Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Fallback on Dada's Forward Push

"A central piece of the [First International Dada] Fair was "The Great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama" by Johannes Baader (Super-Dada, President of the Earth and the Globe, Chair of the Last Judgment)...This was an installation that dominated the second room. It was appropriately ambitious and aimed to encapsulate the spirit, but mostly the material, of Dada....It gathers together materials from Baader's life, preferably used objects (tickets, programmes, pieces of metallic rubble, wires, a male dummy, and so on) which are arranged over four floors: "The Steps of the Overman", "The Preparation of the Superdada", "The World War" and "World Revolution." The ascent follows the initiation of the Superdada and his final propelling into the ether, where his message will be broadcast 'by radio.' "

- Olga Taxidou, Modernism and Performance, 188-189.

I spent last summer living briefly in a space that had been decorated by the popular contemporary German artist Jonathan Meese. It was the large meeting space at the Watermill Center, where Robert Wilson had invited Meese to come and do an entirely free-reign installation for the summer benefit, in which I was one of many participants.

Meese arrived with a larger-than life personality that reminded me of nothing so much as Alfred Jarry, and began making an infernal mess in that lovely, blank white room. "Kunst" and "Metabolism" and "Scarlett Johannson" got scrawled up every which way, globs of paint staples abused the walls, extensive over-stimulation of the senses, toys and masks and such littering the was shocking and unnerving, after the exquisite balance and line that ruled life at the Watermill Center, and to which I'd been accustoming myself for weeks.

I did not like Meese's installation because, even without having studied Dada or its particular projects yet, I sensed that this had been done before. It had worked its way into our cultural heritage so deeply that for all the shock it still gave my system, it wasn't enough to be new. (A note: This doesn't always apply to his non-installation art and sculpture.) Sure, he "updates" Dada with the images of new celebrities, but although the cultural material with which he works has evolved, he seems to have nothing to add to what broke out like angry lightening in WWI Zurich so many decades ago...

This little passage confirms it because it might as well be a description of Meese's overdecorated room. With the exception that Baader's "Plasto-Bio-Dada-Drama" seems to have the very interesting effect of drawing all its clutter up through the air and releasing it through the medium of radio at the top. Which sounds beautiful. And is what I like about Dada: that no matter how enfant terrible it may seem, it often has some deeply thought-out and deeply meant communication beneath its shock tactics and insulting contradictions.

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