Dada logo

Marcel Janco. Untitled (Mask for Firdusi). 1917-18

Audio courtesy of Acoustiguide

NARRATOR: The Dada movement began in neutral Zurich in 1916, in a seedy bar called the Cabaret Voltaire. There, the German writer Hugo Ball and a small group of international artists staged raucous nightly spectacles to voice their discontent with current political affairs. Ball aptly described the nightclub as “a playground for crazy emotions.”

HUGO BALL [actor]: Our cabaret is a gesture. Every word that is spoken and sung here says at least one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.

NARRATOR: Curator Leah Dickerman explains that these masks by Romanian artist Marcel Janco were used for abstract modern dances.

CURATOR, LEAH DICKERMAN: Dadaists like Marcel Janco saw them as a kind of release, or way of getting to a more instinctual self. Ball wrote that when he put the masks on, something very strange happened.

HUGO BALL [actor]: The masks demanded a quite definite, passionate gesture, bordering on madness. We were walking around with the most bizarre movements, festooned and draped with impossible objects. The horrors of our time, the paralyzing background of events, is made visible.”

LEAH DICKERMAN: Janco made these masks out of all kinds of ephemeral materials, like newspapers and cardboard. The Dadaists were very interested in the idea that there was a special affinity between the modern and the primitive.

NARRATOR: To hear about the origins of the word, ‘Dada, press 6-2-6.

15 / 19