Rebellious Soul: Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side

Curated by Leo Yuan


Hannah Hoch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919
Nihilistic. Destructive. Bolshevism. Even today, people often use these kind of words to describe Dadaism. (Coincidently, these were also the words people usually used to malign anything new and unexpected, anything that reflected the slightest defiance of the status quo). Emerging after the First Word War, Dada was one of many artistic, literal, and philosophical movements in response to this European cataclysm. Artists felt necessary to, or at least try to, account for this annihilation of civilization.

Despite some parallel branches in Eastern Europe after October Revolution, Dadaism had nothing to do with Bolshevism. It was merely an radical reaction in the form of somewhat Western bourgeois ideas. It almost sounds like a horseplay when you hear stories like, "Dada came from a meeting where a knife stuck into a French-German dictionary, pointing at dada, a French word for hobbyhorse," and "Duchamp embellished Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa with a moustache." And it was indeed the original purpose of this movement – to mock and laugh at the world where "everything works fine, but people don't anymore" (Hugo Ball).

But Dada was something more than occasional horseplay. It reflected the anxiety and absurdity of the beginning of a mass-produced culture and adopted a skeptical view towards all big, political words and promising phrases. It was a revolt, as Ruhrberg puts, "a revolt of vitality against ossification, of liberty against doctrine, of the irrational against the 'reason' of political and war speculators, a despairing attempt to survive destructiveness by destroying." In Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, the chaotic composition, and the use of photomontage, bring together different pieces of life and society, but not in a logical way, instead, like an exploding grenade.

And what we do to a exploding grenade? Dadas had an answer for us: just kick it away.

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