Then you may be ready to be a Dada or Surrealist.
To get started, let’s assume the right mood, which requires some adjustment of your modern approach. So we will head to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916.
Elsewhere in Europe, World War I is raging and Europe is a mess. So Zurich is filled with soldiers, refugees and revolutionaries, and people are frightened. Devastation of the war surrounds Switzerland, as does unimaginable suffering, and though it is safe for now, Zurich is terribly tense.
Now let’s head down the street to the Dada’s hangout,
JUST WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
The Dadas may or may not introduce themselves, depending on how bourgeois they find us, so here’s an introduction:
HUGO BALL (German), the founder of the Cabaret Voltaire. A former theater director, he’s seen the war (although he did not fight; he was rejected from military service on medical grounds), and hates it. A conscientious objector, he’s an idealist and doesn’t stay with the group long.
TRISTAN TZARA (Romanian), a student of literature and philosophy, whose adopted name means “sad in country.”
EMMY HENNINGS (German), actress, dancer, cabaret singer, expert forger, and Ball’s companion.
RICHARD HUELSENBECK (German), a medical student who was drafted and fled to Switzerland to study medicine.
HANS ARP (Alsatian) a painter, sculptor, and poet who later became a Surrealist. The author Gale writes that Arp gained some notoriety for a painting at a girls’ school that was considered corrupting to the students.
MARCEL JANCO (Romanian). Friend of Tzara and a student of architecture, he becomes known for his Dada masks.
And that’s the original group. This is Ball’s venue, and he’s promoting a Dada happening for this evening.
The Dadas enjoyed hijinx, irony, and paradox—they posed the question of whether Dada is art or fire insurance, nothing or everything, art or anti-art?
Ball’s the one who’s set up the cabaret, which has been going on for about three months now.
The Dadas claimed to know all about Enlightenment ideas—Reason. Rationality. Morality. The arts ennoble people—the arts are supposed to make people better human beings, right? But the Dadas looked around Europe and saw death, destruction, and inventions designed for the purposes of death and destruction.
Tzara’s reaction is a state of mind that was common: many international youths and artists recognized this irrational response to the turbulent politics and war of the time.
The Dadas are young, passionate, and angry. They have a point: all this reasonable rational talk from the nice normal middle class buzzes around them while people are hung, hurting and still dying horrible deaths. The middle class is talking about God and country, flags and churches, while the devastation rages around them. It’s crazy. But the middle class, if they know anything about Dada, think it’s nonsense.
So, if a group of clearly irrational people have decided that YOU are the one with a problem, maybe it’s better not to be like them at all. ...