POSTMODERNITY & How the Experiential Art Movement DADA Lit the Flame

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Postmodernity, as I have emphasized in my books (ORGANIX, 2011; Inside the Organic Church, 2006) is a philosophy that emphasizes experience as the best teacher. Of course, this has good and bad influences upon society. The “collage” metaphor is also used to describe postmodernity (Mary Jo Hatch, 1997) because it combines many artistic mediums to communicate it’s message. That is a good lesson for those trying to communicate to today’s increasingly postmodern culture: use the spoken, written, acted, painted, sculpted along with musical arts to create a collage or “new synthesis of art” to communicate your message. Christian churches today primarily limit the musical arts as their primary avenue for Christians to express their love for Christ. So, read this story from the BBC to experience the “collage of hearts” that helped spark the rise of postmodernity.

Cabaret Voltare: A night out at history’s wildest nightclub
by Alastair Sooke, BBC, The British Broadcasting Company, 20 July 2016.

In 1916, a young Romanian artist called Marcel Janco produced a painting depicting an evening in a Zurich nightclub. Now lost, but known through a photographic reproduction on a postcard, the picture presents a riotous scene in the fractured style of early Cubism.

A group of performers, centre-stage, make strange, unnaturally angular shapes with their bodies. They seem to be responding to the music of a nearby pianist, who tips back his chair, while remaining hunched over his keyboard. The audience, meanwhile, is a raucous, drunken mob. Sitting at tables scattered around the auditorium, they laugh, yell, point, and jabber. Above them, over the stage, an ominous, skull-like visage – a mask possibly inspired by African tribal art – keeps watch. Next to it, like a banner placed prominently above the pianist, a single word – “Dada” – is legible in the gloom.

Cabaret Voltaire

Marcel Janco’s painting of a night in the Cabaret Voltaire from 1916 now survives only in a reproduction on a postcard (Credit: Marcel Janko)

This, of course, is the name of the revolutionary cultural movement that electrified Europe a century ago. And it all began in this cramped nightclub, which hosted an ‘entertainment’ that lent its name to Janco’s painting – the Cabaret Voltaire…

The culmination of the Cabaret Voltaire was an infamous performance that took place on 23 June 1916. Ball appeared onstage wearing a fantastical cardboard outfit. He then proceeded to intone gibberish in the manner of a priest. Eventually, bathed in sweat, he was carried down from the stage like, as he put it, “a magical bishop”. A celebrated photograph documenting Ball in his absurd costume has survived…

What united all this feverish, anarchic activity? On one level, the Dadaists simply wanted to attack bourgeois customs and conventions, which they believed were responsible for the catastrophe of the Great War. “While the thunder of the batteries rumbled in the distance, we pasted, we recited, we versified, we sang with all our soul,” wrote Arp. Shock and provocation were Dada’s radical tools. So were parody, buffoonery, and vaudevillian excess…

The art historian Dieter Buchhart, who has curated Hauser & Wirth’s comprehensive exhibition of more than 100 artworks, agrees. “I would not talk about a Dada aesthetic, because Dada is very diverse,” he says. But he continues: “One of the unifying elements in visual art and poetry is the collage.”

Collage by Kurt Schwitters

Collage is a defining feature of Dada – as in this work by Kurt Schwitters – but it is best understood as an attitude rather than an aesthetic (Credit: VG Bild Kunst/ProLitteris)

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