Into the Heart of Dada


The Dada Reader: A Critical Anthology,
edited by Dawn Ades
[Tate Publishing, 2006. 17.99 ISBN 1-85437-621-7]


'To get to the heart of Dada it is essential to encounter the artists' writings and manifestos at first hand...' The Dada Reader A Critical Anthology is the first representative selection of key source texts many previously unavailable in English, originally published in periodical form by the Dada Movement.

The mission of The
Dada Reader is to map 'the many headed phenomenon of Dada' and, crucially, the centrality of its little magazines. In so doing editor Dawn Ades charts the extent of the movement across Europe in the historical period during and just after the First World War, exploring those international collaborations that, in her words, 'defied cultural and political nationalisms.' Chronologically the time period covered by this volume is 1916-1926.

Dawn Ades - Professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex - is Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies. She has worked in the field of Dada and Surrealism since 1974 at least. In 1974 she produced a short monograph entitled Dada and Surrealism
for Thames and Hudson and, in 1978, was a key organiser of the landmark Hayward Gallery Dada and Surrealism Reviewed exhibition for the Arts Council. She has also written on Marcel Duchamp and is the author of Photomontage (1986), also from Thames and Hudson. Her essay 'Surrealism Male-Female' appears in the catalogue for the 2001 Tate Modern exhibition Surrealism: Desire Unbound. More recently Ades acted as co-curator of the 2006 Hayward exhibition Undercover Surrealism devoted to the Documents Group and the influence of Georges Bataille.

The scope of the Dada Reader
anthology is limited by editorial choice to twenty magazines, as a decision was taken 'to keep largely to those that explicitly announce themselves as Dada' or those that clearly 'share the same spirit'. Behind this decision was the desire to present a 'denser picture' of core Dada ideas and practices. All the chosen texts are published complete - there are no partial texts or summaries. This policy has led to some omissions such as Der Blutige Ernst the Berlin satirical review, but Duchamp and Roche's The Blind Man is included. Those interested in a wider selection of magazines from the period should consult the extensive catalogue of the Dada and Surrealism Reviewed exhibition. The geographical scope of the texts collected here illustrates the pan-European extent of Dada as, from its beginnings in Switzerland, the movement spread to numerous other countries including France, Italy, Holland, Croatia, Spain and Germany. The Reader collects together examples of material from avant-garde magazines published in ten European cities from Zurich and New York (the more or less simultaneous points of departure) to Hanover via Paris, Cologne, Mantua, Leiden, Zagreb, Berlin and Barcelona. Resources for the Dada Reader project include fourteen individual translators to cover a varied mass of texts and poems translated from six European languages including French, Italian, German and Serbo-Croatian among others. Source acknowledgements include Atlas Press and the International Dada Archive, part of the library service at the University of Iowa.

The Dada Reader
is organised into twelve sections, each section with its own introduction written by either Professor Ades or collaborator Emily Hage. Dawn Ades has provided the general introduction. There is also a comprehensive and well-researched Index that includes references (with birth and death dates) to well over 120 personalities and a Notes section as well as the usual Acknowledgements. The twelve-part organisation follows the spread of the movement from early beginnings at the now famous Cabaret Voltaire in the Meirei Bar at 1 Spiegelgasse in the Niederdorf district of Zurich, through to the late publication of the Berlin magazine G (1923-1926) edited by Hans Richter. The organisation focuses on geographical concentrations of publication, Paris featuring as the city with the highest number of magazines published in one place during the period. However, with centres in locations such as Berlin, Cologne and Hanover, it is clear that Germany was a continuing and vital source of activity until 1926 at least. No doubt subversive Dada activity became increasingly difficult in the later Weimar era due to the rise of Nazism - on various occasions Adolf Hitler condemned the 'artistic cultural stuttering' of Dada along with other modes of 'degenerate art' such as Cubism and Futurism. Meanwhile, in France, from 1924, Dada was overtaken by Surrealism a grouping that claimed the allegiance of former Dada artists like Ernst and Arp.

The volume is well illustrated with over seventy black and white illustrations and reproductions of diverse kinds including some portrait photographs and a wide selection of original magazine covers, title pages, page layouts and visual poems. The innovative nature of Dada magazine publication is immediately apparent as the illustrations throw into high relief the typographical experimentation, startling photographs, unexpected reversals of reading order and overprinting typical of Dada provocation with its radical fusion of image and text, poetry and polemic. Enthusiasts will recognise a number of iconic images reproduced here. Max Ernst's 'Preparation of Glue From Bones' collage (front cover of Dada in Tirol au Grand Air No 8
), 'Daum Marries Her Pedantic Automaton...' from Der Dada 3 by George Grosz, Duchamp's 'LHOOQ' (the notorious 'assisted' 'Mona Lisa'). Also illustrated is Picabia's blasphemous 'La Sainte Vierge' ink splash and his iconoclastic 'Tableau Dada' (the artist as stuffed monkey). Hausmann's 'Tatlin At Home' is juxtaposed with a prose piece by Ribemont-Dessaignes (Mecano, Red) and, also included is that death knell of the avant-garde - the Steiglitz photograph 'Fountain by R Mutt (The Exhibit Refused by The Independents)' reproduced from PBT The Blind Man No 2.

Among the visual picto-poems included are 'Sonate' by Kurt Schwitters and 'Dune (Parole in Liberta)' by Futurist maestro F.T. Marinetti. There are a number of artworks from a selection of artists including Marcel Janco, Hans Arp, Sophie Taueber, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Kasimir Malevich and Raoul Hausmann among others. The text include many significant documents and a good selection poetry from all the main writers and Dada activists: Tzara, Ball, Emmy Hennings, Arp, Schwitters, Huelsenbeck, Andre Breton and Paul Eluard and many others are all represented here. There are also poems from artists (Ernst and Arp), precursors and associates like Apollinaire, Cendrars and Kandinsky - and contributions from participants less well known in the UK such as the poem 'Luna Park' by Celine Arnauld. There are three poems from Hennings that, between the lines, project a rather decadent, fin-de-siecle
mood: 'Song To The Dawn', 'Morphine' and 'Maybe The Last Flight'. 'Hyperbola' written by Arp, Serner and Tzara, together with the poem simultan (simultaneous poem) 'L'Amiral cherche une maison a louer' (Huelsenbeck, Janco and Tzara) are joint collaborations - the latter work, reproduced as an illustration, looking rather like a musical score.
Many key documents have been assembled in this Critical Anthology
. These include, among other valuable resources, 'Cabaret Voltaire' (1916) by Hugo Ball; 'Dada Manifesto 1918' by Tristan Tzara; and Hans Richter's 'Against Without For Dada'. Also here is an interview about Cubism with Jean Metzger; the crucial documents in the Richard Mutt Case; an assessment of Rimbaud by Jules Mery, and the seminal 'How To Make Dadaist Poem' by Tristan Tzara - not forgetting the basic indispensable 'Twenty Three Manifestos of the Dada Movement'.

The magazine Club Dada
(1918) edited by Richard Huelsenbeck and Franz Jung exemplified some of the key features of Dada style - disjointed and fragmented texts, a nihilistic tone and numerous references to modern urban life in big cities. Dada work is, according to Emily Hage 'aggressive, propagandistic and jingoistic' in its use of language. The little magazines presented the reader with a bewildering and chaotic stylistic array of contributions. There were manifestos and polemics, poems, prose poems, artistic fragments, verbal and visual linguistic experiments, theoretical statements, interviews, collages, photomontages, letters, press cuttings, images of sculptures, paintings and reliefs. There were drawings, photographs of 'objects' and revolutionary slogans - there were examples of automatic writing and popular art - there were, also, records of live performances and other 'indefinable' contributions.

Club Dada
promoted simultaneous poetry, bruitistic music and 'Cubist Dancing' - a reminder that the original Zurich Dadaists, Hugo 'the Magic Bishop' Ball and Emmy Hennings had, from the start of the Dada enterprise, regarded performance as their main modus operandi.

The Cabaret Voltaire
, the name is in oblique reference to the hero of Candide, was first and foremost an 'international cabaret' drawing on theatrical expertise, modelled in the style of similar examples of the fin de siecle 'artistic cabaret' in Paris and Vienna. Max Reinhardt's Berlin Schall Und Rauch Kabarett was established in 1901. Singer, dancer, poet and puppeteer Hennings ('the shining star of the Voltaire') first met Ball while performing at the Cabaret Simplizissimus in Munich in 1913. Together they moved to Zurich in 1915, and, against a backdrop of war, continued their style of 'low vaudeville' providing the first anarchic context for Dada. According to Ball's 1916 text included in this collection, the objective was to co-opt 'the ideals of culture and art as a program for a variety show.' Ball improvised at the piano while Hennings - whose voice was, by all accounts, very stylised - and an unknown performer called Miss Leconte (also known as Madame Leroy) sang French and Danish songs, folk songs and brothel songs. Tristan Tzara recited Rumanian poetry - a balalaika orchestra played Russian dances.
  
This anthology encourages the reader to engage with the full richness and complexity of the Dada heritage. One soon sidesteps the usual critical nostrums, for example the bracketing of Dada under the slogan 'anti-art' (as though the term means anything) or trite explanations' of the movement as some kind of post-traumatic group therapy experience induced by the Great War. One soon forgets the gossipy issue of the derivation of the term 'dada' - researchers have discovered, for instance, that the firm of Bergmann & Co of Zurich marketed a type of Haarwasser
(a hair product) under the brand'Dada'. Could this be the origin of the name?
  
Leave these trivial concerns to one side. The Dada Reader
contains numerous examples of self-definition, revolutionary slogans and polemical manifestos that explain what Dada was against, what Dada stood for, and illuminates its view of the world.

For Walter Conrad Arensberg 'Dada is American.' Paul Dermee, for whom the most ancient enemy of Dada is called God, wrote 'Dada strips clean the thick layer of filth that has settled on us over the centuries...Dada thus leads to amorality'.
  
For George Grosz, writing in the magazine G
No 3 'Dadaism was our wake up call from...self deception.' For Dada the end of self-deception meant a new nihilism and amorality. Grosz again: 'The German Dada movement had its roots in the knowledge...that it was madness to believe that The Spirit or indeed any spirits ruled the world.' The irreligious stance is evident elsewhere as in this quote from I. K. Bonset in 'Dada Holland Manifesto 0,96013' (1922) 'I spit on God-Jesus-Marx with their prayers'.
  
For Huelsenbeck, in his text 'Forward to The History Of The Age' (1918), the 'liberating deed plays the most important role in the history of the time'. A statement that anticipates the Bretonian doctrine of freedom basic to French Surrealism, as well as anarchist ideas of activism and insurrection central to the immanent German political crisis and the coming confrontation with Fascism.

The aesthetic nihilism of Dadaist absurd-ism is present in statements such as 'Poetry = toothpick, encyclopaedia, taxi, or parasol-shade' (Celine Arnauld) or 'Art and Beauty = Nothing' (Philippe Soupault). Dada derides Cubism: 'Cubism is a consumptive on a chaise longue' (Arensberg). Although Dada was in conflict with the official avant-garde Hugo Ball asserted that 'Abstraction was the cornerstone of Zurich Dada'. Ades, in her introduction to the Cabaret Voltaire era, explains how Tzara articulated a 'new approach to art'. An approach that still confounds contemporary 'theory' in his advocacy of a method that 'neither represents the world nor abstracts from it, but takes its place as another object in nature, creating directly...'. As noted above, Tzara's famous text describing the chance creation of a poem from found phrases is included in this collection - but one should always take into account the fact that Dada 'anti-art' meant not only a rejection of the artistic establishment and the academy. It also demanded a rejection of the postures of the orthodox avant-garde. In particular the Litterature
group (Breton, Aragon, Soupault) engaged in proto-Surrealist experiments that functioned to distance themselves 'from an avant-garde with whom they felt increasingly at variance' (Dawn Ades). Tzara once observed that Gertrude Stein was 'the wrong kind of modernist.' Twentyfirst century Dadaist can have no truck with academic fads such as Post-Modernism, even though some Post-Modernists owe a dept to Dada that is rarely if ever acknowledged.
  
For Grosz human beings are pigs and all talk of 'ethics' is 'deception directed at fools.' Furthermore all 'isms' are relegated to the status of outdated workshop projects. The magazine G
illustrates the diversity of Dada and also the little known linkage between Dada and Constructivism that, according to Ades is 'often overlooked in favour of the Surrealist legacy'. Richter's G promoted constructive architecture, aeroplanes, cars, town planning, De Stijl, photography ('the dawn of art began with the discovery of photography'), film and photomontage.
  
Kurt Schwitters published 'Black Square' by the Suprematist Malevich in Merz
, his one-man Dada publication from Hanover. For Schwitters the new aesthetic meant that 'eternal beauty is just a myth' because Nature itself rejects eternal beauty 'by the continual alteration of its forms'. Nature gives birth incessantly to the new and 'the modern world is the other half of nature, that which derives from man.' Perhaps this explains the statement by Dragan Aleksic that 'Dada is the product of international hotel foyers' or the, presumably, hostile assertion from Dada-Jok that 'Dada is the last consequence of the europeisation of cabaret cerebrality,' which in a funny kind of way brings us round full circle.
  
Mission accomplished. This Critical Anthology
succeeds in transporting the reader 'into the heart of Dada', its poetry and provocations, its polemics and experiments with chance.  Its international scope is clear and also the links other movements - Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism and the revolutionary satire of the Weimar era. All techniques a represented, from sculptural objects to woodcuts and photomontages. The French contributors highlight predecessors (Rimbaud, Apollinaire) and the nascent proto-Surrealism that was eventually to supersede Dada itself, although the movement was to regain its pre-eminent position as the 'iconoclastic godparent' of the 1960s revolutionary groups due, in part, to Motherwell's Dada Painters And Poets (1951).
  
The presence of other contributors like Eric Satie, Kandinsky and Cendrars to the original small press magazines illuminates the wide-ranging eclecticism that characterised Dada editors and performers.
Many of the texts here are transitional texts - part-poetry, part-prose, part-manifesto, and part-journalism. The look and feel of the period is conveyed not just through the choice of illustrations many of which are the original covers of the magazines, but also through the wide range of typographical options deployed on every page.
  
Designed by Matt Brown this substantial paperback is a snazzy, stylish artefact with its Title Page and Contents listings printed white-on-black. Each of the twelve subsections has its own white text on black Contents page and Introduction - the Introductions printed in white on grey paper. All the illustrations are well placed throughout the text and all are in black and white. The front and back covers reproduce a colour photomontage by Raoul Hasmann showing a female figure laughing at a monstrous caricature art critic - an ironic statement, perhaps?
  
But, yes, mission accomplished: journey into the heart of Dada, its specific histories restored 'in all their ambiguity and contradiction' by Professor Dawn Ades - read this book.

           A.C. Evans 2007