On Friday 5 February 2016 it is a hundred years ago to the day that Cabaret Voltaire first opened its doors on Zürich’s Spiegelgasse, an event that marked the beginning of Dadaism and changed our view of art significantly. On the 5th of January, EYE on Art honours the spirit of Dada by screening six films made by a band of headstrong revolutionaries such as Hans Richter, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.
When the penniless poet and philosopher Hugo Ball opened Cabaret Voltaire with his companion Emmy Hennings in a café on 1, Spiegelgasse in Zürich, the First World War was at a tragic height. Together with Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber Arp, Ball and Hennings protested against the insanity of the war by presenting ‘alogic’, absurd imagination and magic on stage under the name of Dada.The performances left the audiences stunned as they were confronted with bruitist sound effects, modern dance, sound poetry, collages of word and image, negro masks or angular modernist improvisations on the piano. The shows provoked both indignation and rage among the audience and the air was often filled with hoots and catcalls.
The spirit of Cabaret Voltaire also spread to New York, Berlin and Paris, where men like Marcel Duchamp, John Heartfield, Francis Picabia and Man Ray changed the coordinates by introducing the art of the readymade, the fascination for machine aesthetics and film and photo editing through free association. Suddenly there was a new perspective: anything could be art, depending on the context and the spectator’s intelligence.
Photos: Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, then and now.
Photo: an impression of a Cabaret Voltaire performance painted by Marcel Janco in 1916 (the original painting has disappeared)
More about Cabaret Voltaire here:
Video: The Dada Manifesto of 1918 by Tristan Tzara was the seminal tool that put Dada on the map.
Video: a re-presentation of Hugo Ball’s sound poem “Karawane”, 1916. The piece was part of a performance.
The evening will be introduced in English by EYE on Art programmer Anna Abrahams.
The American cellist and free jazz composer Tristan Honsinger and the Dutch musicist Oscar Jan Hoogland (on prepared piano) will perform for all the six films.
Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast, Hans Richter, DE 1927 6’)
The film itself is considered to be one of the first surrealistic films ever made. The piece is a mixture of stop motion and live action techniques. Richter’s interest in Dadaism is shown directly in this work as he challenges current art standards of the time by presenting a theme of obscurity and fantasy.The original soundtrack, written by Paul Hindemith, was destroyed by the Nazis, but new compositions have been created by artists such as The Real Tuesday Weld, Jean Hasse and Ian Gardine.
More about the film here:
Anémic cinéma (Marcel Duchamp FR 1925 7’)
The film depicts whirling animated drawings—which Duchamp called Rotoreliefs—alternated with puns in French. A pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play that suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. The Rotoreliefs were obtained through a motorized machine, ‘Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics)’, built by Duchapm himself.
Read more about this optical device and the film here:
Le retour à la raison (Man Ray FR 1923 3’)
In Paris, in the 1920s, Man Ray began experimenting with photograms, pictures made by placing objects on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light. In these works, which he called “rayographs,” after himself, light is both the subject and medium. In Le Retour à la raison (Return to Reason), the artist extended the rayograph technique to moving images—he sprinkled salt and pepper onto one piece of film and pins onto another and added sequences of night shots at a fairground and a segment showing a paper mobile dancing with its own shadow. The final sequence of the film introduces Man Ray’s legendary model Alice Prin—also known as Kiki of Montparnasse—naked, her body illuminated in stripes of light.
More about Man Ray here:
Emak-bakia (Man Ray FR 1926 18’)
Subtitled as a cinépoéme, the film features many techniques Man Ray used in his still photography (for which he is better known), including Rayographs, double exposure, soft focus and ambiguous features. The work’s title, which means in Basque ‘leave me alone’, is the name of a house owned by Rose and Arthur Wheeler near Biarritz where Man Ray stayed and made an avant-garde film of the same name in 1925.
https://letterboxd.com/film/emak-bakia/: There’s no ‘plot’ to speak of, certainly without any clear human “characters”; with the Starfish a couple years later one could say there were some more identifiable people in that than here. For this film, the first shot is a man behind the camera looking out (one can see his eye in the lens I think), and then it’s… lots of squiggly lines going by really fast (a precursor to Brakhage shorts), flowers, animated nails, and then… people walking, their legs, a banjo and dancing, on a beach somewhere, the ocean, fish, and a woman’s face as she may or may not be in the midst of a dream.
Entr’acte (René Clair, 1924, 16’)
A classic of avant-garde cinema, Entr’acte was made as an intermission piece for the Ballets Suédois production of Relâche, a Dada theater work that premiered in Paris in December of 1924. Francis Picabia gave René Clair a short scenario around which to build the film, and Erik Satie composed an original score to accompany it, but the finished work is “pure” cinema—the individual shots and the connections between them resulting in what Clair described as “visual babblings.” Key figures of the contemporary Parisian art world appear in the film in absurd comic cameos, including Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Borlin (director of the Ballets Suédois), Georges Auric, Picabia, and Clair himself. As Picabia declared, Entr’acte “respects nothing except the right to roar with laughter.”
More about the film here (in French and Dutch):
Charlot présente le ballet mécanique (Fernand Léger FR 1923 12’)
The piece, also known as Ballet Mecanique, is a purely Dada work of chaotic juxtopositions. It’s a light show with little bits begging to be picked out & identified, mechanical devices in motion vying with the repetitive motions of human beings.
More about the film here (consecutively in English and Dutch):