World War I clearly evoked a whole new set of movement into the art world. A large number or art historians do not believe that Dada is merely another art. It is strongly believed that Dada is a beginning of questionings towards so-called ‘traditions’ and ‘cultures’ (Chipp 1984). The exact year was not specifically identified, but Dada movement brought shock to the world with its ‘brutality’ between the years 1916 and 1922 (Eimert 2013). Most art historians believe that Dadaism is a movement that is culturally reliant to the traumatic response of World War I (Prager 2013). It raised up nihilism, disappointment towards politics, and a confrontation towards moral bankruptcy. It was stated by the Dadaists themselves that one was simply a Dadaist once they sensed anger as an effect of World War I (Watts 1980). Top Dadaists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Grosz, and many others, succeeded in making a huge attention and a massive change through art and introduced a new history. Dada is an art of critiques. It is not the aesthetic that Dadaists tried to convey, but it is the meaning behind it—the revolution (Maftei 2010). These factors escort my belief that yes, Dada is a work of critiques. It is believed that there are three categories of which Dada tried to critique: social conventional norms, political structures, gender differentiation, and art itself.
Dadaists put on an indirect offensive argument in order to achieve shock and attention from the society. Dada is a movement of strong hatred against those that breathed by ‘universal feelings’, bourgeois, stereotype, and morals (Maftei 2010). World War I played a big part in Dadaists’ ideology to stop believing that everything has moral values. Maftei (2010) stated that artists who communicate ‘universal feelings’ through their artworks, even when portraying a sense of helplessness and defenselessness, are considered as bourgeois. There were masses who desired to end the idea and origins of bourgeois lifestyle and wished to reconstruct a new page of new society. The exaggerations, abrasive speech, uniformity, and attention seeking were addressed as an anti-bourgeois movement (Kristiansen 1968). In 1919, Marcel Duchamp brought a controversy by his ‘work’ called L.H.O.O.Q, (1919) (Figure 1). It is believed that it was a cheap postcard picturing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503-1517) that he remade as a new form of art. Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache and a goatee on Mona Lisa’s (or as Duchamp called as Joconde in French) face with a pencil and wrote “L. H. O. O. Q.” (Spector 1991). Several interpretations of the meaning of “L. H. O. O. Q.” have been made. A few interpretations suggested by historians stated that “L. H. O. O. Q.” could simply be a word of English pronunciation ‘look’, that obviously shows a deliberate connection made between the artist and the viewer by the artist himself. However, most art historians believe that the pun “L. H. O. O. Q.” is a world-play in French, which is read “elle a chaud au cul”, of which meaning in English is “she has a hot arse” (Spector 1991). It is stated by Maftei (2010) and Hjartarson (2004) that Marcel Duchamp used the painting of Mona Lisa as a representative of the bourgeois. Thus, it is clear that through this particular work, Duchamp rigorously ridiculed the bourgeois by putting mockery on renaissance aesthetics and altering it into androgyny. It is also a nod to Kristiansen’s statement (1968) that Dadaists had lost their values of morality, societal structures, sense of self-respect and dignity.
Fig 1 Duchamp, Marcel 1910, L. H. O. O. Q., rectified readymade: pencil on reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 19.7 x 12.4 cm, Private Collection, Paris.
Critiquing social conventions cannot go too far from critiquing political structures. The beginning of Dadaism started to rise when the Dadaists, such as Marcel Janco (1895-1984), Hugo Ball (1886-1927), and Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) had lost faith on the society’s ideology. Marcel Janco (cited by Lippard 1997), one of the most-known visual artists of Dada movement, stated that he had given up on the culture, and that was how he (and Dada artists) began to shock the society by attacking common sense and questioning the ideologies. The Dadaists held on to their liberty because they believed that the world had not been defined and it was run and controlled with unworthiness (Kristiansen 1968). Criticism was too common and useless—Dadaists used difference as a medium to wake people up to criticism: absurdity and idiocy (Lewer 2009). One of the meaningless works by Dada artists that were made to address disagreements is Karawane, c. 1916 (figure 2) by Hugo Ball. Karawane, which is a German poem that consists of meaningless words, presents a destructive indirect attack against political structures (Lewer 2009).
Fig 2 Ball, Hugo 1917, Karawane., sound poetry lyrics.
Hugo Ball (cited by Lewer 2009), as the writer of The Literary Manifesto (1915) (figure 3) theoretically stated that they would control the intellectual governance, and destroy the thirst of culture, intellect, and socialism. The intention of the absurdity and idiocy in artworks was to each the audience by sending interruption and surprise (Maftei 2010). Hugo Ball (cited by Maftei 2010) uttered that the expectation brought with the World War ended was to have tranquility and liberty, and to have no more outlandish thoughts. However, by the reign of capitalism and bolshevism after the World War, the number of slavery and class differences between two worlds exponentially increased. In the early Dadaism era, Hugo Ball and Richard Huelsenbeck, as Dadaists in Zurich had been communicating solid political opinions in contradiction of nationalism, imperialism, war, and capitalism. Maftei (2010) stated that as a nihilistic-based movement, early Dada was an exclamation among the zone of corruption, meaninglessness, and sycophantic submission. However, nihilism was not enough for Dadaists to manifest the attack. Chipp (1984) believes that Dada exposes a response of disgust: disgust to scholarly leadership, disgust to the false procedure of power, disgust to the dissociation of good and evil, pretty and ugly, and disgust to the obtuse ideologies disgust to the hunger of beauty, money, pride, culture, etc.
Fig 3 Hugo Ball and Richard Huelsenbeck, Literary Manifesto 1915, pamphlet programme. ã Nachlass Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings/Robert Walser Stiftung Zurich.
Dada was not just a beginning of anger towards social conventions, especially in the eyes of women in the era of Dadaism. It was a movement of liberty for women’s human and political rights: liberty from social norms, liberty from gender roles, and liberty from traditions (Sawelson-Gorse 1996). Dada, as stated before, is a work of revolution iconoclasm, and rebellion (Lewer 2009). It means the same thing to women Dadaists, such as Suzanne Duchamp, Amelia Jones, Hannah Hoch, and so forth, however, it is expressed in different forms. Sawelson-Gorse (1996) stated that Dadaism was the gradual birth of feminism. It is believed that women Dadaists conveyed the seeking of gender equality and the rebellion against gender roles through their art works. Feminist activities began to arise in the era of Dada, but art historians believe that women Dadaists did not bother to unite with them; but on the other hand, demanded for woman’s rights on their own through different forms (Sawelson-Gorse 1996). Women Dadaists set a new standard and conditions for modern women in order to change the stereotype of the society towards female. Sawelson-Gorse (1996) believes that they were against the categorisation by which women’s affairs and involvements were merely vanity and superficial commodification. They believed that, against the society’s concerns that women were made only as machines of satisfaction for men, they had the rights to have the same rights, equality, and liberty. Hannah Hoch depicted this request of freedom perfectly through one of her art works, called Mutter: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum, c. 1930 (figure 4). The photomontage presented by Hannah Hoch portrays a pregnant woman whose face is covered with a tribal mask and whose one eye is replaced. Hannah Hoch, in fact, readjusted, metaphorically, the face of maternity by suggesting a working-class mother (Sawelson-Gorse 1996). The working-class lady itself represents a symbol of a fight against the outlaw of abortion in Germany. By historical context, Hannah Hoch herself had been through illegal abortions twice along her life and she demanded to legalise abortion as her financial deficiency caused unwelcome pregnancies (Sawelson-Gorse 1996). Art historians debated whether this request was political. Nevertheless, regardless of it being political or not, Sawelson-Gorse (1996) believes that the meaning behind Mutter, and what Hannah Hoch was trying to convey is clearly a defense for women. It clearly has changed the view of publics that women’s concerns were limited to vanity. Women Dadaists demonstrated political and also societal concerns.
Fig 4 Hoch, Hannah 1930, Mutter: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum, photomontage, 18 x 24 cm, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris.
As a work of critiques that expresses disgust to social conventions, it is not shocking that Dada movement did not stray too far from criticising the art itself. According to Maftei (2010), Dada is an act of disrespect and mockery towards the modern standard of beauty and the beauty of art itself. It is believed to be a huge attack against the aesthetic ideologies, thus it became a negativistic critique against modern art. Maftei (2010) believes that Dadaists destructed not only art itself, but the theory of art to a revolutionary point. The mockery and parody made by the Dadaists were to address ‘anti-art’ and ‘anti-artists’ movement (Lewer 2009). At this period, Marcel Duchamp withdrew another attention by sending his art work which he called as Fontaine, c. 1917 (figure 5). It was a porcelain toilet accessory on which he signed ‘R. Mutt’. Hugnet and Scolari (1936) believe that he intended to show an expression of disgust to art through his work he sent. Naumann (2012) stated that the fountain could be something by itself, but it was not supposed to be sent to New York exhibition. It was a mockery. Another work that was deliberately intended as a response of disgust to art was a work by Francis Picabia, called Still Lifes: Portrait of Rembrant, Portrait of Renoir, Portrait of Cezanne, c. 1920 (figure 6). This piece of art shows a chimp mounted on a board, holding its tail which is put pointing forward through the crotch, with the writings as a frame. Chipp (1984) believes that the chimp represents the artist, holding a brush, which, in this case, his own tail, that is intended to be shown as a penis. Without hesitation or other concerns, Picabia wrote the names of well-known artists on the board which indicated that the artist (or the chimp) was the artists of which he wrote (Watts 1980).
It is clear that Dada is an art of critique. World War I has brought Dadaists to revolution. Dada artists succeeded to withdraw people’s attention by producing works of parody and mockery with the intention to criticise social conventions, political structures, gender differentiation, and the meaning of art itself.
Chipp, H 1984, Theories of Modern Art, University of California Press, United States.
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