Dada or Dadaism was a literary and artistic movement born out of the need for expression and outrage against the atrocities taking place during World War I. Dada was therefore considered at the time to be a “moral revolution.”
“Due to the war, a number of artists, writers and intellectuals – notably of French and German nationality – found themselves congregating in the refuge that Zurich (in neutral Switzerland) offered. Far from merely feeling relief at their respective escapes, this bunch was pretty ticked off that modern European society would allow the war to have happened.” [i]
Essentially this ‘non-art movement’ took place between 1916 and 1923, primarily originating in Zurich, Swizerland but quickly spreading to other global centres at a time of mutual disapproval of the War. Between 1916 and 1918, early Dadaists gathered in Cabaret Voltaire in war-neutral Zurich, Switzerland with the likes of artists/poets/philosophers includingTristaTzara, Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Jean Arp, and Sophie Täuber. French painter Marchel Duchamp later joined the movement and became essentially, its most articulate spokesman. Duchamp challenged the motion of art and the confines within which it existed by presenting the world with a urinal, taken out of its natural environment and presented as the sculpture piece “The Fountain.” He also generated buzz and created the rallying signature piece known to Dadaists everywhere with the painting of a moustache and beard on a reproduction of the infamous “Mona Lisa.” “Concurrently in New York, Dada leaders Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia concerned themselves with revealing, and hastening, the aesthetic decomposition of Western art. ( Duchamp’s scandalous “ready-mades” had foreshadowed his later Dadaist concoctions.)”2
The dada goal was to cast doubt on the power of language, literature, and art to represent reality, which they felt was absurdly chaotic and unrepresentable. They reveled in what they called the “anti-real.” Dadaists saw art as a pretentious luxury, so they set out to change the context in which art was to be experienced.1
Shelly Esaak, in her essay entitled Dada – Art History 101 Basics, The Non-Art Movement (1916-23)listed the primary characteristics of the Dada non-art movement as below:
Dada began in Zurich and became an international movement. Or non-movement, as it were.
Dada had only one rule: Never follow any known rules.
Dada was intended to provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer (typically shock or outrage).
Dada art is nonsensical to the point of whimsy.
Abstraction and Expressionism were the main influences on Dada, followed by Cubism and, to a lesser extent, Futurism.
There was no predominant medium in Dadaist art. All things from geometric tapestries to glass to plaster and wooden reliefs were fair game. It’s worth noting, though, that assemblage, collage, photomontage and the use of ready made objects all gained wide acceptance due to their use in Dada art.
Although Dada is regarded as having been born in Switzerland, it grew equally quickly and organically throughout much of the rest of Europe and other parts of the world before its demise in 1922.
The New World Encyclopedia lists the major city centres as follows: Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, New York, Paris, parts of the Netherlands and Georgia among many other locations.
With Switzerland being declared a neutral zone in WWI, many artists and creative types found themselves there from 1917 onwards; but quickly also left once the war was over. Tristan Tzara and his right hand man Francis Picabia are too such examples. At Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, “as organized by Tzara, the Dada evenings were influenced by the outlandish showmanship of the Italian Futurists.”2
“From 1917 to 1921, they produced 8 issues of Dada magazine, which appeared in German and French. However, with the war’s end, Switzerland’s importance as a neutral haven declined. Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974), a founding member of Dada left for Berlin, Picabia went to Paris, and when Tzara followed him in 1920, the Zurich phase of Dada was over.” [ii] Tzara produced the Dada Manifesto in 1918, turning the two year old movement into a fast growing revolution in the artistic world. 6
“After World War I, Huelsenbeck founded the Club Dada in Berlin. “Berlin Dada was satirical and highly political: its targets more narrowly and precisely defined than elsewhere, and its main weapons were periodicals, including Club Dada and Der Dada – both of which employed a raucous use of explosive typography and photomontage.”3It was in fact this last artform that German Dadaists are credited with leaving to the world. Dadaists were the natural enemy of the Expressionist movement currently in play at the time, and the group of Dadaists soon found themselves coalescing into the Spartacist and Communist movements over time.
Cologne and Hanover, Germany
In Germany, there were other centres: The Cologne branch (1919-20) was less political and more biased towards aesthetics and the Hanover branch. Jean Arp and Max Ernst belonged to the former and Kurt Schwitters to the latter.3
New York, United States of America
Meanwhile, in New York, the non-art movement arose almost independently. This time under the tutelage of Marchel Duchamp, Man Ray and Francis Picabia (from Zurich Dada), they primarily centred themselves at Stieglitz’s gallery, “291,” and at the studio of the Walter Arensbergs. “Duchamp and Ray also collaborated with Katherine Dreier in setting up SocieteAnonyme, an association to promote the growth and appreciation of modern art in America. (It paved the way for New York’s Museum of Modern Art).”3Picabia raised mechanical drawing to the forefront, Man Ray used airbrushing and Duchamp presented the world with the Mona Lisa (with facial hair) and the infamous Fountain (urinal postulated as art) [iii]
With the end of the war, many of the leading minds in Dada moved over to Paris, France, including Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Tristan Tzara, where they mingled with like minded French artists includingFrench poets André Breton and Louis Aragon.3Given the mixed artistic influences gathered in one place, Paris quickly rose to prominence in the Dada movement as being a centre for performing arts, literature, exhibitions and commentary. 4Key works to emerge from Parisinclude Picabia’s Cannibal Manifesto andTzara’s ‘Soirée dela Coeur à Barbe’which effectively signaled the end of Dada in July 1923. 6
Theo van Doesburg,established theDe Stijl movement and magazine and was a fervent starter for Dada in The Netherlands.”Van Doesburg mainly focused on poetry, and included poems from many well-known Dada writers in De Stijl such as Hugo Ball, Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters. Van Doesburg became a friend of Schwitters, and together they organized the so-called Dutch Dada campaign in 1923, where Van Doesburg promoted a leaflet about Dada (entitled What is Dada?)”. [iv]
Influence on Graphic Design and Conclusions
By far the largest contribution of the Dad movement and its artists was the recognition of everyday products and things as art, and the move to understand, embrace and celebrate the use of machines in art. Dadaism born out of Berlin brought with it photo-montages, which until then were generally not accepted by the mainstream (the same mainstream that ‘killed’ Dadaism).
It was Dadism’s bastard offspring, Surrealism that has had a strong iermpact on graphic design today. “Numerous instances could be cited, but the series
of playfully surreal Benson and Hedges cigarette advertisements of
the 1970s are excellent examples. Critics such as Fredric Jameson
have noted that the Surrealist cult of desire, along with the visual
techniques fostered to give it expression, has been hijacked by the
market system to cater to the ‘pseudosatisfactions’ of capitalistconsumerism.” [v]
Dada artisans were among the earliest artistic types to use and to attempt to influence mass media, with “the Berlin Dadaists even presenting themselves as an advertising agency.” [vi]
Dadism also dispelled existing notions of typography and design layouts with its ordered chaos, paving the way for design as we know it today. Tristan Tzara stated clearly in his 1918 Dada Manifesto, “Every page should explode, either because of its deep seriousness, or because of its vortex, vertigo, newness, timelessness, crushing humor, enthusiasm of its principles, or the way it is printed.” [vii] In these and many similar manifestos, the limits of typography design were approached and pushed, but never exceeded; as they maintained a respect one tool of their trade – language.
Ultimately, and only in hindsight, can one recognize the contribution of the non-art movement termed Dada by its founders and in this same hindsight, seek to establish the way in which it influenced movements that followed.
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