What is Dada?

Born out of a reactionary stance against World War I, Dada celebrates the meaning obtainable from the meaninglessness. Using techniques such as the readymade, collage, typography, assemblage and photomontage, the desire of Dada was to create art that exuded ridiculousness through visual puns, juxtaposition, mockery and metaphor.

There were three main strands of Dadaism- Zurich Dada, Berlin Dada and New York Dada, each with their own take on this theme of ridiculousness. Many artists escaped the war by moving to Zurich in neutral Switzerland and objected the society that had allowed and was participating in the war. The leading figure in this movement was Hugo Ball who created the Dada Manifesto in 1916, questioning canonical and philosophical ideas of the artist-as-genius and the quest for ‘truth.’ Berlin Dada was directly affected by the war and was therefore more politically charged and aggressive. This Dada was not generated in the safe, free and multi-cultural society of the Zurich Dada and often reflects anxieties of war. New York Dada, heavily brought into existence by Marcel Duchamp and his associates, was a formal attempt at an anti-art, creating a movement that paralleled European Dadaism.

Whether the Dadaist work was of playful spontaneity, critical absurdity or illogical representations, it had an aim to express an awareness of the power of nonsensical behaviour and imagery, in order to reflect the irrationality of war, politics and society at the time. Dada has influenced many movements throughout the modern and post-modern era, leaving a legacy of using humour, fun and the bizarre to reflect contemporary culture- techniques still prevalent in the art of today.

Text by Olivia Welch

Image: Theo van Doesburg (Christian Emil Marie Küpper) (Dutch 1883-1931) with Kurt Schwitters (German 1887 – 1948), ‘Kleine Dada Soirée’ 1922, lithograph, 30 x 30cm