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Manifestos are for Sissies!


Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972 by Man Ray [1890-1976]

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Two thousand and sixteen celebrated the 100th anniversary of Dadaism, a brief but explosive art movement begun in Switzerland, a negative reaction to the folly of war. Though it manifest in two-dimensional print media like posters and collage, some of its most shocking works involved the perversion of ordinary objects: an iron with nails on it surface; a bowl and spoon covered with animal fur; a common urinal. It’s hard to judge whether Dada any of its intended goals, but it did lay the foundation for the surrealism of the next generation.

Like Dutch neo-plasticism, Russian constructivism, and the Italian futurists, manifestos were frequently integral to the rhetoric of modern art. And so, Thought Farm, our loose affiliation of cultural malcontents here in Agincourt and the hinterlands of Fennimore county, chose to celebrate the Dada Centennial with a series of impromptu events around the community. Flash mobs involving unexpected readings of Dada literature (mostly poetry), dance (movement of an especially ungraceful sort), all in costume driven by a profoundly shallow exploration of political satire and philosophical nonsense. At the time we failed to note its appropriateness for the inauguration of a new president — though hindsight now makes it seem downright prescient.

Like Gerard Hofnung’s “Inter-planetary Music Festival” broadcast from the hippopotamus pit of the London Zoo, who can forget dramatic readings of Tristan Tzara poems delivered at the meat counter in Cermak’s Market — by Abe Cermak, the butcher, himself, in a tuxedo jacket and kilt. Or the first Iowa performance of John Cage’s “4’33″” by the ASO. The week-long celebration culminated with a performance at the Auditorium of Clive Somersault-Malm’s play “Six Pronouns in Search of an Antecedent — a comedy in three obscene acts” (1967) which hadn’t been performed since the The League of Decency shut down the first off-off-Broadway production while still in rehearsal in New Jersey. Though the characters are pronouns, their actions involve a considerable number of impolite gerunds and lewd participles, adding new meaning to “figures of speech”. This was not a show for the kiddies — despite the truth that children understand nonsense far better than their elders.

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