Man at His Best

Interview: Adrian Notz, Dada expert

It's Singapore Art Week 2016. We talk to the Director of Cabaret Voltaire and a Dada expert

BY WAYNE CHEONG | Jan 22, 2016 | Arts

Photograph from Adrian Notz

Coinciding with Singapore Art Week (January 16-24), Bruno Art Group, in collaboration with Adrian Notz present Dada on Tour for the first time in Singapore. Taking place in a nomadic tent, Dada on Tour celebrates its 100th anniversary with highlights in the Dada art movement. We spoke to Notz, the Director of Cabaret Voltaire and a Dada expert about the show.

ESQUIRE: What can we expect from the “nomadic” tent?

ADRIAN NOTZ: This mobile tent travels throughout the world on little adventures. The tent is a temporary “home” for people to interact with Dada.

It has two functions: to tell the story of the Dada [movement] and also to find new friends around the world. Dada began at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich on February 5, 1916. In Dada on Tour, the “Dada Starry Heaven” is presented on the ceiling of the tent.

The map is a constellation of words featuring names of all the Dada artists and the most important places from 1916 to 1923, and it is accompanied by a short film illustrating the history of Dada.

ESQ: What were some of the constraints you had with Dada on Tour?

AN: The beauty of the nomadic tent is that it is portable and very easy to install, it is actually a Swiss rescue tent and can be inflated within three minutes. The only constraint we have experienced was when we were showing this project in Hong Kong.

We had planned to install the tent at different locations, one of which was Shek O Beach, but it was promptly shut down by the authorities in less than 20 minutes.

For Singapore, this is the first time this work has been exhibited at an art fair. It is a very courageous decision by Motti Abramovitz (Founder of Bruno Art Group) to show this work at a commercial venue, when it is something that is difficult to sell.

It is available in an edition of three, for me, it interesting considering this as a sellable art work. Alongside Dada on Tour, Bruno Art Group is presenting a solo exhibition of paintings by Marcel Janco, one of the founders of Cabaret Voltaire.

It is the first time ever that a founding artist of Cabaret Voltaire is shown together with the mobile version of Cabaret Voltaire.

ESQ: How prevalent is Dadaism in Asia?

AN: The Dada movement travelled to Japan during the early twentieth century and its impact can be seen clearly through the radical Japanese art group, MAVO. They experimented with many art forms including performance, painting and book illustration.

Today I also learnt that Richard Huelsenbeck had a show in Shanghai in the 1920s. The contemporary Chinese artist, Huang Yong Ping, also created his own Xiamen Dada movement in 1984.

There are also elements of Dada in, for example, Ai Weiwei’s work, particularly his use of found objects and the way in which his work comments on the changes in Chinese society and reacts against the establishment.

Exhibiting this work at an art fair allows a huge cross section of people to interact with the tent to learn about, and to experience Dada. So far Dada on Tour has only travelled to Hong Kong and Singapore, and I would like to take this project to other places in Asia.

ESQ: Since the days of Janco, Huelsenbeck and Duchamp, has the Dada movement ever left? Do we need Dada-ism now more than ever?

AN: The Dada movement stopped in 1923. Surrealism declared itself as a direct reaction to Dada in 1924 in a first manifesto.

Many contemporary art movements have been influenced by Dada for example, Letterists, Situationists, Punk, the Beat Generation and performance art, and can be considered as heirs of Dada.

Do we need Dada more than ever? Yes! Dada is a statement, not a style.

Dadaists directed their protests against a society driven by economic fatalism and rationality and are driven by a desire to disband hierarchies and overturn established values.

Hugo Ball asks “Is there anywhere a force that is strong enough and above all vital enough to put an end to this state of affairs?”

I feel that this force is Dada.

Dada on Tour is held at the Singapore Art Stage 2016, at Booth B17. Visitors can expect to view the work of Marcel Janco along with the multimedia installation, Dada on Tour. The exhibition runs until January 24.