Avant-Garde Utopianism in dada
Hubert F. van den Berg
The following pages want to present an understanding of dada that differs from the prevailing image of dada as a basically destructive, nihilistic anti-movement.1 Instead, a more positive understanding of dada will be accentuated. Dada, to be sure, was in many respects a destructive avant-garde project, but not more so than various other contemporary avant-garde movements such as Futurism in its iconoclastic campaign "against passatism" and – as far as the tradition of "realist" pictorial and sculptural representation in Western art since the Renaissance is concerned – Cubism and Constructivism. Like these other avant-garde isms, dada possessed an outspoken constructive, utopian stance. In order to further my understanding of dada, this paper will focus mainly on dada in Zurich, but observations will generally hold for other dada branches as well, be it in Berlin, Hanover, Paris or New York. There are good reasons to focus primarily on dada in Zurich, however. Not only did dada begin in Zurich in the Cabaret Voltaire, founded early 1916, but Zurich also remained the centre of the dada project for several years. Whereas in 1918 another branch, Club dada, was launched in Berlin, it was only in 1919-20, when the dada movement in Zurich (as well as in Berlin) dissolved, that other dada groups such as that in Paris emerged. From 1916 until 1920, Zurich can thus be regarded as the centre of the dada movement. Moreover, the programmatic writings of the Zurich Dadaists contain the constructive momentum of dada in its most elaborated form, which not only contained the vision of a "New Art", but also of a "New Life" and a "New Man".