The Danger of Definitions: Dadaism and its Modern Manifestations
Though there have been countless movements and representations of rejections of convention in the history of modern art in many cases these standards were developed by individuals acting in accordance with the idea that "this is how I see the world: love it or leave it" and hopefully love it as leave it doesn't pay the bills. Yet, with Dadaism, though there is a core few conceptual founders the movement is demonstrative of a collective of artists seeking to challenge convention. This work will briefly define Dadaism, as much as this is possible, provide a few representative examples and lastly and most importantly provide a unique analysis of how Dadaism can be seen reflected in art and life in the present time.
The Dadaists wished to let people know that regardless of the fact that the artist has nothing to do or say regarding acceptance and appreciation for one's art, i.e. The concept of the spectator as the defining aspect in "success" of the reception of one's creative endeavors (Duchamp 818-819) the Dada artists cares not for beauty and/or "success" in the sense of the material or the definition. Tristan Tazara, the person most often associated as one of the founders of Dadaism was mainly a poet as was Hugo Boss the cofounder of the movement. Tazara's most foundational contribution to Dadaism can be found in his Dada Manifesto (1918):
And so Dada was born of the need for independence, of a distrust toward unity. Those who are with us preserve their freedom. We recognize good theory. We have enough cubist and futurist academies: laboratories of formal ideas. Is the aim of art to make money and cajole the nice bourgeoisie? Rhymes ring with the assonance of the currencies and the inflexion slips along the line of the belly in profile. All groups of artists have arrived at this trust company after riding their steeds on various comets. While a door remains open to the possibility of wallowing in cushions and good things to eat. […] (Tazara 250)
Dadaism demonstrates an attempt to reject convention, to build an aesthetic that does not reflect reality is a port according to Dadaists reality is corrupted as is beauty and everything that defines it so making artistic objects that are representative of classic beauty is an assault to Dadaism. The movement stressed three dimensional rather
recitation of the sound poem "
," 1917 than two dimensional works and works of what is often now referred to as found art or everyday objects incorporated to make an artistic expression, what Duchamp refers to as "readymade" or "reciprocal readymade" where the artists takes a found object and amends it in some manner to build an artwork. (819-820) Additionally, those two dimensional works associated with Dadaism were often multimedia such as collages and amended or manipulated photography of objects and/or actions that would be considered unconventional or absurd or even in its early stages performance type art, such as the representative "reading" of the sound poem Karawane by Hugo Ball (see figure 1 above).
Some Additional Examples of Dadaist Art
Having as fully as possible defined Dadaism it is essential now to offer the reader a few examples of other works considered "Dada," which according to Tzara means "nothing." (249-250) As it has been stated Dadaism was fully intended to defy definitions and descriptions and built on the premise that it was exclusively unconventional, but not in the ways that other modern art movements have been considered unconventional. Additionally, the movement is also not divorced of its context, especially as a rejection of war. Here are a few examples of Dadaist art:
, untitled (mask, portrait of Tristan
, cardboard, paper, glue, string, crayon, 1919
Cut With the Kitchen Knife Through the First Epoch of the Weimar Beer-Belly
oil, watercolor, crayon, collage, on paper, 1919
The Art Critic
, photomontage and collage, 12.5x10," 1919-1920
Andre Breton as a sandwich man (by Francis
) at Dada festival, Paris, March 27, 1920
cannibale dada by Francis
, read at the Dada soiree at the Theatre
, Paris, 27 March 1920.
You are all indicted; stand up! Stand up as you would for the Marseillaise
Dada alone does not smell: it is nothing, nothing, nothing
It is like your hopes: nothing.
like your paradise: nothing.
like your idols: nothing.
like your politicians: nothing.
like your heroes: nothing.
like your artists: nothing.
like your religions: nothing.
Hiss, shout, kick my teeth in, so what? I shall still tell you that you are half-wits. In three months my friends and I will be selling you our pictures for a few francs.
307)Above one can see the themes of absurd as well as meaningful social commentary, the first represents a portrait of the founder of Dadaism, the second a social and political commentary on the Weimer government, those in power prior to the ascension of the leadership of Germany by Hitler's party, the third a general comment of an art critic, the fourth time based art representation of the absurd. During the performance when the last photograph was taken the center of it, Andre Breton recited the artist's (Francis Picabia) so called Manifeste cannibale dada (see figure 6). This manifesto also serves to succinctly illustrate the ideal of Tazara and Dadaism in general. The ideals associated with these examples are clearly a rejection of the status quo and a rejection that intentionally flies in the face of the definitions of art, lastly, the ideals that stress that life in the modern world involves a certain amount of cannibalism, or mans' unnecessary cruelty to man. To some extent the idea was to alter those very definitions and allow its practitioners to build art for art's sake and of course to provide what the artist believed was necessary social commentary. (Weiss 253) The final pictorial example of Dadaism as an expression of the absurd is a photograph of the installation work Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau, an installation that he intermingled with his own living space, in three successive locations, having to do in part with his exile from Nazi Germany when he was designated by the regime as a "degenerate artist." The work thematically displays the people and themes he experienced in his life offering homage to them through "grottos." Schwitters attempted to demonstrate that art should be a part of everyday life, not something we separate ourselves from by a golden rope. (West 90)
, mixed media, 1924-37 Having loosely defined Dadaism and provided some representative examples of it, this work will move on to a unique analysis of how Dadaism is reflected in our society today. The remainder of this work will argue that Dadaism began a foundational tradition of artistic expression that is pervasive in examples of art and cultural expression in the modern world. Some relevant examples of Dadaism in present include art examples that are demonstrative of Dadaism influence on Time Based Art (TBA) which provides ample examples of the Dadaist tradition.
Time Based Art
When one thinks of time based art in the sense of high art, there are countless regional examples all over the world where festivals and foundations showcase art that is transient to some degree, such as performance art and/or theatrical presentations that take place in one time in one context and sometimes even stress audience participation as a key. One U.S. example this writer can think of is the annual Portland Oregon-based Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) TBA festival where individuals and groups descend on the city of Portland to create art that is boasted to be occurring somewhere at all times during the festival in the city with visual arts displays as well as performance productions occurring in nearly every corner of the city for the length of the two-week festival. Pictorial examples of this festival are plentiful but the most recent 2011 festival provides a particularly interesting social commentary TBA piece worth inclusion here:
The Portland Northwest College of Art (PNCA) production entitled
Disorientalism: Ready Mix where performance artists demonstrate the modern emphasis on junk culture, best described by its collaborative performance group:
Figure 8 Pictorial representation of the performance team that is the genesis of the TBA
: Ready Mix
Disorientalism's preoccupation with junk culture translates into junk food, as Ready Mix stirs up the story of Aunt Jemima's century-long makeover from "slave mammy" to "modern working mother." This project is the second chapter of The Food Groups, a five-part series focusing on race and labor in American food production and promotion. One-by-one, the Disorientals will encounter five historical food industry characters: Wendy of Wendy's Old Fashioned…