The Fireside Angel
Finally saw the MOMA’s Dada exhibit this weekend, which was fantastic as expected, though I thought the differences between the best and the rest were salutary: Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, and George Grosz speak to me much more regularly than any of the others, and only Ernst could be considered as even close to the center of the group.
The problem with interdisciplinary movements is that a retrospective of the disparate media is difficult, and MOMA didn’t even try to bring up the influence of Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, and Tristan Tzara, whose writings are fairly crucial to the dada gestalt. I did appreciate their use of some of Tzara, Hausmann, and Schwitters’ sound poems, but I was mostly taken aback to see this print by Raoul Hausmann:
That text happens to be one of the main refrains of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate! (See also here and here for background and sound samples.)
Fümms bö wä tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwiiee.
What I didn’t know was that Hausmann’s text was apparently the product of asking the printer to choose letters at random in the order that they turned up in the tray. And so the Ursonate uses chance operations; not shocking, but something I’d never given any thought to. (Does anyone know if dadaists had any particular opinion towards chance?)
On a side note, I recommend taking the Q or N lines over the bridge from DeKalb into Manhattan. In the midst of the BMT/IND hairball prior to the bridge, they pass by an illuminated empty area to the right (north) of the train, covered in graffiti and masked by a series of pillars between the train tunnel and it. Passing by the pillars quickly gives a kinescopic effect of the graffiti in constant metamorphosis, akin to some of Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted film shorts. It only lasts a couple seconds, but it’s beautiful.
See Brakhage’s Mothlight on Youtube for an example, although it’s in monochrome.
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