Chapter 1. Design History
Dada does not mean anything. We read in the papers that the Negroes of the Kroo race call the tail of the sacred cow: dada. A cube, and a mother, in certain regions of Italy, are called: Dada. The word for a hobby-horse, a children’s nurse, a double affirmative in Russian and Rumanian, is also: Dada. (Tzara, 1992)
– Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that began in 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland. It arose as a reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism, which many thought had brought war about. Influenced by ideas and innovations from several early avant-gardes — Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism — its influence in the arts was incredibly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, sculpture, and painting, to photography and photographic and painterly collage.
Dada’s aesthetic, marked by its mockery of materialistic and nationalistic attitudes, became a powerful inspiration for artists and designers in many cities, including Berlin, Paris, and New York, all of which generated their own groups. The movement radically changed typographic ideals and created fresh approaches to text. Unburdened of its rules and conventions, type was allowed to become expressive and subjective. The poetic output of the group was fresh and different, and needed its typography to be as expressive and innovative as its content. Dada, in combination with aspects of Constructivist and Suprematist typography, balanced the cultural discipline created and applied to typography by other streams of contemporary design like the Bauhaus. This movement in particular advanced typography as a medium of its own. It promoted the use of typography as an art material that could be manipulated by artists and designers expressively and without preordained rules and structural principles.
Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn’t let too many words out. A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers’ hands, hands worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words. (Ball, 1996)
– Hugo Ball’s manifesto, read at Zunfthaus zur Waag on July 14, 1916