Tag Archives: Berlin

Dada Against WWI

Hugo Ball wrote in his diary: 1915 New Year.

“On the balcony belonging to Marinetti’s translator we demonstrate in our own way against the war. We shout ‘Down with war!’ into the silent night of big-city balconies and telegraph wires. Some passers-by stop. A few lighted windows are opened. ‘Here’s to the New Year!’ someone shouts. The merciless Moloch Berlin raises its concrete head.” (Flight Out of Time, a Dada Diary by Hugo Ball, edited by John Elderfield)

Hugo Ball

Hugo Ball

What was the twenty-eight year old, writer and dramaturg Hugo Ball doing protesting the war on New Year’s Eve in Berlin? It might not be surprising to people now, as Hugo Ball went on to be one of the founders of the anti-war anti-art movement, Dada. However, only a few months earlier in 1914 Ball had been an enthusiastic supporter of the war. He had volunteered three time for war service but had been refused on medical grounds. What had turned an idealistic patriot into an anti-war protester?

In late August 1914, shortly after the Germans had taken the Liége forts Ball was still an enthusiastic civilian who had boarding a German troop train as it crossed into Belgium. He was taken off the train and arrested by the German military as a spy in Liége but released when the authorities realised that he was only an idealist.

It certainly wasn’t an uninformed change of mind as Hugo Ball appears to have been a bit of an early battle field tourists. He wasn’t arrested as a spy again, perhaps had some kind of press credentials from the Berlin paper Zeit im Bild.

There are many reasons and influences that might explain Hugo Ball’s reversal of opinion on the ‘Great War’. Was it in September seeing soldiers graves in Dieuze, the headquarters for the German 6th Army? Finding a copy of Rabelias in the rubble Fort Manonvillers, one of the permanent fortifications of the “Verdun Fortified Region”? Or, reading lots of philosophy, the first couple of pages of his diary are full of notes on who is reading? Or, was it the influence of his girlfriend, Emmy Hennings?

If there needed to be a single cause for Ball’s reversal of opinion then it was the death of his friend, Hans Leybold who was, with Ball, the co-publisher of the journal, Revolution. The last issue of Revolution appeared in September 1914, after that Leybold was drafted into the German army and was killed shortly after in Belgium. For Leybold the war was all over by Christmas.

John Elderfield speculates that it was Leybold’s military decorations that Ball dumped into Lake Zurich on 20th of October, 1915. However, the list of medals that Ball gives, “the Black Order of the German Eagle, the Medal of Bravery, the Cross of Merit First, Second and Third Class” appear to be more imaginary rather than actual. The Order of the Black Eagle was the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Prussia and, although Prussia did have a Military Merit Cross, there was no “Medal of Bravery”.

On 26/6/1915 Ball wrote: “The war is based on a crass error. Men have been mistaken for machines. Machines, not men, should be decimated. At some future date when only the machines march, things will be better. Then everyone will be right to rejoice when they demolish each other.”

(See my post: Dada and the start of WWI)

Breaking Bach

On Wednesday afternoon I was backstage at Hamer Hall talking with dancer Gengis Ademoski (aka Lil Ceng) of the Berlin breakdance group Flying Steps about breakdancing to Bach.

Lil Ceng exudes positive and focused energy; he looks it too, like an Olympic gymnast. Lil Ceng has a resting pulse rate of 74 and a pulse rate after power moves of 148 – maybe his pulse rate was going a little faster than his resting rate for the interview. I couldn’t recognize his accent, it turns out he was born in Macedonia and grew up in Germany. My first question was how did he start breakdancing.

“I see a lot of dancers on the TV and I was surprised, I was shocked to see all that they were doing and I wanted to do the same.” As it turned out he was watching Flying Steps on the TV.

Were you dancing on the street?

“Yeah. My cousins bring me to some people who were already doing break-dancing for a long time. I was like 10 years old.”  Then when he was 15 moved to Berlin and Lil Ceng started dancing with Flying Steps.

What about people who say that when breakdancing leaves the streets that it is no longer real?

“No, because in the head we are still the same. We are dancing on the stage, we are dancing on the floor. We don’t care about other people say. When you do what you love it doesn’t matter what other people say.”

How do you feel about dancing to Bach?

“It is different because normally we dance to funk, hip-hop, on beats. On classical music is different.”

I asked how the international tour came about. Melbourne is the second stop in the Flying Steps world tour that takes in Australia, Iceland, Chile, Poland, Belgium, Kazakhstan and Sweden.

“We start in Berlin with 15 shows and we never think about like this world tour. It crazy because, to start from the beginning; we practice for 2 months to make the show. We just think about think about Berlin but afterwards the feedback from people that like it. We are surprised.”

Gengis Ademoski of Germany and the Flying Steps perform during Red Bull Flying Bach at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, March 13th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

Gengis Ademoski of the Flying Steps perform during Red Bull Flying Bach at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, March 13th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

After seeing the show I wasn’t surprised at the reaction of the Berlin audience; Flying Bach is one of the best dance productions that I’ve ever seen. From the first steps the Flying Steps made you believe that Bach was meant to be breakdanced. The mix of elements in the performance was so beautifully balanced: the contemporary dance and breakdance and the mixed versions of Bach, the live and video elements, and the live music on the piano and the harpicord.

We talked about the diverse audience that the show attracts from little kids to older people and it was the most diverse audience that I’ve ever seen at Hamer Hall. Lil Ceng really wanted to speak to the older people: “they can see it is not just dance of the gangster, of young people with nothing to do. They say: ‘look that the young generation, they do something, it is like sport arts or ballet, they have to practice!’”

I asked if he’d met any Australian breakdancers.

“On Monday we did a workshop, lot of people, b-boys, b-girls. To see how they dance, everybody has a different style. It’s nice.”

The dancing itself was explosively good, incredible headspins and other power moves beyond anything that I’d ever seen breakdancers do before. I could see the inspiration that Lil Ceng says that he gets from Jackie Chan in his first solo where he was manipulating his backpack with his legs. There was a bit of a narrative holding the performance together that the dancers delivered with conviction.

I interviewed Lil Ceng and received tickets courtesy of Red Bull. The performance is actually titled “Red Bull Flying Bach”. Some of dancers, like Lil Ceng in the performance, were wearing Red Bull t-shirts or caps but it was not in your face given how often regular street clothes endorse products. I have to comment on the sponsorship because Red Bull are interesting sponsors; they have been sponsoring Flying Steps now for a decade. I was talking with Terry, the postman about it and he mentioned had seen the Red Bull F1 driver breakdancing along with members of Flying Steps. Red Bull had tied in their sponsorship of both events. Terry told me about their long-term sponsorship commitment to various extreme sports. I don’t know about extreme sports but “Red Bull Flying Bach” is an excellent example sponsorship producing great art.

Art Squats

For some reason Melbourne’s main daily paper the Age published an article on the Tacheles art squat. I suppose it is cheaper to buy a syndicated article than actually report on Melbourne’s art scene. I visited Tacheles when I was in Berlin in 2001, there were several floors of a former department store turned into studio/exhibition space and, of course, like in all Nth European art galleries, eating and drinking space. There was a big beer-garden out the back, a cinema and venue for bands.

I emailed my friend and artist, Simone Haack who lives in Berlin to ask her views of Tascheles and other art squats. Simone replied: “to be honest, I don’t know so much of them here (except Tacheles), cause I am in a less alternative art scene here (if I could claim that I am in an art scene) but some months ago I saw a good exhibition in Tacheles, it was about being stranger, artists from several countries participated (I forgot the title!).”

I told Simone that I had been thinking about writing an article comparing the art squats in Europe with Artist-Run-Initiatives (ARI) in Melbourne. There are no art squats that I know of in Australia even though residential squatting is still relatively common in Melbourne (a squat in a house owned by Melb Uni has recently been brought to an end but the squat around the corner from my house has continued for years).

Both art squats and ARIs are run by artists but there the similarities end. Art squats are not galleries but mix studios with exhibition and performance space, they are chaotic, dynamic and political. It might appear that this is the genuine avant-garde art. However, as Simone pointed out: “I wonder why art squats are often so similar to each other: you’ll always find this particular type of person: politically engaged (left), punks, autonomies, vegans, special dress codes… so I don’t think they are really free.”

The ARI, in contrast are structured like art galleries, the exhibition space is organized, structured and static throughout the exhibition period. Politically they are basically bolshevik; controlled by a small committee of artist/insiders who determine what and who will exhibit. This does mean that there is some filtering, unlike in the art squat where everything is on exhibition. This lack of filtering means that art squat art tends towards craft or popularist or popularist provocations against official art. Whereas the ARIs tend towards the official non-commercial side of gallery art aimed at the insider arts circle of other fine arts graduates.

I was disappointed to find that the art squat Chez Roberts had closed last time that I was in Paris but according to its webpage it is once again open.

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