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Making nonsense out of sense

Although you may not realise it, the movement of DaDaism has effected pretty much every aspect of society we recognise as modern today- from media to music, it has more power than you know...


Kurt Schwitters is perhaps one of the most recognisable dadaists, because his work has gone onto inspire so many of our modern articles and magazines- his clean typography and use of collage and shape to add interest to the text is something modern graphic designers and illustrators do today- like so many dadaists he was well ahead of his time.

Dadaism is one of those wonderful eras within art where the people within it are there not only to make a comment, but also to have fun in the topics they are exploring. Last week, I was introduced in a lecture to this weird and wonderful band of artists, who after witnessing the horror and madness of war, decided that enough was enough, and that if the world was going to continue speaking sense, then art should follow in its stead.


A collection of complete oddballs, it began during the 1916, when the globe had just experiened perhaps one of the bloodiest wars ever to have taken place during history. With not one continent, country or village left untouched by its ravages, the repulsive waste of life caused by the noise and heat of politics had left a community of artists feeling sickened at the world they were living within. In an enviroment of such seriousness, their feelings were that to counteract this darkness, society needed to move completely away from its functions and laws, and just let themselves be whatever the hell they wanted to be. This began a movement called Dadaism- a place where anyone could come and join in if they'd had enough and just wanted to talk nonsense like the rest of the world did.


Starting particularly in Germany, its group brought to light countless modern thinkers, whose work shone light on how the culture of fear at that time had changed people's perceptions of the enviroment around them. Including artists such as Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters and Julia Geiser, its encouragement in free thinking allowed the style of surrealism to take of, and turned art towards a much more clean and modern style we would recognise today. Often using collage and found objects (as this was mostly all they could afford or find!) this incredible band of creators took the mundane and made it insane- and though it came as a shock to many people, alot of the public actually appreciated the work they were doing- ridiculous as some of it was, it made a lot more sense than everything else they were hearing or seeing.


Aside from this culture of collage, Dadaism also had major influences on music, and also in theatre as well. Ask any follower of this movement about Cabaret Voltaire and they will immediately launch into the tale of how it all began. Started by Hugo ball in 1916, he came onto a stage in Zurich dressed in a cardboard imitation of the popes gowns- he was then lifted into the air where he would then proclaim a load of nonsensical drivel, until eventually being dropped back onto stage dripping in sweat, and waddling off as the crowd around him either clapped or scratched their heads at what they had just witnessed. This madness inspired a whole carnival of artists to follow in his stead- from getting people up on stage to hit you with their canes, its ridiculous and childish nature became synonymous with what being Dada was about- pointing out the problems by being as insane as everyone else around you was. And it still happens today- you can visit that very same bar and they are still performing what is known as the 'cabaret voltaire.' Even after all this time, people are celebrating the release of being allowed onto a stage and not having to pronounce a beautiful monologue, but instead, doing something ridiculous as making music out of farts!




And here he is- Pope Hugo Ball ready to give the stage a night it won't forget that easily!

And it dosen't stop there- hundreds if not thousands of artists, graphic designers, performance designers, illustrators still take on dada techniques- if you look at the punk movement during the early 70s/80s you can see how alike these are- that cutting up of words and making them into a whole other sentence didn't begin out of nowhere. Looking at the album artwork by Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols is like looking at a grandchild of Kurt Schwitters own designs- they are inescapeably alike, and the reason for this is because like the punk movement, Dadaism was a strike against society and a way of releasing tension against politcal establishments and social contructs which were making you behave in ways alien to your nature.



As stated above, its also played a huge part in music, and was a great influence to one of Britains most iconic artists, David Bowe. Some of his most beloved songs were born of his cutting up of magazine clippings, poems he'd written and notes he'd taken and then re-assembling them to make a lyric completely free of the need to make any sense. Below, you can actually watch him doing this- and its something he continued doing right up until his death.



That this movement could have such a profound impact on the culture of media around is and yet still live as an almost underground movement within the art world is in my eyes a crime- that we allow these unsung heros of modern typography and design to go on uncelebrated is a trick we have all missed, considering what we have learnt from them. Today, I had my first go at cutting up words and forming new sentences out of them, and apart from the fact it was incredibly freeing to not feel that need to make a beautiful quotation, it was also very fun just to drop the scraps onto a sketchbook and read what happened next. In a strange way they almost made sense- as Bowe says is becomes a strange modern version of tarot reading- divinating the future by cutting up the known and making it into the unknown.