It is week 12 of class, but only week 3 of social isolation, the sadness, grief, and anger of reading the news, the slow movement of time, one day blending into the next. Daily, I immerse myself in making art, in music, in preparing interesting projects for students, and try to hold dystopia at bay. At night, though, it invades my dreams, with images of thousands of birds falling from the sky, or of water rising and carrying everything away.
I keep returning to the Dada artists, both as inspiration for my project, and for insight on what art means in a time of global crisis. While Dada was seen as nihilistic by many critics, Prager asserts that Dada can be seen as playful, poetic, lyrical, and imaginative. He writes, “...Dada did not just mark a watershed in the understanding of creativity but that it constitutes a precursor to identifying the importance of play as fundamental expression of humanity.” Perhaps instead of seeing Dada as “anti-art”, it can be seen as a form of play that was much needed at the time. In a time when the whole world has been disrupted, as it was after WW1, perhaps play served as an essential function in trying to rebuild some sort of culture. But the culture that had existed before was forever changed. Prager notes that the early 20th century was “...most certainly no period for an aesthetics of passive contemplation but, instead, a time for active engagement. It was the perfect ferment for Dada, which passionately delighted in the new.”
Can parallels be drawn over 100 years to the digital art movement of our time? The Dadaists were critiqued for not having artistic refinement, for using found materials in crazy ways. Now, with a phone, with the right apps, anyone can create something new. Anyone can play, and the creations can be made quickly, ideas can evolve rapidly, and be shared globally. I think the Dadaists would have loved it!
So perhaps, in all of the sadness and grief, there can be some play. Maybe creative playfulness will carry us through, and a new vision will emerge.
Prager, P. Play and the Avant-Garde: Aren’t We All a Little Dada? American Journal of Play, Winter 2013
Digital Technology and Art of the 21st Century