A Dress Dada Special Event

@ 701 Center for Contemporary Art

 June 1, 2016 7:00 – 10:00 pm 

$20 members; $25 non-members

Cash Bar

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The short answer is: Any way you want. Dada artists pushed the envelope, both in visual arts and in other art disciplines. They often did so in outrageous and theatrical fashion, dressing up accordingly, albeit with purpose. You can, too.
The long answer is: Take clues from what was going on around that time, visually an otherwise, both inside and outside of Dada, not in the least in 1916 Zürich, Switzerland. During World War I. Then and there the first organized manifestation of Dada was established through the Cabaret Voltaire. At the Cabaret Voltaire, Dada types would put on plays, poetry readings, dance events and other performances decked out in tubes, masks and surrealist “costumes,” at times banging drums. Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck, for one, fancied himself a Dada drummer in what he considered to be an African drumming style; the Cabaret’s landlord, a former merchant marine with experience in Africa, thought Huelsenbeck missed the mark. Romanian painter Marcel Janco played the accordion, gave “hissing” concerts and made masks that were worn by performers on stilts. He also created sound poet Hugo Ball’s iconic “bishop dress,” which, with Marcel Duchamp’s upside-down commode, has provided one of the most famous Dada images. Duchamp had a female alter ego, Rrose (aka “Rose”) Sélavy, and dressed the part, albeit not in Zürich; already in 1915, he had gone to the United States. Jean “Hans” Arp posed weirdly with his sculptures and created chance collages. Paper products, for instance in the form of collages and Tristan Tzara’s instructions for creating Dada poetry, were a major part of Dada to begin with. Aside from singing, dancing and reading her poetry, Emmy Hennings did puppetry. So did Sophie Täuber-Arp, whose puppets and wooden “Dada Heads” sculptures were a major part of her output as a visual artist.

Dadaists outside of Zürich can inspire, too. Austrian Raoul Hausmann’s sculpture “The Mechanical Head” was made of a wig-making dummy. German Dadaist John Heartfield created photomontage and stage sets. He also, incidentally, changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld and pioneered art as a political tool, which later landed him high on the Gestapo wanted list and later still on a 1971 DDR stamp. And artist and poet Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven has the name, provocative poetry and the in 2011, posthumously published book of poetry called Body Sweats that surely can inspire any dress up party.

Dada artists were not alone in Zürich around during World War I. A lot of famous folks not associated with Dada lived there, many of them trying to stay away from World War I. Among them were Russian bolshevist Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, his wife, Nadezha Krupskaya, and Irish writer James Joyce, all in Zürich in 1916. Tom Stoppard actually wrote a play, Travesties, set in Zürich and featuring Lenin, Joyce and Tzara. Also in 1916, just outside of Zürich, a large international Marxist congress took place with the likes of Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov but not Lenin, who had major disagreements with these folks. Albert Einstein had just left Zürich, in 1914, as had psychoanalyst Carl Jung, in 1909.

And, of course, Charlie Chaplin, nowhere near Zürich, was big among the Dada crowd.

For further clues, take a look at the image gallery below.

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