Remembering Dada in Glasgow

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On the 3rd November 2016, a group of academics and postgraduate students marked the centenary of Dada at the “Dada 1916-2016: A Century of Revolt” symposium at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. Organised and presented by Dr. Debbie Lewer, Dr. Dominic Paterson and Professor David Hopkins of the University of Glasgow History of Art Department, visiting speakers also included Professor Carl Lavery (University of Glasgow, Theatre Studies) and from Royal Holloway, University of London, Dr. Ruth Hemus and Professor Eric Robertson. A postgraduate panel of researchers from across the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Bristol, and convened by Hailey Maxwell (PhD student, University of Glasgow) and Cole Collins (PhD student, University of Edinburgh), also contributed to the event.


The range of speakers and papers made for a fascinating day of investigation of, and reflection on the relevance of Dada today – 100 years on. The topics included discussions on Dada multi-linguist poetry, Dada in contemporary fashion, Dada theatre and performance, Dada legacy, Dada anti-legacy, and Dada as a virus.


Dr. Dominic Paterson discussed Dada’s remains in the 21st century. Dada evidences a condition of duality: it’s posthumous remains that live on in contemporary art; simultaneously alive and dead, or, neither alive nor dead. While contemporary artists attempt to go beyond the Dadaist revolt, Paterson noted that the Dadaists too always strived to reinvent, to go beyond previous artistic rebellions with each new creative manifestation. Perhaps Dada’s greatest achievement was that it was contemporaneously rejected as art, creating a paradox for contemporary artists trying to come to terms with Dada as art.



Photo © Cole Collins


A plenary consisting of Drs. Lewer, Paterson and Hemus, and Prof. Robertson, reflected on the themes presented across the day and discussed the issues raised in the papers. Notions of embodiment in performance language were discussed: how words, objects as text, are embodied in Dada production. Dada is performing again and again but not in an aesthetic way, rather by how Dada continues to be re-read. During the plenary discussion Hemus commented on how Dada researchers traverse categories of academic disciplines as evidenced by the multiplicity of ideas presented by individual contributors, and reflecting how the Dadaists too traversed categories of creative expression.


Professor David Hopkins’ key note speech, ‘Virgin Microbe: Dada, Dissemination, Contagion,’ reflected on Dada as a virus, spreading its miasma across Europe. With reference to the Spanish Flu epidemic, the evening ended on a poignant note: amidst the fun and nonsense of Dada’s art attack prevailed a Europe that suffered, not only the devastation of war, but a deadly air-born virus, and which the Dadaists responded to and reflected on in their work. Hopkins identified that Dada drew attention to the sickness of a culture and homeopathically replaced one form of contagion with another.


And so, in this centenary year, we grapple with what Dada means today… As Hopkins noted: Dada has been so effective, it seems difficult not to attach it to new things, to new ideas and outputs of creative expression – not to focus on the aesthetics. For, Dada has infiltrated every aspect of creative and popular culture: typography, fashion, music, film, television, theatre, performance, and plastic arts. Perhaps the fundamental question is not what Dada means today, but to consider how the world would look without Dada; to imagine a world where “Dada signifies nothing.” Ergo – to try to do exactly what Dada did. There is no escaping Dada.


By Erica O’Neill, PhD researcher in Art History/Theatre Studies


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