Art in its execution and direction is dependent on the time in which it lives, and artists are creatures of their epoch. The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week… The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast to the intelligence of their time.
First German Dada Manifesto, Richard Huelsenbeck
The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts hold fast to the intelligence of their time.
- Richard Huelsenbeck “First German Dada Manifesto”
The marxist social historian in me always flinches when I read that such and such a person arrived in such and such a place and ‘started’ a movement, and art history is completely full of it. I keep reading that Berlin Dada started when Richard Huelsenbeck arrived in Berlin from Zurich in 1917…. like yes he took the name with him, but people don’t flock to a banner unless they already feel that they belong under it - that’s a long process. You’d think the fact that New York Dada developed independently and earlier than in Zurich and Berlin would make people wary of this kind of apostolic ‘great man’ theory of how ideas spread but no - and like, in turn New York Dada is generally dated to the arrival of Picabia and Duchamp, but can that really be? Does a movement start with the artist or does it start with the evolution of an audience and a place for the art - what made Berlin, Paris and New York dada cities before anyone used that name? That said I need to balance out my general position that everything is the result of social forces rooted in production with an acknowledgement that individuals and random chance actually do play a role in history, and I’m genuinely not sure exactly how to do that. I feel like artists can light a bomb but the bomb itself is produced collectively.
We loved Heartfield’s anger and his fits of temper: he always carried folders, envelopes, and books around (which is why we called him ‘Monteur dada’ [Engineer Dada]), and he would throw everything away, including articles of his clothing, and stamp on the ground with his rather awkward rear hoofs.
Richard Huelsenbeck, Memoirs of a Dada Drummer (trans. Joachim Neugroschel)
Today nobody knows whether he was tomorrow
They beat time with a coffin lid
If only somebody had the nerve to rip the tail feathers
out of the trolley car it’s a great age
The professors of zoology gather in the meadows
With the palms of their hands they turn back the rainbows
the great magician sets the tomatoes on his forehead
Again thou hauntest castle and grounds
The roebuck whistles the stallion bounds
(And this is how the world is this is all that’s ahead of us)
Richard Huelsenbeck, excerpt from End of the World, 1916