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Have You Seen My DaDa?

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After writing as series of social media posts on DaDa, Dadaism, and the Dadaist movement back in the early 20th century. I have become fascinated with some of the styles and unique representations of this art form.


Just prior to World War I, anarchists and nihilists inhabited the political fringe. There was a new breed of artist who was ready to attack the very concept of art itself. In Paris, after trying his hand at Impressionism and Cubism, Marcel Duchamp rejected all painting because it was made for the eye, not the mind. He wrote that, "In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.” His piece called called, "Bicycle Wheel" was a precursor of both kinetic and conceptual art.

In 1916, German writer Hugo Ball, who had taken refuge from the war in neutral Switzerland, reflected on the state of contemporary art: “The image of the human form is gradually disappearing from the painting of these times and all objects appear only in fragments....The next step is for poetry to decide to do away with language.” Simply put, Ball wanted to shock anyone that he could. He once wrote that, “all this civilized carnage as a triumph of European intelligence.” While Romanian artist Tristan Tzara, described the nightly shows as “explosions of elective imbecility.”


Suddenly, you had Ball, Duchamp, Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Hans Arp and others gathering at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich; reading lewd poetry, showing their drawings and paintings and doing whatever they could to rebuke the art world and introduce the "anti art" that became Dadaism.



This new, erratic and irrational art movement was named Dada. It got its name from a French-German dictionary. To Ball, it fit. “Dada is ‘yes, yes’ in Rumanian, ‘rocking horse’ and ‘hobby horse’ in French,” and “For Germans it is a sign of foolish naiveté, joy in procreation, and preoccupation with the baby carriage.”


As ridiculous as it was. the absurdist outlook spread like a pandemic leading Tzara to call d Dada “a virgin microbe.” And a pandemic it became: as there were outbreaks from Berlin to Paris, New York and even Tokyo. And for all its zaniness, the movement would prove to be one of the most influential in modern art, foreshadowing abstract and conceptual art, performance art, op, pop and installation art. But Dada would die out in less than a decade.


During during World War I, which had left 10 million dead and some 20 million wounded, One writer wrote that, “For many intellectuals, World War I produced a collapse of confidence in the rhetoric, if not the principles of the culture of rationality that had prevailed in Europe since the Enlightenment.” Sigmund Freud who wrote that no event “confused so many of the clearest intelligences, or so thoroughly debased what is highest.”


Dada embraced and parodied that confusion.


“Dada wished to replace the logical nonsense of the men of today with an illogical nonsense,” wrote Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, whose artist husband, Francis Picabia, once tacked a stuffed monkey to a board and called it a portrait of Cézanne.


This struck the Dada crowd as no more absurd than the war itself. A swift German offensive in April 1917 left 120,000 French dead just 150 miles from Paris, and one village witnessed a band of French infantrymen as they were being sent as reinforcements, bleating like lambs led to slaughter. There was a French saying at the time that “Dada explains the war more than the war explains Dada.”

Hugo Ball wrote that, “The war is based on a crass error, men have been mistaken for machines.”


In Paris in the early 1920s, when Tzara, Ernst, Duchamp and other Dada pioneers took part in a series of exhibitions of provocative art, nude performances, rowdy stage productions and incomprehensible manifestoes. But the movement was falling apart. French poet, Andre Breton was already hatching the next great avant-garde idea, "Surrealism. “Dada,” he wrote, “very fortunately, is no longer an issue and its funeral, about May 1921, caused no rioting.”


So, this was Dada's last hurrah. Or was it?


There might be a good argument out there that we are seeing a possible resurgence in Dadaism. Could it be that the memes we see on Facebook, the reels and the performances on Tiktok are forms of a modern Dada? "Shut up, Old Man!" says the voice inside my head. "What has anything going on today have to do with a silly art movement from 100 years ago?" it asks. I get it, I can see where a Tiktok video or meme might seem like an unconventional example of Dada, but Dada was and is both big and small actions. Dada is an art movement, yes, but everyone’s definition of what is art is different. There are many who would argue that film of any kind is a form of art. What about performers, singers and entertainers? David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Madonna and others? Warhol, Basquiat, the entire pop art movement? The Dadists originally performed at the Cabaret Voltaire. Many people did not see "La Joconde" or "The Fountain", which was initially a jab at someone, as works of art, yet they were displayed as works of art because they represented the movement.

 

It must be stated that meme culture has been around since the 2000s. It did not just pop up yesterday. Has it always been Dada? Perhaps to an extent, but that futility and frustration and fear hadn’t completely evolved into what it is yet. 2020 has seen unprecedented times, on an international scale. People have been in a constant state of sadness, loss, anger, and pain in a way that many have stated they had not ever experienced so frequently.


I do believe that we are in a new era of Dadism. At least that's my twisted noodle sees it.


Thanks for stopping by.


The Editor

 




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