Dada bodies

Between battlefield and fairground

Elza Adamowicz
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Dada bodies focuses critical attention on Dada’s limit-forms of the human image from an international and interdisciplinary perspective, in its different centres (Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, Paris and New York) and diverse media (art, literature, performance, photography and film). Iconoclastic or grotesque, a montage of disparate elements or reduced to a fragment, machine-part or blob, Dada’s bodily images are confronted here as fictional constructs rather than mimetic integrated unities. They act as both a reflection of, and a reflection on, the disjunctive, dehumanised society of wartime and post-war Europe, whilst also proposing a blueprint of a future, possible body. Through detailed analysis of works by Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Hannah Höch, Marcel Duchamp and others, informed by recent theoretical and critical perspectives, the work offers a reassessment of the movement, arguing that Dada occupies an ambivalent space, between the battlefield (in the satirical exposure of the lies of an ideology that sought to clothe the corpse of wartime Europe) and the fairground (in the playful manipulation of the body and its joyful renewal through laughter, dream and dance).

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‘Many scholars have investigated aspects of the role of the human body in Dada art, but Adamowicz (emer., French literature and visual culture, Queen Mary Univ., UK) categorizes the disparate trends by tracking types, spaces, and influences through major Dada city centers and artistic media (paintings, readymades, poems, films, performances, and so on). Each chapter explores a different trend, analyzing the unique and frequently contradictory approaches of Dada artists in manipulating elements of human bodies and their surrogates. Adamowicz argues that these artworks seek not just to disrupt post–WW I “return to order” policies by critiquing the fictive nature of bodily identities, but also to reenvision the body by creating new fictions outside of the dominate ideologies. Perhaps most thought provoking is her argument about Hannah Hoch’s use of African art as a rejection of "self/other" dichotomy as it relates to both non-Western cultures and women in contemporary German society. Plentiful color illustrations support Adamwicz's nuanced approach to Dada’s use of the human form.
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