attacked traditional artistic values which were seen as suspect and in need of change.
So the aim of this project is to look at some of the important aspects throughout Dada history from studying some of the major figures and key events that shaped it’s occurrence and subsequent influence on later art movements, which are still just as relevant in todays culture. We also aim to provide a practical guide to some of the art techniques developed in it’s conception and provide some how-to guides on some of the important features of Dada art or ‘anti’ art as it was soon to become. We hope this project and series of articles will appeal to all people interested in the history of art and especially to the artists, writers and other creatives that want to explore and develop there own technique and method.
Grindhouse therapy: The graphic novel
As part of this Dada Project we have also created a comic book/graphic novel section to the website which is intended to be an interactive group for creative people interested in working on ideas and Dada inspired art and writing with a goal towards producing a unique online experience in the process of creating a graphic novel, comic book or series of short stories. As with the very nature of Dada there are no specific rules towards this group and is meant as an experimental tool for developing each others artistic endeavours for future projects within the art and design industry. We hope it will eventually become a useful platform for the experienced artist as well as students who want to learn more about avant-garde art. We love the idea of it being a mash up of different styles and influences so whatever medium you like to use, whether it be creative writing, painting/drawing, sculpture, photography, film, animation, music and anything else thats considered to be creative and interesting then we salute and welcome you to the group.
Some key aspects to consider;
- Art can be made of anything. Marcel Duchamp’s infamous pre-dada “readymades” were “found” objects and illustrated the Dada notion that art can be made of anything, no matter how ordinary and banal.
- Philosophy, Style and Method. Dada was a deliberately negative reaction towards war and especially against the bourgeois society that sponsored state violence. It’s intention was to present nihilistic ideas into a new art form that was completely removed of traditional values and beliefs.
- The idea is more important than the work of art itself. This led to a completely new way of experiencing art in terms of theory rather than through it’s means of presenting an aesthetic object of beauty. A reaction against the earlier modernist way of thinking and towards the creation of other art movements including conceptual art and post modernism.
- Dada had only one rule. Never follow any known rules.
- Photomontage. Developed by the Berlin Dada group. It is a variation of collage of pasted photographs or photographic reproductions usually taken from newspapers. The mass media provided plenty of ammunition for the dadaists and there scathing critiques. Photomontage through its cut and paste method effectively captured the shocks of modernity and the group saw themselves as mechanics rather than artists.
- Typography. The dadaists used unconventional typographic design. Mixing fonts regularly and employing unorthodox punctuation and printing both horizontally, vertically and scattered about randomly.
- Collage. This technique was developed further by dada artists from the discoveries made in cubism by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques in Paris earlier. By pasting papers, fabric and other two-dimensional objects into their artwork, breaking down the barrier between art and everyday life. The Hannover artist Kurt Schwitters included such items as train tickets, candy wrappers, printed pamphlets and other disposable items collected in the course of an outing to form a visual diary of modern life.
- Sound poem. To construct a sound poem language is broken down into abstract parts (syllables and individual letters) and reconfigured as meaningless sounds. Poems are also spoken simultaneously and often in different languages rendering each unintelligible. By destroying language the sound poems offered both a metaphor for the destruction of war and the deceitfulness of words.
- Assemblage. These are three-dimensional artworks or sculptural objects comprising of found elements that can be free standing or hung on the wall. Assemblages were built from everyday objects that were usually nailed, screwed or fastened together. The range of objects used was endless and included military medals, mannequin heads and general bits of trash.
- Readymades. These are usually everyday manufactured goods that the artists has deemed worthy to be called art.
- Chance. The dadaists turned to chance as an antidote to war. The random and accidental offered a way of letting go of conscious control. Using chance as a technique also presented a critique of the traditional notion of artistic mastery. The process of art making was no longer in control of the artist and instead was left to chance alone.
- Abstraction. Influenced by Wassily Kandinsky the dadaists understood abstraction as a way of gaining access to the more instinctive inner consciousness. This was also a politically motivated turn against contemporary society and a move toward pure instinct in the face of failed rationality.
- Overpainting. The Cologne artist Max Ernst created a series of works by taking found printed material, embellished wallpapers and other items and painted or drew over the top adding lines and areas of colour to obscure the original function of the sheet. Ernst went on to create other painting techniques which will be discussed in detail in later posts.
- Photography. The Dada group embraced photography when others questioned it’s validity as an art form and just a mechanical reproduction. Their experiments with the medium include the use of double exposures, radical perspectives and unconventional subject matter. They also experimented with camera-less photographs known as photograms which recorded the placement of objects on photosensitive paper that has been exposed to light.
Dadaists on Dada.
‘ No more painters, no more scribblers, no more musicians, no more sculptors, no more religions, no more royalists, no more radicals, no more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more communists, no more proletariat, no more democrats, no more republicans, no more bourgeois, no more aristocrats, no more arms, no more police, no more nations, an end at last to all this stupidity, nothing left, nothing at all, nothing, nothing.’
— Louis Aragon, ‘Manifesto of the Dada Movement’ (1920).
‘Dada talks with you, it is everything, it includes everything, it belongs to all religions, can be neither victory nor defeat, it lives in space and not in time’
— Francis Picabia.
‘ I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste’
— Marcel Duchamp.
“In those days we were all Dadaists. if the word meant anything at all, it meant seething discontent, dissatisfaction and cynicism. Defeat and political ferment always give rise to that sort of movement.
We held Dadaist meetings, charged a few marks admission and did nothing but tell people the truth, that is, abuse them. The news spread quickly and soon our meetings were sold out, crammed with people wanting to be scandalized or just after fun.
Between insults we performed ‘art’, but the performances were as a rule interrupted. Thus hardly would Walter Mehring begin to rattle away at his typewriter while reciting some piece or other of his own composition, when Heartfield or Hausmann would come out from behind the stage and yell; ‘Stop! you’re not trying to bamboozle that feeble-minded lot down there are you?’ “.
— George Grosz, The Autobiography of George Grosz (1955).