Unit 3: Art and the Moving Image

Dada and Surrealism

Dada (Anti-Art)

World War I scattered the writers and artists who had been based in Paris, and while away from Paris many involved themselves in the Dada movement, believing that excessive rational thought and bourgeois values had brought the terrifying conflict of WWI upon the world. The Dadaists protested with anti-rational anti-art gatherings, performances, writing and art works.

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919, collage of pasted papers, 90x144 cm, Staatliche Museum, Berlin.

‘Its My Hobby…’

According to its proponents, Dada was not art, it was "anti-art." For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend. Through their rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics the Dadaists hoped to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics. As dadaist Hugo Ball expressed it, "For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in." A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that "The Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.“ Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, "in reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide."

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Dadaists groups existed in different countries Zürich 1916, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp and others discussed art and put on performances in the Cabaret Voltaire expressing their disgust with the war and the interests that inspired it. They used abstraction to fight against the social, political, and cultural ideas of that time that they believed had caused the war. At the first public soiree at the cabaret on July 14, 1916, Ball recited the first manifesto Tzara, in 1918 also wrote one of the most important Dada manifesto ‘…Like everything in life, Dada is useless. Dada is without pretension, as life should be. Perhaps you will understand me better when I tell you that Dada is a virgin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions’. After the cabaret closed down, activities moved to a new gallery, and Ball left Europe. Tzara began a relentless campaign to spread Dada ideas. He bombarded French and Italian artists and writers with letters, and soon emerged as the Dada leader and master strategist. When World War I ended in 1918, most of the Zürich Dadaists returned to their home countries, and some began Dada activities in other cities.


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The groups in Germany were not as strongly anti-art as other groups. Their activity and art was more political and social, with corrosive manifestos and propaganda, satire, public demonstrations and overt political activities. It has been suggested that this is at least partially due to Berlin's proximity to the front, and that for an opposite effect, New York's geographic distance from the war spawned its more theoreticallydriven, less political nature. George Grosz, together with John Heartfield, developed the technique of photomontage during this period. The artists published a series of short-lived political journals, and held the First International Dada Fair, 'the greatest project yet conceived by the Berlin Dadaists', in the summer of 1920. As well as the main members of Berlin Dada, Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Höch, Johannes Baader, Huelsenbeck and Heartfield, the exhibition also included work by Otto Dix, Francis Picabia, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Rudolf Schlichter, Johannes Baargeld and others. In all, over 200 works were exhibited, surrounded by incendiary slogans, some of which also ended up written on the walls of the Nazi's Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937.

Photomontage George Grosz

New York – Marcel Duchamp & ‘readymades’.
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Like Zürich, New York City was a refuge for writers and artists from World War I. Soon after arriving from France in 1915, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia met American artist Man Ray. By 1916 the three of them became the center of radical anti-art activities in the United States. The New Yorkers, though not particularly organized, called their activities Dada, but they did not issue manifestos. They issued challenges to art and culture through publications such as The Blind Man, Rongwrong, and New York Dada in which they criticized the traditionalist basis for museum art. New York Dada lacked the disillusionment of European Dada and was instead driven by a sense of irony. During this time Duchamp began exhibiting "readymades" (found objects) such as a bottle rack, and got involved with the Society of Independent Artists. In 1917 he submitted the now famous Fountain, a urinal signed R. Mutt, to the Society of Independent Artists show only to have the piece rejected. First an object of scorn within the arts community, the Fountain has since become almost canonized by some. The committee presiding over Britain's prestigious Turner Prize in 2004, for example, called it "the most influential work of modern art."[15] In an attempt to "pay homage to the spirit of Dada" a performance artist named Pierre Pinoncelli made a crack in The Fountain with a hammer in January 2006; he also urinated on it in 1993. By 1921, most of the original players moved to Paris where Dada experienced its last major incarnation.

Marcel Duchamp – Fountain 1917


The French avant-garde kept abreast of Dada activities in Zürich with regular communications from Tristan Tzara who exchanged letters, poems, and magazines with Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Max Jacob etc Paris had arguably been the classical music capital of the world since the advent of musical Impressionism in the late 19th century. One of its practitioners, Erik Satie, collaborated with Picasso and Cocteau in a mad, scandalous ballet parody called Parade. Dada in Paris surged in 1920 when many of the originators converged there. Inspired by Tzara, Paris Dada soon issued manifestos, organized demonstrations, staged performances and produced a number of journals The first introduction of Dada artwork to the Parisian public was at the Salon des Indépendants in 1921. Jean Crotti exhibited works associated with Dada including a work entitled, Explicatif bearing the word Tabu. In the same year Tzara staged his Dadaist play The Gas Heart to howls of derision from the audience. When it was re-staged in 1923 in a more professional production, the play provoked a theatre riot (initiated by André Breton) that heralded the split within the movement that was to produce Surrealism.

Automatic Writing – Open interpretation
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Back in Paris, Breton joined in the Dada activities and also started the literary journal Littérature along with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. They began experimenting with automatic writing— spontaneously writing without censoring their thoughts—and published the "automatic" writings, as well as accounts of dreams, in Littérature. Breton and Soupault delved deeper into automatism and wrote The Magnetic Fields (Les Champs Magnétiques) in 1919. They continued the automatic writing, gathering more artists and writers into the group, and coming to believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the Dada attack on prevailing values.

Eggeling and Richter

Hans richter and Viking Eggeling both began to study the art of movement during the period of Dada and Surrealism Film was the best medium for them to articulate their methods, often drawing out their movements on long scroll like papers. Richter in particular used the medium to develop abstract and experimental works. It took many years for art movements to filter into film and it is not until the works of Man ray and Rene Clair that examples of Dadaism can be seen.

Rene Clair
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Rene Clair Entr'acte 1924 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2duAZH_-54 Documentary on DADA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqkIJ0odFxA

Art techniques developed

Collage -The dadaists imitated the techniques developed during the cubist movement through the pasting of cut pieces of paper items, but extended their art to encompass items such as transportation tickets, maps, plastic wrappers, etc. to portray aspects of life, rather than representing objects viewed as still life. Photomontage - The Berlin Dadaists - the "monteurs" (mechanics) - would use scissors and glue rather than paintbrushes and paints to express their views of modern life through images presented by the media. A variation on the collage technique, photomontage utilized actual or reproductions of real photographs printed in the press. Assemblage - The assemblages were three-dimensional variations of the collage - the assembly of everyday objects to produce meaningful or meaningless (relative to the war) pieces of work. Readymades - Marcel Duchamp began to view the manufactured objects of his collection as objects of art, which he called "readymades". He would add signatures and titles to some, converting them into artwork that he called "readymade aided" or "rectified readymades". One such example of Duchamp's readymade works is the urinal that was turned onto its back, signed "R. Mutt", titled "Fountain", and submitted to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition that year.

Man Ray and the beginnings of Surrealism
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Man Ray’s first films reflect his position between Dada and Surrealism. They can be distinguished by; A rejection of experimenting with vision, rapid- editing and abstraction Experimental film under Surrealism became more critical. The aesthetic and visual became more complex Connections between images are deliberately obscured Sense and meaning are questioned

Man Ray
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Return to Reason 1923 The title reflects a parody of the Enlightenment Uses film like a photographic Photogram Encourages Imagery and looking through the use of the nude http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xzpQvZu5BI Man Ray L'Etoile de mer 1928 Features a distorted (Stippeled) Lens denying the viewers look Editing draws out the disjunction between images http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQJ-JHZ84LM Other films include Emak Bakia (1927) & Les Mysteres du Chateau de Des (1928) Both similarly reject clear readings and continuity editing.

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Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s. Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact. Leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. Surrealism developed out of the Dada activities of World War I and the most important center of the movement was Paris. From the 1920s on, the movement spread around the globe, eventually affecting the visual arts, literature, film, and music, of many countries and languages, as well as political thought and practice, philosophy and social theory.

Andre Breton – Open Arrangement of ideas

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During the war André Breton, who had trained in medicine and psychiatry, served in a neurological hospital where he used the psychoanalytic methods of Sigmund Freud with soldiers who were shell-shocked. He also met the young writer Jacques Vaché came to admire the young writer's anti-social attitude and disdain for established artistic tradition. Back in Paris, Breton joined in the Dada activities and also started the literary journal Littérature along with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. They began experimenting with automatic writing—spontaneously writing without censoring their thoughts—and published the "automatic" writings, as well as accounts of dreams, in Littérature. They continued the automatic writing, gathering more artists and writers into the group, and coming to believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the Dada attack on prevailing values. As they developed their philosophy they felt that while Dada rejected categories and labels, Surrealism would advocate the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination according to the Hegelian Dialectic. They also looked to the Marxist dialectic and the work of such theorists as Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse. Freud's work with free association, dream analysis and the hidden unconscious was of the utmost importance to the Surrealists in developing methods to liberate imagination. The group aimed to revolutionize human experience, including its personal, cultural, social, and political aspects, by freeing people from what they saw as false rationality, and restrictive customs and structures. In 1924 they declared their intents and philosophy with the issuance of the first Surrealist Manifesto. That same year they established the Bureau of Surrealist Research, and began publishing the journal La Révolution surréaliste.

Surrealist Film

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Surrealism is often seen as a search for excessive and spectacular imagery (Dream sequences for example see Hitchcock Spellbound 1954) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzxlbgPkxHE Its origins lie in finding the extraordinary in the banal Their technique of watching film (leaving and watching another film half way through) is also famous Surrealists own films rarely suggest the high-grade illusions of later filmmakers (Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, The Quay Brothers).

Hallmarks of early Surrealist Film
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Critical Documentary eye Trick effects (In admiration of early cinema) Avoidance of montage rhythm Encoding of Post-Freudianism Non-triumphalist views of Masculinity (Castration/loss/disempowerment) Resist the dominant male look inherent in Hollywood film

Marcel Duchamp - Anemic Cinema 1926
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXINTf8kXCc Duchamp both evokes and subverts abstract film in his ironically titled film Denies traditional ways of looking – features slowly turning spirals that imply sexual motifs. These images are intercut with near-indecipherable puns (incest or family passion , with too much stroking) Man Ray’s films similarly oppose passive watching. Emak Bakia (1926) – montage is used to slow downor to repeat actions and objects which both invite an defy thematic connections (Spirals, words and phrases, revolving doors and cartwheels). Frustrating narrative and viewer expectations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ukDpmTu4sc

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel

Salvador Dali (1904 –1989) was a Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres. He was a skilled draftsman and self promotor best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. In 1929, Dalí collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog). The film has no plot, in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial "once upon a time" to "eight years later" without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqdhsrKkck8

Cult Value

Surrealism has gained a commercial and cult following. Its ideas and aesthetic are continually popular and can be seen in a variety of media from advertising to feature film.
David Lynch advert for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous tour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdlf1DzX0iQ

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