Dada was a cultural movement that rose after World War 1, as an outcry against nationalism and violence. It is influenced by many avante-garde movements like Cubism, Expressionism and Constructivism. It mocked the materialistic conditions of a post-war world, driving away from contemporary focus on aesthetics, and towards purpose and introspection. Dada artists include Marcel Duchamp, Hans Arp and Hannah Hoch
Surrealism is a cultural movement that offshoot from Dada, featuring painting techniques that incites nervousness and illogicality, leaving audiences baffled. Surrealistic works feature elements of dreamscape, sorta fantastical with juxtaposition of different elements in one environment. There will be elements of surprise, jumping out of the convention. Surrealist artists include Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst.
Duchamp was renown to be eccentric and loved to challenge the boundaries of art- and he did. He was a pioneer of ready-mades, which was the application of using found objects and changing its functions into aesthetically appreciated artworks. This idea of reducing or relating an object’s function to something else led to many people coining him as a Surrealist artist as well, challenging the frontier of human understanding of object mechanism and sexuality.
In his works like the Bicycle Wheel (1913), he uses found object like a bicycle wheel mounted on a kitchen stool to make a statement on the human condition, which is a broad and brief understanding of human life interacting with the environment. The movement of the bicycle wheel is perceptually halted by the mount, stripping away the functions of a typical bicycle wheel. The kinetic movement of the wheel is also suggestive of Duchamp’s interest in investigating human sexuality. This “suggested” kinetic energy contrasts with the static appearance of the stool, creating a dynamic composition.
Also in the Fountain, he signs the initial R.Mutt (which is not his initials), and terms it as an artwork. This artwork is a classic Dada work until today, mocking high art with a common household item that collects waste. The name R.Mutt is suggestive of the many personas Duchamp takes on, even a cartoon character that he liked as a child. He satirically places an urinal that is supposedly meant to be placed in a toilet and enhances its status into a priceless artwork.
Rene Magritte is one of the most celebrated Surrealist artists, known for his heavy use of symbols and paradoxical composition. Magritte was known to play with the functions and meaning of objects, creating the paradox by going against the fundamentals of identity. This in turn leads to the displacement of symbols, replacing it altogether with the play of words, which supposedly pairs with the appearance.
In works like “The Treachery of Images”, Magritte tries to distant the relationship between visual and text. In this attempt of depicting a visual paradox, he paints a illustrative smoking pipe. However, the text says “This is not a pipe”. This composition is a visual irony as on one hand, the painting is of a pipe and the text says otherwise. However, on the other hand, the painting really isn’t a pipe, and the text is correct. The visual dilemma intrigues the audience and is the intentions of Magritte.
In works like “The Human Condition”, Magritte questions the reality, or specifically the space within the canvas (quite literally). The painting depicts a painting by the window, tilted on an easel. The intentions of the painting is to make the audience question whether the easel is holding a painting and the painting mimics the environment outside, or whether the easel is holding a transparent screen showing the scenery outside. Magritte leaves the audience confused with what they are seeing, questioning the intentions and identity of an easel, since inherently people would think that it holds a painting, and not a supposed transparent screen.
Dali was infamous for being eccentric, even when he was a child, this oddity led to him being bullied by his peers and father. He was heavily influenced by his childhood encounters, battling themes of abuse and death (His brother and mother). Dali was influenced by Metaphysics and Cubism, also Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis of the mind and imageries. These brought him to the abstraction of the subconscious, painting sceneries that are fantastical and amorphous. Dali’s work can generally be categorised into: investigation of a man’s subconscious and environment, sexual symbolism and energy, and symbolic imageries. This would lead to Dali being a prominent Surrealist artist of his generation, but in 1934, a political argument led to his expulsion.
This work parallels to Dali’s reputation as it is one of his most notable works. The iconic symbolism of the melting clock in this work depicts the “Melting of time” quite literally. It is Dali’s play between the mind’s ingrown perspective of object identity and its assumed characteristics. In this case, the clocks which supposedly solid objects are melting like cheese under the sun. This action warps reality and makes the audience question the environment that Dali had painted, challenging its validity and the audiences’ understanding of the mind. Taking a closer look, one would see a cluster of ants roaming around on one of the clocks, this idea links up to Dali’s obsession with the idea of mortality. This is a subtle hint of mortality as the ants look like they are in frenzy, feeding off the flesh of “time”. Through this painting, Dali brings the audience into a fantasy that he had conjured, playing with the power of the free mind.
Hannah Hoch was one of the few female Dada artist of her time, taking on themes like gender stereotypes, political issues and androgyny. She was one of the first artists who dwelled into photomontage, taking existing photographs and use it to her advantage. The act of combining photographs from different sources draws an link to many sources, referencing to the Surrealist ways of playing with object symbolism. Hoch uses found elements and elevate it into the statuses of higher art, very much similar to Duchamp. She also investigated the idea of “New Woman”, challenging the norms of gender stereotype.
In works like the Dada Puppen, it was a clear indicator of Hoch’s affiliation to Dada, ahead of her contemporaries. She was heavily influenced by figures like Hugo Ball, drawing relations to the costume Ball wore for one of his performances.
In “Heads of State”, Hoch used a newspaper photograph of then German president Friedrich Ebert and Ministry of Defence Gustav Noske and showed them in their bathing suits, posing in front of a decorated background. The background is embroidered and floral, contrasting to the serious tone of the politicians in the collage. This work serves as a satire, mocking the German politicians, ridiculing them by juxtaposing them in front of a comical context. The embroidery patterns serve to highlight the woman’s role in society, which is the “housewife”, and by placing the German politicians in the context serves strip them off their masculinity.
Heads of State