Dada 100/The Cabaret Voltaire (interviewed by Z. Burden)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of DaDa, City Lights Bookstore and Publishing have teamed up with a bunch of artists and organizations to put on various events/happenings/installations etc. around San Francisco in conjunction with happenings around the world. View more detailed info at the official DaDa World Fair event site via link below.

Following that is an interview reposted with permission from the interviewer. You can find more of Zora’s work including her excellent book series ‘Women of the Underground’  and more at her website  and be sure to check out V.Vale (ReSearch) and sign up for his newsletter in which more can be found from Zora and many others.

Following The Cabaret Voltaire piece is a bit of audio. Interviews with Tzara and Duchamp themselves as they talk a bit about the origins of the DaDa movement.

marcel-duchamp.jpg!Portrait w_Pipe

“As an artistic and literary movement in the earlier part of the 20th century, Dada stood out for its attacks on bourgeois sensibilities, its challenge to the hierarchies of gallery and museum culture, and its questioning of the purpose of art and the role of the artist in society. Dadaists attacked the norms of traditional art production and crafted a radical agenda that took to task not only the traditional canon of European art but of Dada itself”



Zora Burden interviews Cabaret Voltaire (of Zurich, Switzerland), Pt. 1 (Part 2 will appear in October 2016 newsletter). The 100-Year Anniversary of DADA is being celebrated in San Francisco by City Lights Bookstore’s Peter Maravelis and friends, as well as in Zurich, Switzerland, and elsewhere.

ZORA BURDEN: For those who aren’t familiar with Dada and its history, will you give a brief explanation of the group’s formation and talk about some of the core members?

Cabaret Voltaire: As the birthday of Dada is the opening of Cabaret Voltaire on the 5th of February 1916, we can say that the core members of Dada were Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. They started Cabaret Voltaire with Hans / Jean Arp who was there the same day already hanging up paintings in the Cabaret Voltaire. Probably Sophie Taeuber was there, as she was in a love relationship with Jean Arp. The same night Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco dropped by and joined immediately. A week later on the 11th of February, after Hugo Ball had sent out letters to friends in Germany asking them to join, Richard Huelsenbeck came to Cabaret Voltaire and started playing the “negro drums”.  These seven personalities can be considered the key members of Dada at the beginning.

Richard Huelsenbeck brought Dada to Berlin in 1918 where he got to know George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, Johannes Baader, John Heartfield and others. Tristan Tzara brought Dada to Paris in 1920, where he met Andre Breton and Francis Picabia. Picabia played an important role in making Dada international. With Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, Dada Baroness and Arthur Cravan were the main members of Dada in New York. In Hanover was Kurt Schwitters and in Cologne were Max Ernst and Johannes Baargeld. There were about 165 Dadaists, of which 21 were the core artists that formed Dada, the global art movement.

ZB: Can you summarize a few of Dada’s most important messages within its manifestos?

CV: If you go through the manifestos chronologically, there is quite an interesting development. The very first declaration or explanation is by Richard Huelsenbeck. In Spring 1916, he says that they found Dada, they have Dada, they are Dada, and that Dada means nothing! Then on the 14th of July 1916, Hugo Ball says that Dada is a word to be used to change the world. He asks: How to achieve eternal bliss? And answers: By saying Dada. Also: How do you become famous? By saying Dada. So you can use the word “Dada” almost like a magic word—a spell to change the world, to achieve eternal bliss, and to become famous.

In this same manifesto, Hugo Ball also says that we need to say the word “with noble gesture and delicate propriety, ‘til craziness, ‘til unconsciousness.” So he also provides a certain attitude—maybe the attitude of a Dandy—one who follows the consequence of a thought and the logic of “spiritual facts.”

Tristan Tzara in 1918, in his first Dada Manifesto, also uses Dada as a word and as a weapon to fight against everything and to “occupy” everything. With Tzara, Dada becomes a real tool that interferes wherever it can. In other manifestos Dadaists mainly describe what Dada is and how it is against other art movements.

Dada is here to change you, says the Johannes Baader manifesto, “Who is Dadaist?” He says that a Dadaist is a human who loves life in all its possible varieties. Baader, as Oberdada, wants humans who can create a new mankind imbued with this spirit. A similar notion can also be found in the “Manifest Proletkunst,” where Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and others say that art is the spiritual  function that will free humans from the chaos and tragedy of life. They seek “mature” human beings—that is what art is for. So Dada is a tool for creation; it “loosens up” structures to make a place for art to happen, as Walter Serner said in his Manifesto “Letzte Lockerung.” Kurt Schwitters agrees.

ZB: For those who may not know, why was Cabaret Voltaire chosen as the location for the first Dada performances? What is the history of the Cabaret Voltaire café/venue?

CV: Simply because the landlord let them do their Cabaret there. The building was built in the 14th century. Until the 1970s it was still the same restaurant (“Meierei”) where Dada originated in 1916.

ZB: How and when did Cabaret Voltaire reopen? Will you talk about the protests to save it and have it declared a historical landmark?

CV: In 2002, the whole building was squatted by artists to remind the people of Zurich (and Switzerland) that we have a cultural heritage here that was in danger of being used merely as a pharmacy or soap shop or luxury flats. The artistic squatting was successful—a committee of over 2000 artists and cultural workers formed, whose goal was to save the “Dada House.” At one point Swatch stepped in and offered financial assistance. in September 2004, Cabaret Voltaire reopened. It’s still a fight to keep Cabaret Voltaire open as a Dada space; right-wing groups continue to protest its existence.

ZB: What were some of the most notorious and subversive performances held at Cabaret Voltaire?

CV: Since 2004, the very first performance in Cabaret Voltaire was a concert by a Swiss band called “Kunst,” as far as I remember. There were a couple of opening events in 2004, speeches, also exhibitions, and a video by Nobuyoshi Araki. On the preview opening, the mayor gave a speech out of the window with a cardboard megaphone, and a Swiss Schlager band played.

It was more “actions” than performances that created scandal in Zurich. The first one was a T-Shirt we started selling with an image of Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a former RAF terrorist. We sold it next to a Che Guevara T-Shirt, asking if all terrorists would be fashion icons soon—and sure enough, Osama Bin Laden T-Shirts appeared! The local right-wing politicians said we were supporting terrorism and wanted to shut down Cabaret Voltaire.

Later we did a Street Art workshop. The local liberal party protested, saying we were supporting vandalism—again making a call to shut down the place. Then we did a “casting call” for men to join sex workshops for women where people learn how to discover their orgasmic potential. In this case, the city itself said we weren’t allowed to do this, because they don’t support pornography.

ZB: Do you think the Dadaists were the first real “revolutionary” group in the 20th century? How do you feel Dada encouraged personal liberation and freedom of expression?

CV: Dada was beyond any political or ideological movement. Even today, the term Dada is often misused to describe crazy or stupid things. Dada has always had a rebellious potential (which is quickly embraced by adolescents). But in the end, Dada is an attitude that questions everything. This is still not totally understood, but it is an attitude that leads to the future and to art. As previously mentioned, Dada is here to loosen things up and make a place for art. It’s not politics, or religion, or media, or science, or educational rules, but ART that defines our world! Maybe Dada wants to revisit the time when the world was defined by poetry and stories. Or more simply: Dada wants you to be a dandy, trickster and joker… so you will be the best human possible, every day!

ZB: How did the first Dada International Fair in Germany come about, and what was the motivation behind it?

CV: It was organized by the Dadaists in Berlin and took place in the gallery of Dr. Otto Burchard from June 30th until August 25th, 1920. According to the program there were 174 works showed by Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Francis Picabia, Hans Arp, Wieland Herzfelde, Max Schlichter, Max Ernst, Alois Erbach, Rudolf Schlichter, Hans Citroen, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Johannes Baader, Georg Kobbe and some others. Wieland Herzfelde wrote an excellent introduction text.

ZB: Because Dada is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, will you talk about the many ways Dada has influenced society over the last century?

CV: Dada was the very first postmodern art movement. As we are still living in a postmodern society today, one can say that Dada influenced the Western half of the world; the second half is yet to come to Dada. In 1923 when Kurt Schwitters went with Theo van Doesburg and Nelly van Doesburg on a Dada campaign in Holland, Dada was something the “dumb audience” (as Schwitters put it) adopted very quickly. With joy, people shouted Dada and used Dada as in a carnival where they can be a bit crazy and let themselves go.

Certain art movements refer to Dada: Surrealism, Lettrism, Situationism, Beat Generation, Fluxus, Happening, Punk, Performance art and creative activists. One can say that Lady Gaga is Dada and Pussy Riot is Dada. Here you can see the whole range of Dada influencing society today.

ZB: What are some of the events planned for Dada100 internationally? What are some of the events Cabaret Voltaire will be hosting? What other celebrations in Zurich will occur over this year?

CV: Cabaret Voltaire celebrated 165 Celebration Days. We did this every morning until the 18th of July and we did it every night at 20:00 from the 5th of February until the 15th of May. Our main event during the celebration was «Obsession Dada», an exhibition about Harald Szeemann’s work on Dada. With Una Szeemann we researched this in the Getty Research Center in L.A. We did a performance series on a copper stage designed by Una Szeemann, with international contemporary artists from all over the world. The idea was to reload Cabaret Voltaire with contemporary energy and therefore transform and bring it to the future.

We also curated the exhibition “Genesis Dada” in the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, where we showed the very first exhibitions by the Dadaists in Zurich: the paintings and drawings that were hung in Cabaret Voltaire and in Galerie Dada in 1916 and 1917. We showed how Dada was generated.

And we co-curated the exhibition “Kurt Schwitters: Merz” with an architecture design by Zaha Hadid in Galerie Gmurzynska on Paradeplatz in Zurich, which is more or less exactly where Galerie Dada was in 1917.

ZB: If a person can’t attend an event, what are some creative ways to celebrate Dada?

CV: Chant a Sound Poem in a public place. Chant it like a Catholic priest. Like Hugo Ball did on the 23rd of June 1916.  Go to a shop and try on all the clothes in the shop and then not buy anything—like Urmuz (not a Dadaist but a Symbolist), did some years before Dada. Walk down a street with restaurants, open the door of each restaurant and shout “Viva Dada” and close the door again—like August Giacometti and Hans Arp did in 1918 in Zurich. Or make a Dadaist poem:

How to Make a Dadaist Poem

“To make a Dadaist poem: Take a newspaper. Take a pair of scissors. Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem. Cut out the article. Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag. Shake it gently. Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag. Copy conscientiously. The poem will be like you. And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.” Tristan Tzara

ZB: What do you feel are some of the most important works of Dada art or anti-art, literature, film, etc. a person should know about?  

CV: Marcel Duchamp’s fountain, Kurt Schwitters’ whole body of work, Francis Picabia’s machine drawings and diagrams, Hugo Ball’s “Flight out of Time,” Hannah Höch’s collages, Sophie Taeuber Arp’s entire body of work, Dada Baroness, herself as an artwork. The life of Arthur Cravan, the early works of Max Ernst, the Dada magazines, and the 391 magazines by Picabia.

ZB: How do you feel Surrealism and Dada differ? What about in regards to the Theater of the Absurd?

CV: Surrealist are copycats of Dada without its humor. [Note: We at RE/Search disagree!] They’re too political, and are hidden behind pseudo-psychological topics. On the other hand, Arturo Schwarz would say that Dada is about nothing—it is total nihilism, whereas Surrealism is about Revolution and Women.


FullSizeRender (41)
Drinking from the fountain of DaDa


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