To speak of dada design is to employ oxymora. Unlike in other design movements, function or communicability wasn't exactly dada's foremost concern. As poet Tristan Tzara remarked, "Like everything in life, dada is useless." But of course, dada design was not... [more]
To speak of dada design is to employ oxymora. Unlike in other design movements, function or communicability wasn't exactly dada's foremost concern. As poet Tristan Tzara remarked, "Like everything in life, dada is useless." But of course, dada design was not entirely functionless -- though chaotic, the style employed its haphazard techniques with definite subversive intentions.
In general, dada strove to recontextualize the everyday into different meanings (think Duchamp's urinal masterpiece, "Fountain"). Dada design was no different -- artists such as Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and Kurt Schwitters used the collage format to explore new levels of wackiness. They held collage as the ultimate medium of irony, as it uprooted words and images and reformed them into a new self-referential order. Heartfield's early print periodical, New Youth, sported a hodge-podge of variegated typefaces, elaborate surprints, and random color blocks. Other posters and flyers look like psychedelic ransom notes -- striking typefaces are cut out and scrambled, with readability only a secondary concern. Design has been particularly influenced by dada's use of bold type and rearranged text, which veered consciously toward concrete poetry.
These experiments with collage opened the door to an even newer technique -- the photomontage. Every Man his own Football was a 1919 tabloid publication that featured a dada classic: a fan superimposed with images of Weimar big wigs. Designers contrasted and distorted multiple images, breaking down some meanings and creating others. In one piece, Heartfield collaborated with George Grosz to create a mannequin with a revolver for an arm, a light bulb for a head, dentures for genitals, and an Iron Cross placed disturbingly on its chest. The dadaists had invented a monumental design concept, which mixed up images and type in starling (and often humorous) new ways.
While dada burned out by the early 1920s, its design innovations have been relevant ever since. John Heartfield's geometric type experiments laid the groundwork for "New Typography," that Bauhaus darling of the next decade. And Schwitters pioneered techniques for contemporary newspaper and magazine ad layout. With collage taken up as the calling card for Postmodern design, are we all simply repackaged dadaists for a new millenium? [show less]