Dada East? – The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire

29 September 2007 28 October 2007

Back to the beginning. For many years, communists in Romania have denied the existence of the Romanian avant-garde. The archives have now been opened and revealed a secret history of important Dada-traces.

Officially, Dada was born on the 5th of February 1916 when Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings opened the literary-artistic Cabaret Voltaire in the restaurant Meierei at Spiegelgasse 1 in Zürich. In his journal “Flight out of Time”, Hugo Ball describes this legendary opening night as follows:

“The place was packed; many people were not even able to get inside. Close to 6 p.m., when they were still busily hammering and hanging futuristic posters, a deputation of four oriental looking little men appeared, carrying portfolios and pictures; they kept bowing discreetly. They introduced themselves: Marcel Janco the painter, Tristan Tzara, George Janco, and a gentleman whose name I missed. Arp also happened to be there and we just communicated without using a lot of words. Soon after, Janco’s generous ‘archangels’ were hanging next to the other precious things and, at that same evening, Tzara was reading old style verses, which he had elegantly drawn out of his jacket pocket.”

These four little men, still being youngsters – the fourth must have been Jancos brother Jules – had all been running away from Romania. Tristan Tzara (1896 in Moinesti, Romania; † 1962 in Paris), this “dompteur des acrobats”, and Marcel Janco (1895 in Bucharest; † 1984 in Tel Aviv), the well-tempered artistic experimenter would become an important influence for Dada Zürich. They had already published together a journal in Bucharest, when still in school, and they were now using the Dada platform in order to develop their artistic work: each on his own, as a couple and in the big collective of the Mouvement Dada.

We can find numerous mental cartographies of the forerunners and precursors of Dada. However, the developments in Eastern Europe have gained only very little attention. It is also the merit of Tom Sandqvist’s (*1954 in Porvoo, Finnland; Lives and works in Stockholm) book “Dada East? The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire”, published in spring 2006, that a focus has been set on Romania and that cultural and historical context, which might have had particular impact on the activities in Zürich. Sandqvist points out that, before World War I, there was an artistic scene active in the surroundings of the journals Simbolul and Chemarea, in Bucharest (and also in other areas of Romania), which had already been inspired by Dada and so the Romanian deputation had transferred this spirit to Zürich. Sandqvist followed the traces of artistic and personal changes in the “little Paris of the Balkans”. He found Symbolism, Futurism, and even folklore, as a source for the early Romanian avant-garde. In addition to that, he reckons that the relationship to East European Yiddish tradition was particularly significant and accordingly influential: all of the “Romanians of the Cabaret Voltaire”, including Arthur Segal, had been brought up within Jewish culture and tradition.

In a historical search for traces, the cabaret voltaire exhibition deals critically with the artistic and personal context of Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco. We interpret the indicators suggested by Tom Sandqvist, we inquire the dadaist precondition – and its meaning for the history of Dada and cabaret voltaire today. We will refine this historical nucleus of the exhibition with a little homage to Janco and Tzara, we will show works which were made by them in the wake of the Zürich Dada Seasons – and there is one pearl which has not seen daylight ever since.

We also use the indicators as an occasion to inquire how the topic could be debated in contemporary context and, even more, to look for the potential and meaning of “Dada East” for the cultural scene of Romania. It is today’s perspective. We want to find out why people who are currently engaged in cultural work, are interested in the Dada from the past. This is one of the main questions which cabaret voltaire keeps asking and instigating.

The Romanian artists Mircea Cantor, Stefan Constantinescu, Harun Faroki und Andrei Ujica, Ion Grigorescu, Sebastian Moldovan, Ciprian Muresan, Dan Perjovschi, Lia Perjovschi and Cristi Pogacean are answering. Mircea Cantor and Dan Perjovschi have developed works especially for the exhibition “Dada East? The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire” which reveil reveal their relationship to Dada and the Romanian Avant-garde.

The project by Dan Perjovschi (*1961 in Sibiu; Romania, Lives and works in Bucharest) consists of a wall drawing inside the cabaret voltaire. The characteristic drawings, made by very few lines, offer direct confrontation with the location. They intermingle with headlines and gossip from the media, or literary references; they comment on political events, social conflicts and power relationships as well as the “Dada East” subject, the art business and control mechanisms of mass media.

Mircea Cantor (*1977 in Transilvania, Romania; Lives and works in Paris and Cluj) produces a free poster for the exhibition. He discusses the Jewish background of Tzara and Janco and puts it in current context. On behalf of his suggestions, there will also be a reading of “Beelzebub‘s Tales to His Grandson: All And Everything” by G.I. Gurdjieff, read by Christina Kraft.

The work “The Paris” by Sebastian Moldovan (*1982 in Baia Mara; Lives and works in Bucharest) was made in Bucharest in areas, which outlasted the destructions of the 1960s. Bucharest was also called the “little Paris” or “Paris of the Balkans”. This is still well attested by the impressive neo-classicist and eclectic houses in the city centre.

Ciprian Muresan (1977 in Cluj, Romania; Lives and works in Cluj) is showing three works. “Rhinoceros” is a video of children in a scenic reading of “Rhinoceros” by Eugen Ionesco (who planned in 1937 to write about the Romanian roots of Dada). The Video loop “Choose…” can be understood as an insight into post communist society, over determined by marketing slogans. But this kind of overtaxation is being turned into a charming, childlike opponent on equality or “Gleichwertigkeit” as Arthur Segal would say. “Leap into the void, after three seconds” refers to Yves Klein’s “Un homme dans l’espace! Le peintre de l’espace se jette dans le vide!” from 1960. The poster shows Yves Klein just three seconds after his leap into the void. Cristi Pogacean (1980; Lives and works in Tirgu Mures) uses archetypical kitsch symbols for his carpet “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in order to refer to the kidnapping of Romanian journalists by terrorist in Iraq. The title reminds us of an operetta by Mozart which was often used as motive for this kind of carpets. The medallion “Breaking Heart” alludes to the motive of the broken heart, where each lover gets one half. Here, however, the pieces have the forms of Romania and the Republic of Moldavia. Pogacean plays on the nationalist belief that the Republic of Moldavia is part of Romania.

For many years, communists in Romania have denied the existence of the Romanian avant-garde. The archives have now been opened and revealed a secret history of important Dada-traces. The films “Dacia 1300” by Stefan Constantinescu (1968 in Bucharest; Lives and works in Stockholm), “Videogrammes of a Revolution” by Harun Farocki (1944 in Novy Jicin, Czechoslowakia; Lives and works in Berlin) and Andrei Ujica (1951 in Timisoara, Romania; Lives and works in Berlin and Karlsruhe) and “Dialogue with Comrade Ceausescu” by Ion Grigorescu (1945, Lives and works in Bucharest) give a look at the times of Communist regime and its overthrow by the Revolution. In the post-communist Romania this topic has been widely unreappraised so far.

There are two archives, the DEA (Dada East Archive) by Tom Sandqvist and the CAA (Contemporary Art Archive) by Lia Perjovschi (*1961 in Sibiu, Romania; Lives and works in Bucharest) which offer a deeper insight into the two main threads of the exhibition. The DEA shows Tom Sandqvist’s notes and texts forming the basis of his book “Dada East: The Romanians of the Cabaret Voltaire”. The CAA is an information centre and database of contemporary art, art theory, cultural studies and critical theory. Both of the archives mark the poles around which the exhibition “Dada East? The Romanians of the Cabaret Voltaire” seems to revolve.

Participating artists: Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, Dan Perjovschi, Mircea Cantor, Sebastian Moldovan, Ciprian Muresan, Cristi Pogacean, Stefan Constantinescu, Harun Farocki, Andrej Ujica, Ion Grigorescu, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Viking Eggeling, Dorinel Marc & Greta Knutsson Tzara.