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Dada and the Performance of Modern Life

Dada and the Performance of Modern Life

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Dada and the Performance of Modern Life

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  1. Dada and the Performance of Modern Life “Everyone dances to his own personal boomboom…” Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto, 1918

  2. Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich • Founded 1916 by expatriates; nurtured in a “birdcage surrounded by roaring lions”; died less than a year later • The Five (Six): • Tristan Tzara, Romanian, poet • Hans Arp, Alsace-Lorraine, painter and poet • Richard Huelsenbeck, German, medical student • Marcel Janco, Romanian, architect and painter • Hugo Ball,German, writer, theatre manager, pianist • Emmy Hemmings, German, cabaret singer

  3. Wanted: Rebels --Notice in Zurich Paper, 1916 • Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has been formed whose aim is to create a center for artistic entertainment. The idea of the cabaret will be that guest artists will come and give musical performances and readings at the daily meetings. The young artists of Zurich, whatever their orientation, are are invited to come along… (Melzer CR 180)

  4. Cabaret as “Soirée” Dada • Drinking, piano-playing (Ball), singing • Variety Format (Ball’s work in vaudeville):Reading, shouting, singing, reciting, dancing, chanting, incantation, skits, manifestoes, poetry • Performance as Fragmentation

  5. Hugo Ball’s Theatre of Spirit • Sole member of the five with any legitimate background in theatre; failed actor • Belief in the creative power of the unconscious, the unaided imagination, and of art as a means towards social rebirth: • Connection to Wassily Kandinsky, Ball’s “guru” • New, abstract, fundamental Art as pathway to spiritual rebirth and the pursuit of “inner nature” • Work-> Audience’s “vibrations” matching artists “soul-vibrations” in work

  6. Hugo Ball • Theatrical experimentation should go the way of painterly abstraction • Anti-realistic (no characterization, plot, naturalistic mimesis) • Reduction of performance to elementals: • 1.The musical sound and its movement • 2. The physical-psychial sound and its movement, expressed through people and objects • 3. The colored tone and its movement (Melzer CR 192) • SYNESTHESIA: combinations of sensory stimulations (visual and verbal: color, light, sound, movement) • Music-as-color; movement-as-rhythm

  7. A Primitive Performance • Masks: characterization vs. passion --”motive power”: demands costume, gesture, dance --externalization of unconscious --deceptive: hide-and-seek of identity --grotesque: a response to the war; the deformation of the human • “Man suddenly finds himself plunged before an image of himself which he didn’t suspect existed and which plunges him into terror. His confidence in himself, in life itself, disappears. He is at the limits of reason. The horror which the grotesque, degenerate mask communicates is purely negative and destructive…” George Burand (Melzer CR 199)

  8. A Primitive Language • Marinetti’s “Words in Freedom”: • “They are just letters of the alphabet on the page; you can roll up such a poem like a map. The syntax has come apart…There is no language anymore…it has to be invented all over again. Disintegration right in the innermost process of creation” (Ball, qtd. In Melzer CR 197) • Simultaneous Poetry: Poetry-as-Performance • --”A simultaneous poem means nothing but “Hurrah for Life!” (Huelsenbeck, qtd. In Metzer CR 201) • Poetry-as-Montage: juxtaposition of unrelated words, verbal free-association

  9. Primitive Language, cont. --Variety of Dada experiments with Non-referential language (phonetic/sound poems, bruitism, pure sound) ; language as sound, matter, rhythm (primitive and unconscious) --Senseless speech/speaking in tongues becomes a magical, mystical language, the “speech of angels” --“We have charged the word with forces and energies which made it possible for us to rediscover the evangelical concept of the “word” (logos) as a magical complex of images.” Hugo Ball

  10. Ball reading sound poem, “Karavane,” at the Cabaret Voltaire, 1916

  11. Primitive Language --”Noise” as Transcendence of Sound: “Noises (a drawn out rrr sustained for minutes on end, suddenly crashes, sirens wailing) are existentially more powerful than the human voice…The poem carries the message that mankind is swallowed up in a mechanistic process. In a generalized and compressed form it represents the battle of the human voice against a world whose rhythms and din are inescapable.” Ball, qtd, in Melzer, CR 204

  12. Theater as Event/Happening • Performance as ephemeral process or happening vs. performance as product/permanent/work • Anti-actor: spontaneity and chance vs. rehearsal and work • “Personal” actor vs. mimetic: Tzara presents Tzara • Performer in “non-matrixed” environment (no special world of time, place, and character); time is now

  13. “Onanistic” Performance “Art is a private affair, the artist does it for himself.”--Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto of 1918 • Private Language: “With these sound poems we should renounce the language devastated and made impossible by journalism…We should stop making poems second-hand; we should no longer take over words (not even to speak of sentences) which we did not invent absolutely anew, for our own use.” Hugo Ball

  14. Dada: Public or Private? • “The Cabaret Voltaire was a six-piece band. Each played his instrument, I.e., himself, passionately and with all his soul. Each of them, different as he was from all the others, was his own music, his own words, his own rhythm. Each sang his own song with all his might…” • --Hans Richter

  15. Dada is an Action • “The Bartender in the Manhattan Bar, who pours Curacao with one hand and gathers up his gonorrhea with the other, is a Dadaist. The gentleman in the raincoat, who is about to start his seventh trip around the world, is a Dadaist. The Dadaist should be a man who has fully understood that one is entitled to have ideas only if one can transform them into life—the completely active type, who lives only through action, because it holds the possibility of achieving knowledge.” • Richard Huelsenbeck, “En Avant Dada”

  16. Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927): “The Mother of Dada” --German who came to NYC with her husband a few years before WWI; husband returned to Germany and killed himself --Widowed, impoverished, earned Living as Model for Artists --Poet, sculptor, artist of “found objects” --The Art of her Body: A One-Woman Performance Piece

  17. The Baroness

  18. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1922

  19. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, God, 1916“Marcel, Marcel, I love you like Hell, Marcel”

  20. Hannah Höch, The Pretty Maiden (1920), photomontage

  21. Hannah Höch, Cut With a Kitchen Knife Through the First Epoch of the Weimar Beer-Belly Culture, 1919

  22. John Heartfield, After Ten Years: Fathers and Sons, 1924