One night in February 1916, a small Zurich nightclub called Cabaret Voltaire played host to an unusual fusion of theater, poetry, and art exhibition. “On the stage,” recalled French artist Jean Arp, “there are several weird and peculiar figures. Total pandemonium…Our replies signs of love, volleys of hiccups, poems, moos….”

Though the skits, pranks, and performances were seemingly inane, they were rooted in sentiments of a most serious nature. “Our Cabaret is a gesture,” Swiss poet and performer Hugo Ball later reflected, “Every word that is spoken and sung here says at least this one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.”

The spirit of performance, play, and collaboration remained central to Dada, even as the movement spread outward from Cabaret Voltaire to other nations and continents. Dadaists believed that the value of art lay not in the work produced, but in the act of making and collaborating with others to create new visions of the world.


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