October 15, 2009

06dad2A contemporary exhibition poster made in the style of Dada.

Dada is described as an international cultural movement that began in Switzerland during World War 1 and spread throughout the western world. Proponents of Dada did not call themselves artists, but instead referred to what they were doing as anti-art. Those involved in Dada never wished to be an “ism,” as what they were revolting against with their gatherings, performances, manifestos and visual experiments were the prevailing, institutionalized bourgeois interests that both dictated traditional art aesthetics and led directly to World War 1. (This is what Dada believed.)

uk_wwiA graphic design example of the “order” of a war-driven, capitalist society that Dada revolted against.

I find it interesting that we now refer to Dada as an art movement. It’s ironic that the movement is now considered a part of what it revolted against, which is the history of 20th century art. I suppose they chose the avenue of the art world to wreak the most haovc, so it makes sense.

fountainbymarcelduchampFountain by Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1917.

One of the more recognizable contributions to American library of Dada is Marcel Duchamp‘s Fountain, part of his Readymades series. The Readymades were found objects (in this case, a porcelin urinal) that Duchamp selected and displayed in an art context, thus, by his logic, elevating the mundane to the status of fine art. This didn’t go over very well, but that was precisely the intention of Dada: to subvert the traditional conception of what was “art” and what was not.

The piece was rejected from the gallery by the Society of Independent Artists, causing an uproar in the Dada community.

hoch5Cut With The Kitchen Knife, Hannah Höch, 1919

The collage Cut With The Kitchen Knife by Hanna Höch, is likely the visual aesthetic we most often associate with Dada. It was a far cry from the measured art being made at the time. Höch used found objects and a chaotic arrangement of elements to subvert the accepted understanding of visual appropriateness.

man ray 1920 obstruction fb_82_tMan Ray, Obstruction, New York, 1920.

Man Ray’s Obstruction is a sculpture that directly references the tragedy of the Great War. (WW1) By using a simple object of American consumerism, Man Ray mimicked the senseless piling up of bodies in Europe.

Dada was a direct reaction to World War 1. It was a direct reaction to the society that drove entire continents to war. It was a direct reaction to the traditional art standards determined by that same society. It was a movement that turned art on its head, and subverted the ideas of concept, aesthetics and context.

Picture 3A Dada publication, including collage and typography indicative of the time.

How can I relate this to design thinking or social practice? I’m not sure. I see the relationship that social practice has with Dada, in its desire to subvert the gallery experience and offer something new to the established art world. I see Social Practice advocating a change from the singular-voice gallery experience, much as Dada did with their vast offering of publications and gatherings. Certainly graphic design has pulled visually from the Dada library of ephemera and publicity, and we see the typographic experimentation pioneered by Dada appearing again and again.

lecoeurabarbe_no1_cover_6400More Dada typography.

Perhaps I am most compelled to connect Dada and Graphic Design as vehicles of cultural creation. Designers contribute cultural content to our world on a daily basis, and Dada as a cultural movement certainly contributed to our collective history. I see the brazen experimentation of Dada as giving permission to cultural, art and design movements that followed it.


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