The centenary of the global artistic and literary movement Dada will be celebrated at a number of cultural institutions and art spaces in Tokyo this summer.
Regarded as an anti-establishment and antiwar movement emerging out of the horrors of World War I (1914-18), it spread across the world from the Swiss city of Zurich and had a decisive influence on the development of contemporary art through groundbreaking works such as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” — a porcelain urinal turned on its side and signed “R. Mutt 1917.”
The piece, with which Duchamp challenged traditional notions of art, was rejected at its first exhibition but he continued issuing subsequent versions of the piece. With its diminished utilitarian associations it was considered a type of anti-art of Duchamp’s “readymades.”
Dada’s influence can be observed in a variety of expressions such as surrealism, pop art, Fluxus, punk music and even a monster in a popular Japanese TV series, while it continues to affect today’s artists, writers and designers.
During the art festival in Japan celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dadaism, numerous exhibitions will be held to inspire artists and the Japanese public, under the patronage of the embassies of France, Germany and Switzerland.
At a press event on the programs of the art festival held at the official residence of Swiss Ambassador to Japan Urs Bucher last month, “Dada,” a monster in the popular TV series “Ultraman,” appeared and entertained participants. The character, with distinctive cubist features, was created as an extension of Dadaism by the two Japanese artists — designer Toru Narita and model sculptor Ryosaku Takayama.
Cubism, a revolutionary style of modern art that stresses abstract structures at the expense of other pictorial elements which evolved at the beginning of the 20th century, is regarded as an influencer for Dadaism.
According to the announcement, the atmosphere of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, where the Dada movement was launched in 1916, will be reproduced at Super Deluxe from July 12 to 18, and it will serve as the main venue of the Dada festival in Japan. The birth of Dada was marked by German author and poet Hugo Ball at Cabaret Voltaire in July 1916.
Mike Kubeck, president of Super Deluxe, said he is attracted to Dada’s “chaos,” “humor,” “playful spirit,” “openness” and “free expressions,” among other things, so he accepted an idea of recreating Cabaret Voltaire in Tokyo when the Swiss Embassy brought the plan to him.
“I would like to create a space by interpreting the spirit of Cabaret Voltaire when it opened 100 years ago,” Kubeck says.
“I hope the exhibition will help those people, who are onlookers mostly in their lives, start something, not necessarily art activities, to express themselves after they have seen the exhibition,” he says, adding he thinks that is the spirit of Dada and those pioneers of the movement — Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Marcel Janco, Sophie Taeuber and Richard Huelsenbeck — to name a few.
The festival will not focus only on the birth and history of Dada but also on relevant movements today and highlight the Japanese contribution to Dada.
Centenary programs at the venue include live performances, workshops and poetry reading by artists in and outside Japan including Samsonite Orchestra and Jacques Demierre, both from Switzerland, as well as a Dada-inspired performance and re-enactment of “Sanka in Theater” performed in the 1920s in Tokyo.
At The Container, an art gallery created in a cargo container placed in a hair salon, the work of the Swiss artist Nadja Solari who has spent time in Japan will be on display from July 18 through Oct. 3.
Shai Ohayon, director of The Container, explained the exhibition includes an installation inspired by spam emails and text looked at as the generic poetry of our current digital and virtual existence. The subject lines of such emails are often funny neologisms that try to outsmart the spam filtering programs, he says.
Other programs at The Container include live performances and the projection of archival films on “Mavo,” a Dada group founded by Japanese artists Tomoyoshi Murayama, Masamu Yanase and others in 1923 after Murayama returned from Berlin where he was exposed to avant-garde art during his stay.
The movement of Dada reached the shores of Japan in the early 1920s, and the short-lived “Mavo” held the first exhibition in 1923 at the Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa.
Ohayon said Dada imposed a huge influence on him in terms of choosing his career focused on contemporary art. As a curator residing in Japan, he says it is natural for him to take part in the festival in Tokyo and hold an exhibition related to the movement of Dada in Japan.
Also, original documents of the Dada movement in Zurich and Paris will be exhibited at Aizu Museum, Waseda University, from June 29 to Aug. 7, to retrace the trajectory of Dada pioneer Tristan Tzara.