Nov 6, 2020
category: Art

In order to bring out the non contemplative turn around of the nature of art in the contemporary world, Dadaism and Futurism mode of painting were invented. People today are characterized with an obsession of noisy materials and messages in the wake of technological advancements. Non contemplation is best viewed in the use of televisions, computers, telephones, hand-held video games which were vaguely described by Dadaists in the period of 1919-1920 through art. The painting used by Dadaists was called montage and it showed a disfigurement of the future world. Several paintings were connected together to show how the world was heading seemingly into distortion in its advancements.

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Shelley Esaak’s article on titled, “What is Dada” explains the origins of Dada. It was a movement of artists from Europe particularly in Switzerland amidst World War 1, whose works of art showed that the world was progressing into unimaginable complexities. This work of art contributed to the contemporary film culture. Walter Benjamin who wrote the famous essay titled, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (as cited in Doherty, 92) asserted that the types of films exposed to the public today have their effects emanating from the paintings or literature produced by Dadaists.

Doherty explains that the year 1916 saw the emergence of Dada whose adherents were Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball (poet from German), Emmy Hennings (poet and singer from Germany) and other artists from Romania such as Tristan Tzara and others. These artists came up with new abstract art, poetry, musical performances and dances that were idiosyncratic or peculiar from the commonly known “silent art.”Hugo Ball wrote that “The horror of our time, the paralyzing background of events is made visible” (Doherty, 77). He was speaking about the military action in Germany during the First World War. Dada activists made a comeback to German and this was realized with related journals.

Neue Sachlichkeit which meant New Objectivity in German was the prime slogan for Dada in the late 1920s as it exemplified the work of the artists. Hulsenbeck had been joined by other artists in Berlin and together they formed the Club Dada comprising or architects, writers and poets. In Berlin, Dada took a stronger political turn than it had shown while in Zurich. The events were addressed by Der Dada, Jedermann sein eigner Fussball (Everyone His Own Football) and Die Pleite (Bankruptcy) journals (p. 78). They came at a time Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated his power and the occurrence of the 1918 November Revolution. 

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It was interesting to see how Dadaists applied collage and photomontage. They combined this to critique the contemporary politics and culture with their exhibitions at Berlin and Cologne in 1919-1920. In a 1920 Jedermann sein eigner Fussball publication, Herzfeld is drawn with a recently inflated ball as his torso, “doffing his hat and swinging his walking stick” (Doherty, 78). His body is also not proportional to his head in size. Seemingly, he does not notice all this strange body defects. That publication gets Herzfeld in prison.

That seems harmless but the bone of contention was the photomontage by John Heartfield titled Wer ist der Schonste (who is the most beautiful?) This title was displayed above a fan with faces of government (Social Democratic Party) leaders. This was a sign of anti-communism that would not be tolerated. This explanation is a key to help in understanding the comparison between Futurists and Dadaists. There are two works of art in futurism and Dadaism that have a long connection in light of the fight against political injustices and technological progress.

The first painting is by Giacomo Balla, Street Light, published on 1909-1911 dated 1909, Oil in canvas which best explains Futurism. The other is by George Grosz titled, Daum Marries Her Pedantic Automaton George (May 1920) in explanation of Dadaism.

In his explanation of Futurism, Giacomo Balla made a painting of a street light with oil on canvas. Balla’s painting in the Futuristic style made him depict, light, movement and speed in one formation.

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In Balla’s mind there was a vision that the world would one day be illuminated by artificial light. In the painting, “artificial light” is seen to subsume the natural light of the moon. The seemingly “electrical illumination” radiate red, blue and yellow jets of light. A closer look at the electrical source shows a huge star that has exploded bringing forth great energy. There is a filament which is ignited by the power of the electric current causing the energy to spread out and overshadow the moon’s yellow and white light. Electricity had made a mark, but Balla a Futurist was set more into technological advancement.

Futurists’ have held that the embracement of technology would open doors for all possibilities that would even through the natural world off-balance. With one light bulb, day light would be made to exist even at a time. The power of electricity was such a single spark could ignite an enormous fire. Beneath all this excitement about electricity and technology as a whole, there was a dreaded Futuristic fear. The fire just as it was depicted by the small jets of light was ever growing and one day it would surpass all natural activities. Futurism held enlightenment as supreme among its principles and the artists could be easily compared and contrasted with Dadaists.

In the painting titled, Daum Marries Her Pedantic Automaton George (May 1920) George Grosz, a German, chooses an English title in John Heartfield’s publication.

Grosz’s choice of words shows his abhorrence of his obvious German nationalism while depicting the portrait. Grosz received his inspiration for this painting from Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian who excelled in metaphysics. In the painting, Grosz shows himself as a streamlined, half-human, half-mechanical figure (Biro, 42). The figure is juxtaposed with that of Eva Peter, a model from Berlin who ironically becomes his wife in reality. The modernization of everyday life is seen to conjoin both love and sexuality. The figure of Grosz is painted while clutching a machine to his chest.

According to Kirby (as cited in Biro, 42) this showed that the Angestellten, or salaried masses that were described 10 years later by Siegfried Kracauer. These masses fully embraced urban life and divorced themselves from their traditional lives and customs. Eventually, these masses were led to fully believe in the Nazi ideology that was similar to a cyborgian life. Modern technologies had transformed very many minds of German intellectuals. Grosz further paints a ribbon of numbers which are fed into his head by female hands that are embodied. This shows how Grosz’s thinking is standardized and is now manipulated or programmed to act in a particular way.

His lips have a funnel that looks like a phonograph. This implies that his cognition is set on routine and it controls his speech. Further the number ribbon is in close proximity to the funnel meaning that Grosz, the bridegroom, is only a mouthpiece/puppet. Others (more powerful than him) compose the very messages he speaks. There are various comparisons that can be made between Grosz painting of Dadaism and that of Balla’s Futurism. It will be noticed that both Grosz and Balla embrace the aspect of modern technology take over. In Grosz’s painting the machine part of George had occupied a greater portion of his being.

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There was hardly any flesh except on his head. In Balla’s painting, there was a huge show of electricity light that was overwhelming the moonlight (which was hardly even possible). Both paintings show an aspect of control. In Grosz’ painting, there is a ribbon of numbers that move from the head to Grosz’s mouth. This shows how the words are fed into him. In Balla’s painting, the light is strong as it progresses showing a slight manipulation by an external force. However, there is a slight difference between the two paintings. Grosz made a painting of Eva Peter next to his cyborg like figure. 

Eva is more natural as compared to George Grosz. She shows that not everybody in the German land has been misled by the Nazi urban ideology. Though she has a provocative sexuality that seems to be attracting the manipulators, she is shown to have an overall advantage. In Balla’s painting, the moon which is the natural source of light, is left to be overwhelmed by the light. Its light is stagnantly shining but it is still visible though it is outshined. One common perspective is that, what was meant to be natural will forever remain so. No matter how much the husband (Grosz) is manipulated, there is still a natural woman. The fact that there is electricity does not stop the moon from shining.

This paper shows the effect of the wonderful works of art displayed by the futurist and Dadaists. Both groups have been seen to embrace technology. However, the natural bit is still left untouched to show that humans cannot control everything even though they have substitutes. The first picture titled Wer ist der Schonste (who is the most beautiful?) helps in understanding how to unlock the mystery behind Grosz painting in that both are by Dadaists. They have a similar way of depicting symbolism which comes by assimilating all elements of a picture as compared to Futurists.

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