A Lifetime Affair with Art, the Dada Movement, and Surrealism
the reality is...there is no reality
ZXORB's Own interpretation of Readymade Art
La De DaDa... 100 Years of Nothing
The reality is... there is no reality.
Dada. Even the origin of the name and the movement are subject to creative interpretation and ambiguity.
Dadaism cannot truly be defined, as it was a rebellion against definition of art and of life and of lifestyle. Instead it is a living, breathing movement that can only be understood in the mind's eye of an individual artist. Or not.
Early on in the movement, Hugo Ball summed it up this way: "How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, Europeanized, enervated? By saying Dada..."
In its simplest explanation, artists rebelled against the art, culture, societal norms, pretense, greed and morality that created the environment for World War 1- through art. It was, and its resurgence in today's art world still is, a manifesto, a radical crusade of cultural revolt. Where previous art "isms" were schools of thought and techniques, Dada "ism" was, and its current reincarnation still is, a state of mind, a freedom from the artistic and cultural prisons of limitation, an attitude embodied in the artwork itself and not without a sense of humor.
The Dada movement sprung up almost simultaneously in North America and Europe from about 1914- 1923 and spread across the globe. Each piece of artwork, and each incarnation of Dada was unique. In New York, the trifecta of Dada artists, all of whom heavily influenced Richard Prehn/Zxorb's artwork and thought patterns, were Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Man Ray.
These three artists, much like their counterparts in Europe, were united in their efforts to "unlearn painting" and challenge the assumptions Western art was built on.
The avant-garde art, both in Europe and the US, that came out of the Dada movement, was experimental and innovative, pushing boundaries of what was both accepted and acceptable; defying normalcy and the status quo.
Duchamp was the pioneer of "readymades", although to strictly define what that means is as illusive as defining Dada itself, and his own concept of the work kept changing. "My intention was to get away from myself, though I knew perfectly well that I was using myself. Call it a little game between 'I' and 'me'." He continues, "The curious thing about the readymade is that I've never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me..."
The Birth of Surrealism
From the bold marriage of Dadaism and Paris, Surrealism was conceived.
While early ideas of surrealism had already begun to develop, André Breton, a French writer and poet, is widely credited as the founder of the movement. In 1924, he wrote his first Surrealist Manifesto.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art defines the evolution of the 1920s
surrealist movement: "The cerebral and irrational tenets of Surrealism find their ancestry in the clever and whimsical disregard for tradition fostered by Dadaism a decade earlier".
World War 1 scattered Parisian artists around the globe. From the shattered remains of the art world, the ripples of disgust and contempt quickly evolved into the multi-continent explosion of Dadaism. It reflected a new age of artistic thinking, reasoning, & definition, while refusing to be confined limitations as to what constituted art and while engaging in a nihilistic sense of humor and view of cultural ideals and values. From this scattered art anarchy Surrealism found a foothold, with Paris at the forefront of this artistic deviation and organized chaos.
More focused on thoughts & ideas, and personal insight rather than nihilism, the Surrealism movement was heavily influenced by the psychology of Sigmund Freud, and the political ideology of Karl Marx. Surrealism had a prevailing philosophy and underlying unity not found in the Dada movement. Perhaps this difference of inner expression rather than outer revolt is best known through a technique that profoundly separates Dadaism from Surrealism- automatism.
Artists who employed automatism investigated the true abstraction of their subconscious without conscious self censorship.
In Robert Short's book, Dada and Surrealism, he writes, "for Surrealists, automatism allowed a speech to be heard which was exempt from the corrupting effects of culture- a voice which expressed, as Breton put it in the 1924 Manifesto, 'the real functioning of the mind', and was 'a true photography of thought'. Where Surrealist automatism was introverted and sought to reveal patters in the human unconscious, Dada art mimicked an objective chaos."
Pure Psychic Automatism
André Breton defined surrealism in his first manifesto as "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern." His text concludes by asserting that Surrealist activity follows no set plan or conventional pattern, and that Surrealists are ultimately nonconformists.
Breton's lingering Dadaist connections were evident in his assertion that Surrealism had no aesthetic or moral preoccupations, however the prevailing philosophies of the Dada movement became much more refined and to an extent defined in Surrealism. The artists themselves evolved as they came to believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the Dada attack on prevailing values.
While Breton's original definition of Surrealism has proved capable of significant expansion, automatism remains of prime importance in the movement.
The anti-aesthetic manifestation of Surrealism is that the artist gives up conscious control of the artwork, making it a denial of the artist-creator. Beauty results from unexpected juxtapositions, not from composition.
Automatism techniques suggest that the artwork has bypassed conscious or rational thought; that the forms and images are generated by the subconscious without the artist's control.
Just as there were two directions in Dada (art in everything vs the anti-art element) Surrealism also meandered along multiple paths. The automatist element led to the seemingly unplanned compositions of artists such as Joan Miró and André Masson, while the dream element led to the more composed but "otherwordly" compositions of René Magritte, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali. All, however, were committed to what is called "poesie-peinture" -- a poetic, visionary form of painting. The commitment to these two directions in art varied among the same artists over time; automatist strategies dominated most Surreal art of the 1920s while illusionistic, dream strategies more fully emerged in the 1930s.
Surrealism's surprising imagery, deep symbolism, refined painting techniques, and disdain for convention influenced later generations of artists, including Richard Prehn/Zxorb.
Surrealist work can be found in almost any medium, from photography to the surrealist art creations of "readymade" construction.
Absurdist Humor, Madness and Zxorb
While the initial temptation is to look at the work of surrealists, and their determination to work with, express, and free the subconscious mind, as being mentally unstable, this is not an accurate assumption.
Quite the contrary, unlike the instability of both the movement and the artists involved in Dadaism, most of the Surrealist artists of the 1920's refused to subvert their inner realities to the conventions of the epoch in which they were born.
Instead, they delved more deeply into the frontiers of the unconscious by translating the ethereal mysteries of their minds onto canvassed landscapes which continue to fascinate, repulse, and intrigue viewers even now and inspired an art movement which is still actively pursued today as well as providing a strong foundation for further artistic movements of the 20th century.
Salvador Dalí, with his strong roots in Surrealism, said it best.
“There is only one
"Speak to me my madness. For I have seen things you will never see. I will give you a glimpse." ~Zxorb
Andre Breton's first surrealist manifesto was written with a great deal of absurdist humor, demonstrating the influence of the Dada movement which preceded it as well as its evolution from nihilistic humor to irrationality in its purest and most subconscious state.
This surrealist humor, mixed with a Dada-esque self deprecation, can often be found in Zxorb's political, societal and personal opinion pieces of art and in his everyday conversations.
As much as Zxorb relates with and delves into surrealism, his work remains rooted in Dada philosophy.
Années Folles- The Crazy Years
While Dadaism sprung out of a disdain for the cultural and moral norms that created the environment for WW1 to develop, those ideals seemed almost forgotten as the decadence and debauchery of the 1920s emerged. After five years of austerity and distress, Parisians, like their counterparts throughout Europe and the United States, simply wanted to forget, move on, and celebrate.
In France, the twenties were called the "Années Folles". This fascinating decade began after the First World War and ended with the economic crisis of 1929. During this period, the behavior of the French suddenly and drastically changed, with an aspiration to joy and licentiousness, particularly in the upper and middle classes. The French tried by all means to get rid of the pre-war values and the daily life of most the French which went through many changes in habits, with a strong demand for personal freedom.
This effervescence was most important in Paris, where, thanks to the influences coming from all over the world, mentalities and ways of living were revolutionized. The Parisians, thanks to the progress in great expansion, adopted a new, more modern lifestyle. They took advantage of this new freedom and some of them adopted an unbridled and exuberant behavior. The most considerable social change was certainly the feminine emancipation. Indeed, most of the women were alone during the War, and it changed their status in the society. They learned to live in accordance to their aspirations, and how to take on responsibilities.
The Parisians of the 1920s enjoyed frivolous lives. The middle class had access to the privileges of leisure previously only attainable to the wealthy. This was a period of levity and distraction. Jazz music flourished. The flapper redefined modern womanhood. The fear and disdain stemming from the War and its aftermath, as well as the anarchist ideals of rejecting the societal norms that were prevalent in the Dada movement, were all fading as quickly as inflation was rising.
Surrealism, Paris and the Great Depression
The Great Depression hit France later than most European countries, but it lasted longer. During the 1930s radical leftist politics characterized many of the artists connected to Surrealism. Support for extremist groups began to expand. As the government floundered, support for both fascism and communism grew, climaxing in February of 1934 with a series of riots and police confrontations, resulting in a number of deaths and the barricading of the main square in Paris.
Surrealism in the 1930s integrated and synthesized art into life. While keeping with its introspective roots, society and the individual and collective angst had once again become oppressive...
100 Years of Nothing
The Dada movement espoused strange and radical ideals as they explained in one of their many art manifestos:
"Dada Knows everything. Dada spits on everything. Dada has no fixed ideas. Dada does not catch flies. Dada is bitterness laughing at everything that has been accomplished, sanctified....Dada is never right... No more painters, no more writers, no more religions, no more royalists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more politics, no more airplanes, no more urinals...Like everything in life, Dada is useless, everything happens in a completely idiotic way...We are incapable of treating seriously any subject whatsoever, let alone this subject: ourselves."
Dadaism, and to an extent, surrealism, grew out of frustration, anger, angst and rebellion over the prevailing attitudes, greed, skewed morality, cultural and political influences and materialism that set the stage for World War 1, a hundred years later its resurgence can be seen because a similar stage, and the disillusionment of artists living it, is being set...
The free thinking artist is ostracized. The world is in turmoil. World economies are in a tragic state of disrepair. War and terrorism are commonplace. The food supply is ineffectively distributed, leaving many to starve. Women and children are still being forced into slavery. Banks have failed and taken with them the illusive theory of economic security. Middle class population is quickly disappearing in a sea of poverty. People are afraid of the present and even more fearful of the future. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
I Am DADA
"If you think outside the box, you are once again nothing for not following the trends. It's a lonely world in my head." ~Zxorb
Dada itself feels nothing, it is nothing, nothing, nothing
It is like your hopes, nothing
Like your heaven, nothing
Like your idols, nothing
Like your politicians, nothing
Like your heroes, nothing
Like your artists, nothing
Like your religions, nothing.
Installment One: The Creation of Zxorb
Dadaism, n. A revolt by certain 20th-century painters and writers in France, Germany, and Switzerland against smugness in traditional art and Western society; their works, illustrating absurdity through paintings of purposeless machines and collages of discarded materials, expressed their cynicism about conventional ideas of form and their rejection of traditional concepts of beauty.
Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.
While completely understanding and defining art movements, particularly the loose collection of people and objects that are labeled as "Dada", is an effort in futility, there is no doubt that the radical movements of both Dadaism and Surrealism forever changed the creative thinking of both the literary and the art world from the early 19th century forward. It is from these movements that more modern artists, such as Sigmar Polke and Richard Prehn/Zxorb, developed their own unique styles. It is in these styles, however loosely defined, that one begins to grasp the depth of the work of Zxorb, that one begins, not to understand, but to appreciate each layer of his artwork, each introspection developed in every photograph, each rebellious thought and (hopeful?) hopeless dream. Because through Zxorb's expression, our own minds begin to think, to change, to see color in black & white, and never ever let a grey world define us.
Next Up...Installment Two: The Birth of Zxorb...
all images copyright of Richard Prehn/ZXORB 2013
all writing copyright of Bridget Gibbons 2013
all writing copyright of Bridget Gibbons 2013