Between June 3rd and 6th, the 2007 Prague Writers' Festival spotlights the "world's first political, artistic, literary, in-your-face anti-movement movement"
Before the Situationists, Abbie Hoffman and guerrilla political theatre; before punk rock and the Beats, there was Dada. The world's first political-artistic-literary-in-your-face-anti-movement movement, the Dadaists -- in the words of one of its many founders, Hugo Ball -- produced "utter nonsense aimed at a public all too complacent about a senseless war."
Starting in Zurich, the movement soon took hold across Europe, infiltrating capital cities from Paris to Berlin to Cologne, confounding audiences and spreading their "gospel" as far and wide as New York and Zagreb.
Artists like Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, André Breton (before he turned Surrealist), and the 20th century's first art superstars, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, all took inspiration from Dada's purposeful flouting of sense and logic, producing some of the world’s first post-modern masterpieces under its influence.
The Dadaists also pioneered the photomontage, made radical use of typography, and helped invent a slew of techniques that have been appropriated by our own cultural machines -- tricks of the advertising trade that you will recognize in both a poster for a Dada Soirée, circa 1916, and a cleverly po-mo spot for Vodafone, circa today.
What the Dadas were advertising, though, was a shockingly new and totalizing philosophy. They were raging against empty bourgeois values that had sanctioned a destructive war, as well as railing against a stiffly academic art world, but they also took aim at seriousness itself, foreshadowing the rise of Pop art and movements like Fluxus.
Though reactionary in nature, and as rooted in political despair as it was, Dada managed to do the nearly impossible: it created something unheard of and unthinkable, by divorcing art from meaning, logic from sense, it captured the world as it really was. And, for once, the world seemed to listen.
Though much of their innovative visual art has been co-opted by mass culture (remember that magazine-collage you made in the fifth grade? Now, go look at some of Raoul Hausmann's work), the spirit of Dada -- pissed off, playful, witty and earnest, all at once -- can be linked to the spirit of today's resistance and our own unsettling status quo.
The Prague Writers' Festival is pleased to re-ignite the debate around Dada.
For four days in June, a long list of world-renowned authors, poets and thinkers will take Dada as their starting point -- and the lost art of Dada East as their partial focus -- in a series of lectures, readings, and exhibitions (from the original Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich) that are sure to provide grist for a thousand impassioned café debates all over again.
Writers like E.L. Doctorow, Gary Snyder, Aleksander Hemon, A.B. Yehoshua, James Meek, Arnon Grunberg and a host of others, will give readings, hold round-tables and answer questions on their craft in venues all over Prague.
The festival website offers a list of authors, program and ticket information, and introductions to the cities where Dada took hold. You can also find original Dada texts, images, and some of the most bizarre poetry ever to be recorded. In founder Michael March's words: "Dada was the first form of globalization, not counting Spanish flu."
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