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).
bouzdouc zdouc nfoùnfa mbaah nfoùnfa.
(Tzara 1975: 87)
Black and white
A photograph by Man Ray taken in 1921 and titled Black and White, reproduced
in 1924 on the cover of Picabia’s journal 391, juxtaposes on a patterned African
textile a wooden Baule male ancestor figure from Côte d’Ivoire with a bronze
Art Nouveau statuette of a female nude (figure 9.1). They face each other,
the African male figure in profile, the European female figure turned threequarters to the camera. They are wearing similar helmet-shaped headdresses.
The female figure
between gas mask and carnival dance
Was wir zelebrieren ist eine Buffonade und eine Totenmesse zugleich.
Hugo Ball (1996: 56)1
The European avant-garde and the First World War:
from utopia to dystopia
‘We intend to glorify war – the only hygiene of the world’, declared the Italian
poet Philippo Tommasso Marinetti in his ‘Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’,
published in Paris on 20 February 1909 in Le Figaro (Rainey et al. 2009: 51). His
statement epitomises the position of many of the avant-garde writers and artists
of pre-1914 Europe, who
Introduction: spare parts
Un pied un oeil le tout mélangé aux objets.
Fernand Léger 1
Limit-bodies: an elusive corpus
An assemblage of prosthetic limbs (figure 1.1); a spark plug with the words ‘FOREVER’ stamped on it (figure 1.2); a hybrid of African statue and European
woman; a readymade object, tube or piston, eggbeater or hat; a blot, blob or
blur. The Dadaists rejected mimetic representations of the human form: the
body in Dada is displaced, deformed or dissolved, a mutating organic limb
or an elusive limit-form of the human anatomy. In their paintings
), reproduced in Gott mit uns, a portfolio
of lithographs first shown at the Dada-Messe in 1920, with the caption ‘Le
Triomphe des sciences exactes / Die Gesundbeter / German doctors fighting
the blockade’ (figure 11.1). It depicts an army doctor, surrounded by a group
of seated bestial-headed officers; the doctor is examining a rotting corpse with
an ear-trumpet and declaring it kriegsverwendungsfähig or fit for war service.
Abbreviated to KV in a speech-bubble, it can also suggest kadavergehorsam or the
obedience of a corpse, a tellingly sarcastic term used widely by the
Fluid bodies, shifting identities
We want to bring forward a new kind of human being, one whose contemporaries we could wish to be, free from the tyranny of rationality, of banality,
of generals, fatherlands, nations, art-dealers, microbes, residence permits and
Hans Richter (1965)
L’IDENTITE SERA CONVULSIVE OU NE SERA PAS.
Max Ernst (1970: 269)1
In his hallucinatory account of an evening at the Cabaret Dada in Berlin in
1919, ‘Ein Besuch im Cabaret Dada’, Richard Huelsenbeck (1920c: 7–9) evokes
the constantly shifting identity of the performers. A
fairground, cabaret, exhibition
The public needs to be violated in unusual positions.
Francis Picabia (1978: 25)
In Dada’s privileged spaces – the fairground, the cabaret, the exhibition, the
cinema – from Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire to the Salle Gaveau in Paris, via the
Cologne Brauhaus Winter brewery or Otto Burchardt’s Berlin art gallery, it is
enlightening to consider dadaist activities in terms of performance rather than
simply spectacle, process rather than product. Although the term ‘performance
art’ was first used around 1970 to
DADA est l’enseigne de l’abstraction.
Tristan Tzara (1975: 363)1
The lady vanishes
In New York in 1921 Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray shot a short film depicting Man Ray shaving the pubic hair of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
The ‘first American Dada’, she was a poet, sculptor, shoplifter and performance
artist. Her eccentric appearance on the streets of New York, decked out with
a coal-scuttle hat and a birdcage necklace, head shaved or dyed, was in itself a
Dada event. The film was lost during processing, Duchamp having attempted
La bomba-romanzo esplosivo,
or Dada’s burning heart
La bomba-romanzo esplosivo
The received wisdom that Futurism was ‘the actual seedbed of Dada art’ is
often enough repeated (Winter 1996: 141). Beyond the political, however,
the complex problematic nature of the relation between Futurism and
Dada is far less frequently addressed, and Dada’s aesthetic negotiation of
anti-nationalist politics, for instance, is largely ignored. We know that in
rejecting all cultural precedents the Dadaists implicitly rejected Futurism;
and dismissive of the return to classical norms, the Dadaists reacted by aggressively attacking images of the normative body through their parodic remake of
neo-classical artists (Picabia, Man Ray) or outlandish pastiches of images used
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shooting the classical body 47
3.1 Francis Picabia, La Nuit espagnole (Spanish Night, 1922)
3.2 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, La Source (1856)
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to promote sport or body