Dada is the chaos from which a thousand orders rise, that intertwine and devour one another to become Dada again.
Da-da – from the first utterance of the syllables, this artistic “movement” could not be sustained or canonized, already in the process of dissolving. From its wartime birth at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, dada was a rainy-day tour through an abandoned sculpture garden, a fake letterhead, a raucous audience throwing fruit at performers onstage, an incomprehensible text read aloud to clanging bells, a mustache on the Mona Lisa. 2016 marks the one hundredth anniversary of its conception, and the world has gone dada. Dozens of exhibitions, performance programs, publications, film screenings, and cultural programs around the world are set in motion to honor and relive a bit of the madness that was dada. As a dada scholar and lover, these events, mostly existing within institutional structures such as state-funded museums, commercial galleries, and publishing houses, are exciting and wonderful in their own right. We need the retrospectives, the recreated performances, the monographs, and the archives of communication to support the continued scholarship and circulation of dadaist works. However, I cannot help but think that these attempts are not dada, as they negate the ephemerality and urgency at the core of the movement.
This November, San Francisco will be hosting The Dada World Fair a series of lectures, roundtables, performances, film screenings, and art installations. This diverse programming aims to “explore the myriad dimensions of an art movement that defied description in its day and left an indelible influence on the world of art, pop culture, and beyond.”
While most of the programs would make the dadaists roll in their graves, reaches beyond typical nostalgic impulses. Dada@Sea will be a series interactive installations created by Linus Lancaster, a conceptual artist and independent scholar in the fields of performative arts, sculpture, and soil ecology, Frederick Young, a theorist and artist who focuses on the intersection of avant-garde scholarship and conceptual art, and Peter Maravelis, events coordinator at City Lights Bookstore, curator, and scholar. Together, they will produce a structure, comprised of floating and land-based galleries that connects to past and present, local and global, communities.
They plan to dock a barge outside of Swissnex, the cultural component of the Swiss Consulate, along with a sixteen-foot dory built by at-risk youth, supported by SF Maritime Museum’s Boat Building Education Program. Hopefully, the barge will support radios, that will be communicating with different groups. The artists have collaborated with the Marconi Center, which transmits from historic radio sites, to send a message in Morse code to dead dadaists, inviting them to participate in San Francisco’s fair this year. Artist Frederick Young found that, “it is common seafaring practice for ships to send messages out to ghost ships, sunken ships. So, on one level we are interested in Derrida’s notion: the more technical we become, the more ghosts we produce.” As technology dislocates more traditional notions of time and space, expanding the present moment, a continuously unsettling absented presence looms in spectral form. The project is also concerned with Walter Benjamin’s constellated history in which several ideas exist at once, and these ideas can be brought together without reducing one into another. Young and Lancaster are “interested in the radio as something that could potentially make connections to different historical moments. It is a different way of dialing in dada, not to mimetically reproduce it for the museum or for nostalgia, but to see if we can tap into something else within dada.” In sending the message, the artists are using early radio technology to connect to historical dada, while giving the movement a new life, that may exist solely as a series of clicks.
The installation will include sculptures and radio transmitters. Taken from Lancaster and Young’s 2014 project, Radio Free Benjamin, the barge will also feature orgone cannons and an orgone box, functioning as the captain’s helm. Proposed by Wilhelm Reich in the 1930’s, orgone is an energy that is constantly at play between organic and inorganic organisms, and is distributed through the earth’s atmosphere. The orgone box was designed to receive and concentrate orgone to the person inside.
On the barge, the artists hope to install a series of toilets for the press to sit on, that will flush when a question is asked. Invoking R. Mutt, this tongue-in-cheek gesture reminds us of dada’s tenet of mocking institutional frameworks, updating their gestures to poke fun at contemporary media culture.
This project is site-specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, referring specifically to the rise of the technology industry, the surge in rents, and the changes in community demographics. The barge will float in the neutral, Swiss waters. Seeking asylum from “Vichy San Francisco,”, the artists hope to provide a real and virtual haven for artists working in a historically intellectual center that has been hollowed out by “a war of unbounded capitalist flows of the most vulgar American cynicism in which the tanks of Nazism have been replaced by Google buses.” This barge is a place, as actual as it is conceptual, for those seeking refuge. The next step is to secure funding from Google.
Dada has come and gone (many times over), dissolving the moment it began, working in constant flux, growth, and anger. As historical dada is further canonized, theorized, and re-enacted, its histories proliferate and expand endlessly. Dada is living through a constellation of ideas, of histories, and presences; the configurational form mediates between the many ideas of dada, and produces a concept that continues to solidify and dissolve.
For more on Dada@Sea, the Dada World Fair, check out the transcript of the interview with Frederick Young on DISSOLVE’s blog Trace.
Richard Huelsenbeck, Dada Almanac (New York: Something Else Press, 1966), 132. ↩
I do not capitalize the first “d” in dada as a stylistic choice, and to leave the word more ambiguous, not necessarily an established title (grammatically speaking).
On April 14, 1921, Tristan Tzara led dadaists and members of the public on a tour of the abandoned sculpture garden at the church of Saint Julien le Pauvre in Paris, France. Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes stopped at sculptures, and read random passages from a French dictionary. Leah Dickerman and Brigid Doherty, Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris, (Washington: National Gallery of Art in Association with D.A.P./ Distributed Art Publishers, New York, 2005), 354–355. ↩
A fake letterhead that the dadaists used for communication with each other and the writing of “official” documents was designed and printed in 1920, Paris. The form mocks corporate letterheads and was also an opportunity to use the dadaists’s creative typography. The letterhead was printed with “MOUVEMENT DADA” at the top, and fabricated job titles were given to key players in the movement. Tristan Tzara, Dada letterhead, “Mouvement Dada,” 1920, letterpress. The Museum of Modern Art Library, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Dickerman, 1. ↩
Many dada performances were known to have gotten out of control, especially in Berlin. On some occasions, the onstage dadaists encouraged the audience to mock them and throw fruit at them. The movement a reaction to the violence of the war, and participants refused to stay at a distance from the mass, mechanized death caused by World War I. Dickerman, 87–110. ↩
This bell-ringing was first referred in writing in original Manifeste Dada. It became actualized during a reading of a newspaper account of a speech by xenophobic politician, Leon Daudet, in which Tristan Tzara read the speech, in his heavy Romanian-accented French, while André Breton and Louis Aragon rang bells that drowned out the words. Dickerman, 364–365. ↩
I refer here to Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 readymade, LHOOQ. The artist purchased a postcard of Leonardo da Vinci’s infamous Renaissance painting, drew a moustache on her face, wrote the five letters at the bottom. When read aloud in French, the letters form the phrase, “She’s got a hot ass” or “She has a fire down below,” sexualizing and degrading the priceless work of art, while reimagining what a piece of art could look like. “L.H.O.O.Q,” L.H.O.O.Q, Toutfait.com, accessed 25 July 2016, http://toufait.com. ↩
The Marconi Center is a radio transmission center in Point Reyes National Park. The National Park Service and volunteers from the Maritime Radio Historical Society (MRHS) partnered to care for the remaining artifacts and records and also preserve the site in operating condition, so they can still broadcast radio transmissions on land and sea on weekends and special occasions, “Marconi RCA Wireless Stations | Point Reyes National Seashore Association,” Marconi RCA Wireless Stations | Point Reyes National Seashore Association, Point Reyes National Seashore Association, accessed 25 July 2016, http://www.ptreyes.org/activities/marconi-rca-wireless-stations. ↩
Frederick Young, interview with Kathryn Barulich, July 17, 2016. ↩
Jacques Derrida’s concept of ghosts in culture first appeared in his 1993 book, Spectres of Marx, in which he refers to Communism as a force that will continue to haunt Europe. ↩
Walter Benjamin brings up the idea of constellatory history in his unfinished project Passagenwerk or Arcades Project, written from 1927 to 1940. He considers ideas as well as specific historical accounts existing as a constellational form, in which one looks at all of them together. These forms are constantly affecting one another, suggesting a non-linear mode of history, “awakening the dissolution of ‘mythology’ into the space of history the awakening of a not-yet-conscious knowledge of what has been." Walter Benjamin and Rolf Tiedemann, The Arcades Project (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 458. ↩
Reich first made references to orgone in his 1942 book: The Function of the Orgasm; Sex-economic Problems of Biological Energy. Douglas Kahn, TDR 40, No. 3 (Autumn 1996): 82, accessed July 25, 2016, http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.sfpl.org/stable/1146550. ↩
I refer here to Marcel Duchamp’s assisted readymade, La Fontaine. To create this piece, Duchamp turned a toilet upside down, signed it with the artist’s signature, R. Mutt, and then placed it in an exhibition context. This gesture is often discussed as the birth moment of conceptual art, as the mere signature and placement within an art context qualified the seemingly ordinary object as a piece of art. ↩
In San Francisco, luxury buses provided by Google, Apple, Facebook, Genentech, Yahoo and others have used public bus stops to pick up and drop off employees who live in San Francisco and commute daily to Silicon Valley for work. Bringing up issues of displacement and gentrification, fair housing practices, and a commuter culture, the Google bus serves as a stand-in for the spatial violences affecting the city. While the bus is not the source of the issues at hand, it has become the frequent target for protests. Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, “‘Google Bus’ Program Approved, Now Permanent Part of San Francisco Streets,” The San Francisco Examiner, November 17, 2015, accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.sfexaminer.com/google-bus-program-approved-now-permanent-part-of-san-francisco-streets/; Jordan Crucciola, “SF’s Tech Bus Problem Isn’t About Buses. It’s About Housing,” Wired, February 17, 2016, accessed July 25, 2016, https://www.wired.com/2016/02/sfs-tech-bus-problem-isnt-about-buses-its-about-housing/. ↩
“About.” The Dada World Fair. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.dadaworldfair.net/about/#seance.
“About Us | Swissnex San Francisco.” Swissnex San Francisco. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.swissnexsanfrancisco.org/about/aboutus/.
Benjamin, Walter, and Rolf Tiedemann. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999.
Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso Books, 2012.
Crucciola, Jordan. “SF’s Tech Bus Problem Isn’t About Buses. It’s About Housing.” Wired, February 17, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2016. https://www.wired.com/2016/02/sfs-tech-bus-problem-isnt-about-buses-its-about-housing/.
Da Fonseca-Wollheim, Corrina. “Dada Was Born 100 Years Ago. So What?” The New York Times, July 8, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/arts/dada-100-years-later.html?_r=0.
“Dada at Sea.” Dada World Fair. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.dadaworldfair.net/dada-at-sea/.
Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Dickerman, Leah, and Brigid Doherty. Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris. Washington: National Gallery of Art in Association with D.A.P./ Distributed Art Publishers, New York, 2005.
Fitzgerald Rodriguez, Joe. “‘Google Bus’ Program Approved, Now Permanent Part of San Francisco Streets.” The San Francisco Examiner, November 17, 2015. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.sfexaminer.com/google-bus-program-approved-now-permanent-part-of-san-francisco-streets/.
Huelsenbeck, Richard, and Malcolm Green. The Dada Almanac. London: Atlas Press, 1993, “Erklärung des Club Dada”.
Kahn, Douglas. TDR 40, No. 3, Experimental Sound & Radio (Autumn, 1996): 80–87. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.sfpl.org/stable/1146550.
“L.H.O.O.Q.” *L.H.O.O.Q.: Toutfait.com. Accessed 25 July 2016. http://toufait.com.
Lancaster, Linus, PhD, and Frederick Young, PhD. “Dada @ Sea.” Dada Sea. Accessed July 25, 2016. https://dadaatsea.wordpress.com/.
“Marconi RCA Wireless Stations | Point Reyes National Seashore Association.” Marconi RCA Wireless Stations | Point Reyes National Seashore Association. Point Reyes National Seashore Association. Accessed 25 July 2016. http://www.ptreyes.org/activities/marconi-rca-wireless-stations.
Reich, Wilhelm. The Function of the Orgasm; Sex-economic Problems of Biological Energy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.
Young, Frederick. “Dada@Sea Interview.” By Kathryn Barulich. July 17, 2016. Trace: the DISSOLVE Blog. Published August 13, 2016.