Is DADA relevant or is it a dead revolution?
“Its [the DADAist movement] aim was to free art from its role as the stupefying veneer on a society whose values no longer could be sustained, and whose collapse had shown that it was obsolete.” – From DADA: The Revolt of Art by Marc Dachy
As I watched the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, I was struck by an awful thought: perhaps those who use terrorist destruction have it right. As I looked at the video of a barely literate George W. Bush touting the amazing breakthrough of the hydrogen fuel cell technology surrounded by the smug faces of the CEOs of GM, Texaco, Shell, and Mobil, it occurred to me that perhaps the only way to beat these Goliaths of industry, to prevent the massive corporations that have a death grip on every aspect of every life on the planet, was violence and destruction. Perhaps an eco-friendly Jack Bauer is the only way.
Then the premise behind Terry Gilliam’s Brazil popped into my head. Gilliam proposes that “The System” isn’t an organized conspiracy set out to control all of us, but a conspiracy of compliance – go along to get along, and when enough people are convinced to go along in a specific manner, “The System” is born. For one man to remove himself from the system, he must lose his mind (or least be seen by the sheep to have lost his mind).
Those who benefit the most from the conspiracy of compliance will fight the hardest to preserve it and will use any means to crush insurrection. To bring actual violence to the status quo is, ultimately, fruitless in an effort to change “The System” because it isn’t the institutions or even the corporations that create it; it is our daily compliance with it that proliferates the injustice, hypocrisy, and dishonest manipulation inherent in our social construct.
DADA was born out of a violent rage to destroy art and with it the use of art to represent a way of life that those angry, young men and women saw as obsolete. Surrounded (literally) by the sounds of death and destruction, via the brilliantly meaningless dance that was then labeled The Great War, the early DADAists used poetry and stationary art to declare war on society. On July 14, 1916, DADA’s mother, Hugo Ball, declared, “Dada comes from the dictionary. It’s really that simple.
In French it means a small wooden horse. In German: farewell, goodbye, be seeing you. In Romanian: yes, really, you’re right, that’s it, fine, yes yes, we’re taking care of it.” DADA’s father, Tristan Tzara, explained that the use of this non-word to describe what it was they did was motivated, in part, by their aversion to any kind of dogmatism and, in part, their wicked sense of humor (“Dada” was also both a German hair tonic and a well-known brand of soap in Brussells).
The DADA revolution, without question, changed the world of art and gave birth to surrealism, pop art, and became the yardstick for all avant-garde art ever since, but the question remains: is it relevant today? Is it possible to embrace the DADAist aesthetic when Geiko commercials use it to sell fucking car insurance?
The noise we are surrounded by is a thousand times more deafening than was even possible in 1916. We are confronted with death, fear, war, genocide, pimples, erectile dysfunction, clinical depression, government sponsored ‘wars’ on concepts, apathy, hypocrisy, new and improved tampons, and the promise of a better, more affluent life through reality TV celebrity, and by helping the President of Nigeria with his huge bank deposits.
Will modern DADAists, screaming to a small audience that only our defiance of complacent compliance will repair the damage and oust the moneylenders from the temple, ever be heard? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that to not make the attempt is compliance with “The System.” DADA can have power, if only to challenge ordinary people to simply look at their world differently, to re-adjust their perspective a tiny bit.
Is DADA relevant? Is air? Is logic? Is justice? As long as it is needed, it is relevant.