Dada is local, Dada is global, Dada is universal

Dada remains elusive: “Only Dadaists know what Dada is. And they don’t tell anyone”, that’s how the Dadaists themselves put it. For a better understanding of the effects, it is useful to define three basic levels of meaning or areas of influence, which make it possible to determine three mutually complementary conceptual levels for the anniversary: Dada is local, Dada is global, Dada is universal.


Local Dada

“The hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.” Hugo Ball, Opening Manifesto on the first Dada evening, 14.7.1916.


Cabaret Voltaire is the center of the Dada universe. It is the mythic place of Dada’s birth. There is a local Zurich Dadaism, defined by the particular political and cultural set-up of the year 1916. Dada Zurich with its Cabaret culture differs from the other Dadaisms in Paris, New York or Berlin, artistically more independent and politically more radical, which surfaced just before or immediately after World War I under or without the Dada label.


Zurich time and again witnesses neo-Dadaist resurgences, reinterpretations, re-editions, rebirths and tributes. For instance, the students’ movement in 1968 took its clues from Dada just as much as the “Bewegig” (protest movement) in the 1980ies or the artist-led occupation of Spiegelgasse 1 at the beginning of the new century.


Global Dada

“An International word. Just a word, and the word a movement.” Hugo Ball, Opening Manifesto on the first Dada evening, 14.7.1916.


Dada cannot be reduced to the Cabaret Voltaire. The original Dadaists at Spiegelgasse very consciously chose to be international. As the real locomotive of the avant-garde, at the start of the 1920ies, Dada was a world-spanning movement that brought together almost a hundred different artists, amongst which a few women, from the south, north, west and east of Europe, from anywhere in between America and Japan. This “movement on the run”, this motley crew of fathers, mothers, sisters, paramours, instigators and defectors, made sure that Dada would reach global dimensions by now jotting down a bon mot on a snippet, now scribbling on a napkin a message from the netherworld, now with an autographed urinal, with a spook before lunch filmed on celluloid, an eighth-mouthed synchronous poem or some other artistic trigger moment brought about. Dada deployed foolishness to counter the madness of the time, Dada accompanied the ascent of the modern, simultaneous information age, the world of illustrated media, the radio and cinema.

Universal Dada

“Dada is the world soul”: Hugo Ball, Opening Manifesto on the first Dada evening, 14.7.1916.


To reduce Dada to an ism of art history is not acceptable: “Dada was there before Dada was there!” as one of the Dadaist catch phrases has it. “Dada is the chaos from which a thousand orders rise, that intertwine and devour one another to become Dada again. Dada is the course and the content of the entire world process at the same time” (Erklärung des Club Dada, in: Richard Huelsenbeck, Der Dada Almanach, Berlin 1920). The term “Dada” has broken free from its historic context.


“Universal Dada” provides the real and new gateway to Dada, which distinguishes the concept for the jubilee from earlier historical exhibitions and revivals. For Dada is not a theory. “Dada is the true basis of and hope for knowledge and understanding”, as the Swiss art historian Werner Oechslin sees it. The fundamental stance of absolute individual and creative freedom simply found its name in Dada.


The universality that can be found in Dadaism provides the foundation to build upon. “Dada was there before Dada was there”. Universal Dada aims at highlighting the comprehensive nature of Dada and brings to light its independence in terms of place and time.  After all, it was the all-encompassing, the absolute, it was cultural beliefs, universal autonomy and freedom these mavericks went for with their game of vabanque and its big NO.