Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board

At long last, I have finished reading the book "Dada- Art and Anti-Art" by Hans Richter. It was a well written and very informative book by someone who had actually "been there, done that", which makes the book all the more believable since the information was first hand...a very rare thing indeed in the history of art.

The first thing that caught my notice were the ongoing explanations of just what Dada is/was. Every new section of the book has a new meaning, and though they are all different, they pretty much say the same thing. "Dada means nothing...thought is production of the mouth". (Dada Manifesto, 1918)

The second thing I would like to point out is that Dada seemed to be an excuse to exercise bad behavior, since Dada gave the group the freedom to not give a damn about anything. It was the "absence of opportunism", in an age without reason or future...which seem to bring about a kind of wild abandon within this group of artists. This was the "central experience of Dada" (p. 50)
Since the emphasis on Dada was "chance", then absolute spontaneity was called for. Hence, the importance of living in the moment was emphasized. These behaviors brought about monumental changes within the art world. (P.91)

The Dadaists valued personal freedom and independence- a concept that has been in existence in our (USA) country since its inception. This new idea of total freedom from pre-conceived
ideas and relationships opened up endless possibilities within the sphere of creativity.

The "pure chance" of Dada led the author (and visual artist) Hans Richter to begin experimenting with ways in which to paint. Working in twilight, he began to create "Visionary Portraits". As the light began to fade, he would continue to paint until he was working in the dark. Working in this manner, free of conventional methods, Richter found himself painting with his "inner eye". The experience had a profound effect on him. Creating though sheer instinct showed him a freedom he never before experienced in his work.

I would like to take this moment to draw a comparison between this method of working, and my "Blind Sewing" performance. The action is the same. Pulling the threads with a practiced hand while envisioning where the stitches will land and what they will look like was a completely freeing experience for me. All Dada is pure chance. The portraits and the sewing began as the random actions of the artists, and turned into a process of working with innate intuitiveness.

The most wonderful aspect of Dada is having the freedom to discard preconceived notions about process and techniques. Dada went beyond the tried and true methods of creativity. The lines between the individual categories of art became blurred. Painters became writers, and poets, dancers. Artists no longer felt tied to convention, but blossomed under a new-found freedom that enabled artists like Marcel Duchamp to conceive what he called "reciprocal ready-mades"....hence the idea of using a "Rembrandt as an ironing board." (p. 89, 109)

Thank God for Dada.

1 comment:

keri marion said...

Being that I've been catching up on a host of projects the past few weeks, I have had little time to prepare a proper response to your review.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I have read the first chapter (which is fairly lengthy as you may recall) and have chosen the following statements as agreeable with my personal philosophies (though, the whole DaDa/Fluxus thing is agreeable in general).

The line following your first quote, "DaDa means nothing..." :

"...Art is a pretense, warmed by the diffidence of the urinary tract, hysteria born in a studio."

My love for DaDa comes from the idea that "art" looks at the "meat and bones" of life. It's the pretension of "artists" and their "art" that gets on my very last nerve.

And as an "excuse" for "bad behavior" might be true... but that it also brings perspective into the mix of things, just as DaDa aims to undermine, it also aims to examine certain cultural and social perspectives.

I had a recent conversation (wherein the point of the conversation is actually point-less for *this* example) where one person's perspective was stubbornly upper-middle class and sincerely heartfelt.

In no way would the person, if questioned, feel the perspective was one-sided. This person considers the opinions held to be progressive and liberal, except it was only progressive and liberal to an upper-middle class White experience.

I'm not hashing on this person. Everybody has a right to believe what they choose; my point is that DaDa explores the boundaries of perspectives. That's why it might seem as "an excuse for bad behavior" by some and "a liberation of social constrictions" by others.

I'm glad you brought up the idea of "chance," too... because this is another fundamental idea that I am looking to explore and compare between DaDa and Fluxus.

Kurt Schwitters said, "There is no such thing as chance. A door may happen to fall shut, but this is not by chance. It is a conscious experience of the door, the door, the door, the door."

To "live in the moment" and experience all living things in flux is the very beginning manifestations of Fluxus some 30 years before Fluxus was coined as a philosophy.

And DaDa, despite Schwitters' anti-chance stance, did contrarily use "chance" as a factor in the collective movement, if there was a collective movement, or if DaDa even existed at all. Who can be sure?

The correlation between your Blind Sewing is a perfect example - you were able to feel at once liberated and in the moment - unchained from the outcome, aesthetics, formal training, expectation and delivery.

What you were left with was a residue of experience, and that is (in my opinion) the essence of Art.