The Cabaret Voltaire

The Cabaret Voltaire

Let me tell you about my 2nd favorite art movement -- Dada. I am currently sitting in the Cabaret Voltaire, where in 1916 a group of young rebels formed this movement. The key players were Trystan Tzara, Andre Breton, Jean Arp, Hugo Ball, Sophie Tauber, most of whom were veterans or refugees from WWI. They were so disgusted by what they had seen during the war that they decided humanity did not deserve beautiful or meaningful things. In their opinion, humanity did not deserve good art.

DADA remains within the framework of European weaknesses, it's still shit, but from now on we want to shit in different colours so as to adorn the zoo of art with all the flags of all the consulates.
Tristan Tzara, The DADA Manifesto

Inside the CabaretThis is the core of the Dada movement. Dada art is Anti-art. Dada artists would take random objects and proclaim them as art, and write down anything at random and call it literature (a technique later called automatic writing, where this site gets its name). They would also clip words out of newspapers, arrange them in random order, and call the results poetry. They strived to create things that had no meaning, no aesthetic value -- nonsense. If you experience Dada art, it often seems ridiculous or funny. I find it very interesting how this seemingly silly, carefree form of art stemmed from its creators' disgust with humanity.

One can argue, and I do, that Dadaism is the ultimate form of rebellion. There are no rules. Not even rules about there being no rules. Quoth the Dada Manifesto, 1918:

I am writing this manifesto and there's nothing I want, and yet I'm saying certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I am against principles...
I am writing this manifesto to show that you can perform contrary actions at the same time, in one single, fresh breath; I am against action; as for continual contradiction, and affirmation too, I am neither for nor against them, and I won't explain myself because I hate common sense.
Moving on. After a while of creating Dada art, the dadaists started to see surprising meaning inside their nonsense artwork.  This gave Andre Breton the idea that there might be brilliance hiding in the subconscious mind just begging to be set free. In the random acts of dadism, the mind's conscious filter was removed, allowing the subconscious to escape. With this idea, Breton went on to form my 1st favorite art movement: Surrealism.

The Cabaret Voltaire is a special place to me. The first time I visited Zürich, it was the one place I wanted to see (It happend to be boarded up at the time). The next time I visited for a few months, before I moved to Zürich, I spent a lot of time at the Cabaret trying to soak up its history. It was at the Cabaret that I saw H.R. Giger speak, which planted the seed for my documentary H.R. Giger's Sanctuary

Two spoons and coffee in the Cabaret Voltaire

But being here in the Cabaret Voltaire, a place that is the source of so much inspiration to me, I don't know how to feel. Let me explain: This place is not the haven of crazy rebel artists it once was. After being in a state of disrepair for many years and inhabited by a group of neo-dadaist squatters, it was eventually renovated with funds from the city. It has been redecorated in true dadaist fashion, but the soul of dadaism isn't there. Something about the government providing funding for the renovation for a haven of rebellious art doesn't seem to make sense. But that's part of the reason I am unsure how to feel about this place: it doesn't make sense. Part of me feels that the dadaists would revel in this contradictory state of their former home. It is this contradiction that gives this place an inkling of its past glory. A city-funded center for pure rebellion is just the kind of thing that someone who hates common sense would enjoy.

While sitting here I picked up a flyer. Apparently the city doesn't want to renew the lease on the Caberet and there is a referendum to try and stop them. I don't really understand the details due to my poor German skills, but I hope that the Cabaret Voltaire continues to be preserved (If you do understand German, you can get more info Here and Here). It would be a shame if it was shut down to become yet another Starbucks or something. On the other hand, the dadaists might have seen their complete annihilation as the ultimate success of their movement.