Mediathek

International Dada: Between Aesthetic and Political Revolution

David Hopkins, University of Glasgow

The Dada movement (1916-1923) is normally seen as linked to specific locations: Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, Paris and New York. Whilst common anti-war and anti-art sentiments are understood as uniting these centers, Dada activity in each location is customarily defined in terms of distinguishing characteristics. Zurich Dada is therefore seen as having an aesthetic tendency (in the direction of abstraction) whilst the Berlin group is considered more politically engaged. This paper seeks to challenge the too-easy separation between aesthetics and politics in accounts of Dada that has been encouraged by the above model. At the same time, it aims to challenge the model of static Dada locations and to promote a dynamic notion of Dada as constituted primarily by the principle of dissemination. The paper will look closely at a series of interactions between key Dada figures in far-flung locations. It will aim to show that magazines, letters or telegrams between these individuals are as much manifestations of Dada as anything else, and that, in line with this fluidity of communication, Dada is pledged to dissolving fixed notions of identity and place, as well as hard-and-fast distinctions between ‘aesthetics’ and ‘politics’. On this reading Dada’s distrust of borders (both geographic and conceptual) may in the end be seen as its most revolutionary impulse.

David Hopkins is Professor of Art History and Director of Institute of Art History at the University of Glasgow. His main research areas are Dada, Surrealism, Ernst, Duchamp as well as selected aspects of post-1945 art and photography. He is the author of the following books: “Virgin Microbe: Essays on Dada” (2013, co-edited with Michael White), “Dada’s Boys: Masculinity After Duchamp” (2007), “Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction” (2004). One of his ongoing research projects is called “The Soul of the Toy: Legacies of Dada and Surrealism”.

The talk was held at the international conference “World-Counter-Revolutions”, 11 June 2016 in Hanover, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

Photo: Katharina Böcker