Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

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The grotesque

Chapter 5 extends the study of the theme of the composite body via an exploration of the grotesque, informed by the work of Mikhael Bakhtin. An analysis of Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau (1919–37) in terms of the corporeal dimension of architecture, structured on the principle of the grotto, is followed by a discussion of Otto Dix’s Phantastische Gebete (1920), illustrated by George Grosz, and Dix’s savage depiction of wounded war veterans in The Skatspieler (The Skat Players, 1920). The grotesque is, finally, linked to the abject body, as exposed in Tristan Tzara’s play Le Coeur à gaz (1921).

in Dada bodies
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Spare parts

The chapter situates Dada in the historical and social context of wartime and post-war Europe. It argues that Dada’s limit-forms of the body both reflect the chaos of the times through the absurd and irrational, and reflect on the post-war ‘return to order’ with the satirical. An aesthetics of the body is outlined, founded on the grotesque on the one hand and anti-classicism on the other. Since Dada’s corporeal images are considered as constructs rather than mimetic, fictional rather than realistic, the principle and practice of montage (photomontage, collage, assemblage) are considered central to the depiction of the human figure. It is suggested that Dada’s corporeal images occupy an ambivalent space, between battlefield and fairground, as both utopian and dystopian bodies. The critical and theoretical framework of the study is outlined, as well as a critical overview of existing literature on the topic.

in Dada bodies
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The radical critique of corporeal representations is embodied in limit-forms of the human figure in Dada. The chapter examines the displacements, objectification or disembodiment of the human figure. This is exemplified in Man Ray’s film Le Retour à la raison (1923), where the human figure is montaged with moving objects and abstract forms. The body as indexical trace is explored in the recurrent image of the handprint. This is followed by a discussion of the performative function of Duchamp’s readymades, which call for the viewer’s bodily response in a tactile engagement. In Max Ernst’s lithographs Fiat modes pereat ars (1919) the theatrical spaces are occupied by surrogate human figures (a tailor’s dummy, featureless automatons, geometrical forms) which seem to merge with the geometrical spaces in which they are placed. Finally, on the path to a final vanishing point, the body as abstraction is considered, as found in a number of Dada portraits by Picabia and others.

in Dada bodies
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Fairground, cabaret, exhibition

This chapter treats Dada as process rather than product, art as event rather than as object. It focuses on carnivalesque spaces where the phantasmagoric body is considered as both nostalgia and parody of end-of-century entertainment. The first section deals with fairground spaces: the photographs of the Dada group; optical machines; and René Clair’s Entr’acte (1924). The allegory of the male magician controlling his female victim is shown to be central to the theme of the dismemberment and reconstitution of the body. Both transgression (of body limits) and regression (a return to infantile fantasies) are thus revealed as modes of resistance to dominant ideologies. The following section extends the notion of performance to Dada texts, via an analysis of body, voice and gesture in Raoul Hausmann’s phonetic poetry. Finally, the performative dimension of Dada exhibitions is addressed in a discussion of the 1920 Dada-Vorfrühling exhibition in Cologne, in order to highlight the ways in which it implicated the body of the spectator.

in Dada bodies

The chapter focuses on the Dadaists’ radical critique of the neo-classical revival promoted by the ‘return to order’ of post-war France and Germany. While the post-war doxa sought to naturalise the body as an organic whole through the cult of the artist Ingres as a model for the reconstituted body of France, the Dadaists displayed the body as artifice, as in Francis Picabia’s pastiches of the nineteenth-century artist, and in Man Ray’s photograph Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), thus exposing the official myth-making policies of post-war France. This is followed by a discussion of the cult of the healthy body forged through sport in the promotion of body-building in Germany in the post-war years, and the subsequent parodic remake in images of sportsmen by Ernst, Baargeld and Grosz.

in Dada bodies
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Between gas mask and carnival dance

The chapter situates Dada historically in the wider context of pre-1914 avant-garde art and thought across Europe, referring to the works of artists such as Kandinsky or Russolo and thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche or Walter Benjamin. It traces the shift from a utopian to a dystopian vision, from the glorification of war’s destructive forces to Dada’s exposure of the war as absurd. It argues that if the Dadaists adopted a rhetoric of war and violence, it was to pervert it in the promotion of their own global revolt in the face of the machinery of destruction. The chapter develops an analysis of Zurich Dada’s activities at the Cabaret Voltaire and the Galerie Dada, focusing on George Grosz’s poems, Marcel Janco’s masks, and Sophie Taeuber’s dances and puppets.

in Dada bodies
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Coline Serreau is one of the most famous female French directors alive, not only in France but also abroad. This book is devoted not only to some relevant biographical aspects of Serreau's personal and artistic life, but also to the social, historical and political context of her debut. It deals with the 1970s' flavour of Serreau's work and more especially with the importance of politics. Taking intertextuality in its broadest sense, it assesses the strong literary influence on the tone, genre and content of Serreau's films and dramas. The book is concerned with the cinematographic genres Serreau uses. It provides a description and an analysis of Serreau's comedies, within the wider perspective of French comedies. The book also deals with the element of 'family' or community which is recurrent in Serreau's films and plays. During the 1980s, Serreau's career moved towards fiction, and she worked both for the cinema and the theatre. Serreau often underlines her family's lack of financial resources. The book considers the specificity of French cinema in the 1970s before analysing in more detail Serreau's first film. Serreau's work on stage and on big or small screens was strongly influenced by the political mood which succeeded May '68 in France. The book also discusses the idea of utopia which was the original theme of Serreau' first documentary and which is central to her first fiction film, Pourquoi pas!. Female humour and laughter cannot be considered without another powerful element: the motivation of often transgressive laughter.

Coline Serreau is one of the most famous female French directors alive, not only in France but also abroad. This chapter presents the director's films in chronological order and situates them in their political, social and cultural context. During the 1980s, Serreau's career moved towards fiction, and she worked both for the cinema and the theatre. Serreau often underlines her family's lack of financial resources. Serreau's reputation as a serious feminist documentary filmmaker was reinforced in 1979 by her contribution to a series produced by the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel and devoted to grandmothers. She was awarded 600,000 French francs which allowed her to finish the editing of Mais qu'est-ce qu'elles veulent? The chapter considers the way her films epitomise the evolution of French cinema and society. May '68 is considered by historians as a watershed in French society as well as in French culture.

in Coline Serreau
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Despite her established reputation as a successful filmmaker, Coline Serreau could not find a producer to support her project for a silent film called Chari-Bohu in 1990. In the conclusion of her book on French Women's Writing 1848-1994, Diana Holmes emphasises the dilemma women writers were confronted with and which many women filmmakers in France have encountered in their career. More important perhaps is the emergence of filmmakers coming from outside the traditional film circles, whose social and ethnic background contrast with their elders'. The success of Y aura-t-il de la neige à Noël? shows that the 'feminisation' of French cinema seems to go beyond the increasing number of female directors within the French film industry. The huge difficulties most women filmmakers faced to finance their films meant that, when they could find a producer, they were (are), willingly or not, reduced to making cheaper films than their male counterparts.

in Coline Serreau
Questioning gender roles

French feminism contains a diversity of positions on the family as on other issues. Since the beginning of her success as a filmmaker with Trois hommes et un couffin, Coline Serreau has often said in interviews that she considered family and children as a key aspect of society and of life overall. In order to confront men with parenthood, Serreau puts the unwilling men in the position of fathers. This idea of performing gender roles is quite obvious in the film. The influence of women's actions and concerns regarding motherhood and family after May '68 are to be found in Serreau's films made in the 1970s. By the time she directed her first fiction film, the mood had changed and utopia prevailed. It is true to say that Serreau's films closely followed, and sometimes preceded, major social and sexual changes in France during the 1980s and 1990s.

in Coline Serreau