lundi 22 août 2016


MoMA’s Fascinating ‘Dadaglobe Reconstructed’ Exhibition 
Demonstrates Dada’s Inability to be Realized
By Robin Scher Posted 08/19/16 11:20 am

Through September 18

In the fall of 1920 in Paris, Tristan Tzara, poet and co-founder of Dada, embarked on an epic project to compile an anthology of works created by an international group of artists aligned with his avant-garde movement. Tzara’s goal was to print 10,000 copies of the book and call it Dadaglobe. Unfortunately, his ambition far exceeded his fundraising talents, and as a result, the project, slated for publication in 1921, never reached completion.
Tzara—with help from his friend and fellow Dadaist Francis Picabia—had written to 50 artists from 10 countries asking them to submit artworks to be considered: these could be photographic self-portraits, photographs of art, original drawings, designs for book pages, prose, poetry, and other verbal “inventions.” Over the course of the year Picabia’s apartment had become jam-packed with correspondence.
Now, following six years of archival research by Dada scholar Adrian Sudhalter, many of those fragments of the never-realized whole have been assembled for the exhibition “Dadaglobe Reconstructed,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The display might be seen as either the remnants of an unrealized project or as Dadaglobe’s original intention finally coming to fruition.
Among the fragments on display is Max Ernst’s pioneering work of photomontage, Die chinesische Nachtigall, The Chinese Nightingale. It is both a photograph of a sculpture set on a lawn and a collage work. The sculpture depicts an anthropomorphic bomb (used by the British in World War I) with a pair of outstretched arms and a piercing eye—a portrait of distress.
“Had it been published in 1921, Dadaglobe would have recorded the activities of Dada at its climax and before its decline,” as Jeanne Brun wrote in the catalogue to French curator Laurent Le Bon’s 2005 Dada exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. The failure of Dadaglobe, according to Brun, seemed to lay in the “incapacity” of the Dada movement to have its “essence . . . congealed in one single publication.”
One wonders whether Tzara grasped the complicated nature of his endeavor from the start. Apart from financial issues, personality conflicts, too, also contributed to Dadaglobe’s demise. Was Tzara perhaps a bit naïve in believing that so disparate a group could achieve such a cooperative feat? Or, maybe, Tzara always suspected that Dadaglobe was destined to exist less as a Dada-defining publication than as a provocation.
Jean Cocteau, for instance, wrote above an image of himself in Self Portrait on Pablo Picasso’s Horse, “I’m not a Dada, but I’ll amble in your book.”
By bringing these pieces together, “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” represents the long-term ripple effect of the creative explosion triggered by Tzara’s invitation. More than chronicling what Dada was, these pages reflect the artistic freedom that Dada would inspire for years to come.
Another page, Portrait of André Breton at Festival Dada (with Picabia placard) is a photograph of Breton with his head poking out of the top of a sandwich board. He offers a playful sideways glance as his right hand points toward a large bulls-eye and the accompanying text (translated from the French), which otherwise obscures the bulk of his body, reads, “In order to love something you need to have seen it or heard it for a long time you bunch of idiots.”
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samedi 13 août 2016



Andre Breton, Dada’s Taciturn Target

THE DAILY PIC: MoMA's Dadaglobe show gets at Dada's strong, silent core.

THE DAILY PIC (#1585): “Dadaglobe Reconstructedis precisely the kind of show that the Museum of Modern Art should be doing, and very often has done of late. Memories of “Bjork” have pretty much been erased by an absurdly full roster of utterly unpandering projects.

For “Dadaglobe,” curators have labored to unearth a vast trove of material once intended for what was supposed to have been the ultimate anthology of the Dada movement. The book was planned in detail by the Romanian avant-gardist Tristan Tzara, in Paris around 1921, but a lack of funds torpedoed it late in the process. All that remains are Tzara’s detailed records and the art works themselves that he’d meant to include, which MoMA has tracked down in surprisingly large numbers.
Today’s Pic is one of my favorite objects from the Tzara project, and from the MoMA show, because it does such a perfect job of summing up modern art’s love of the new, and its disdain for those who resist it. An unknown photographer has captured a dandified André Breton, not long before he helped found the Surrealist movement, at the great Dada festival in Paris in 1920. For the occasion, Breton has put on a placard designed by Francis Picabia, bearing a target-like abstraction and the words “For you to like something, you have to have already seen and heard it for ages, you bunch of morons.”

Among other things, the placard’s concentric circles make an important point that we’ve lost sight of: Abstraction, in its first years, always came with an edge of Dada absurdity to it – and maybe still ought to, if it’s to keep its original heft. Jasper Johns, another target-maker, knew this; Kenneth Noland should have. Perhaps the utter sobriety of early pro-abstract manifestos was meant to counteract any remaining odor of Dada.

I can’t help feeling that Breton is quite literally and deliberately making himself a target of jokes, with the text that he bears as the disdainful rebuttal of a voiceless martyr. (The sacrificial effect is helped by the fact that he has centered the target on his gonads.)

Breton’s silence makes sense of another element in the photo, and in Tzara’s entire book project, that I’m not sure has been much noticed.

He is holding a copy of the very letter that Tzara sent out to solicit contributions to his Dadaglobe anthology. The sheet bears a carefully designed letterhead that reads MoUvEmEnT DADA, with the alternating large-and-small type that I’ve echoed here. The thing is, for any native French speaker who looks at this photo, or even at the Dada letterhead itself, the large capitals, along with the disappearingly small letters between them, can only make that mouvement read as muet – “silent” or “mute.”

Dada was a noisy movement, for sure, and its artists enjoyed making a ruckus. But for all its deliberate absurdity, it had a space of focus and concentration at its core – as witnessed by the close-mouthed withdrawal of Breton in this portrait.

Dada pretended to be all about anti-art, but its artists knew perfectly well that in the process they were engaged in making great art, in the same lineage as Leonardo and Rembrandt and other makers of the telling and silent tableau.

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jeudi 23 juin 2016

mardi 19 avril 2016



Reviving Maria d’Arezzo, Presidentessa Dada

Stet? Olivia E. Sears April 23, 2015

Translation may be the invisible art, but the translator's mission is precisely to bring visibility to a work of literature, and at times to rescue an author from obscurity. This is especially true when translating Italian women writers of the past who struggled for visibility even within their own culture. 

In a recent interview, Elena Ferrante, the renowned (though anonymous) contemporary author of a series of novels about Naples, has said that she writes under a pseudonym so that the focus of attention will remain on her books—in which she writes intimately about women's lives—and not on "some writer-hero.” While she has attained remarkable prominence in a short time, her work revolves around women who struggle to find their place in society. And yet in the Italian press there has been a persistent rumor that Elena Ferrante is in fact the pseudonym of a successful male novelist, perpetuating the search for the writer-hero, presumed to be male. 

Maria d'Arezzo, an Italian woman writer who lived and wrote in Naples a hundred years ago, also chose to write under a pseudonym (though her motivations for doing so are lost to history). In 1917, Dada founder and poet Tristan Tzara traveled to Naples to recruit this poet, little known outside Italy, to his movement. Despite d'Arezzo's assertions of creative independence, Tzara conferred on her the title of Presidentessa Dada in Paris and presented her poem “Volata” ("Flight") at his Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The Dada movement included numerous women (and présidentes), but when d'Arezzo made her international debut in the pages of the legendary Dada Almanach (Berlin, 1920)—the volume that collected the works of Tzara and his circle—her poem ultimately proved to be the only work by a woman to appear in the anthology. 

In the table of contents, however, the poet was listed as Mario d'Arezzo—an error perpetuated to this day on the official Dada Companion website. So here's to reviving Maria, who boldly declares in her poem "Andante":

Tonight I am everything and I am made of nothing—

I have even forgotten my name—

Born Maria Cardini in 1890, she published her debut volume of poetry in 1913 (under her given name) but soon thereafter confessed that she no longer recognized herself in its fairly conventional style. Adopting her nom de plume (Arezzo being the city of her birth), she began to ally herself with the avant-garde journals of the time, serving as editor of Le pagine, and in 1918 published Scia [Wake], a book closer in spirit to the Dada avant-garde, with flashes of near-Futurist dynamism, unusual metaphors, synesthesia, and occasional syntactical experimentation. 

And yet, within the span of a few short years, by the age of thirty, she had completely abandoned creative writing and dedicated herself to translation. Her entire poetic career had flown by in a kind of fevered sprint—what in Italian is referred to as a volata, the kind of thing that leaves a wake (scia).

As it happens, movement (or stagnation) and escape (or confinement) were d'Arezzo's major poetic concerns, and her work is imbued with a spirit of restlessness. The titles of the two poems from Scia translated in APS 22—"Andante" (1916) and "Volata" (1917)—are words of movement also used in music. Andante—from the verb andare, to go or walk—is used as an adjective in Italian to mean affable (for people), cheap (for quality), or simple (for style)—all with a generally easygoing connotation. But outside of Italy, andante had long ago been adopted in music as a tempo marking—defined as a walking pace—so a listener seeing a musical movement labeled andante would expect to hear music that is neither too fast nor too slow. Instead, d'Arezzo immediately follows her title with the startling opening statement: "I would not be surprised to find I am dead." She continues: 

I feel so distant so dead so at peace

while the hours slide by, silent...

She interprets this steady sliding pace as a "ritmo d'immobilita," a rhythm of stillness or immobility. By contrast, the title of the second poem, "Volata" (from volare, to fly), conveys speed. In its original meaning, volata refers to a flock of birds in flight, but it is commonly used to describe a sprint or a rush. Volata is also a term used in music—a fast run of notes—but not widely, and generally not outside of Italy. Hence, in the translation, "andante" had to stay and "volata" had to go. The poem "Flight" incorporates a number of phrases from languages other than Italian, and in the translation I largely preserved the kaleidoscope, as it is native to much avant-garde poetry of the time. Most of the phrases from French and German—which serve mostly for style and sound, as part of the whirlwind of the poem—would be familiar enough to readers. 

The only non-Italian phrase I translated was "bleu cendre" because the ashen blue is an important detail in itself, contrasting the narrator with the statue of the Madonna. The narrator's blue tunic is ample like the open sky in contrast to the small, rigid image of the Madonna—who always appears dressed in blue in Italian iconography, and is inextricably associated with the color—stuck in the hard vault of her "heaven." In "Flight," d'Arezzo sets up the opposition of free flight versus a fixed ideal, a ceramic beauty, embedded in the "duro cielo" (hard sky) of the ceiling. She imagines herself rising out of a preordained destiny to soar up, alive and growing, like a rose. And yet the rose is fragile ("sottile"); the statue is secure in its place, while the rose must try to find its bearings. D'Arezzo is explicitly writing about the conflict faced by a woman, but by invoking flight—a particular obsession among Italian Futurist poets of the time, who idolized machines and symbols of freedom—she engages in the larger poetic conversation. A well-known 1915 poem by Ardengo Soffici, a panegyric to the airplane and the rapture of flight ("Aeroplano"), names dozens of colors of blue in its ecstatic description of the "firmament" and describes the largest stars as roses. D'Arezzo's poem might well have been a response to this and the many other contemporary paeans to flight, with her own unique twist. 

Rather than the prevalent yearning to fly, D'Arezzo articulates a more specific desire: to flee. In “Flight,” she grapples with the longstanding dichotomy endemic to the Italian view of women: one is either "Madonna" (virgin, mother—or, better yet, virgin mother) or "whore." However, here the confinement of the little ceramic statue of the Madonna (a "madonnina," the diminutive) is contrasted not with the fate of a fallen and failed woman but rather with one who will fly free: 

     I have wings—

     but I could also set myself like a little white madonna in that hard

sky of blue tile shining above—

The ceiling is a hard sky where the statue perches even higher than a pedestal, and where it is mounted, immobile. (A side note here about the verb "incastonare": normally used for tile and gems that are mounted, set, or encrusted, d'Arezzo makes the verb reflexive, which limits one's choices in English. I had to reject "I could mount myself there.")

Numerous poems throughout Scia revolve around the theme of escape. In “Certain Domestic Evenings,” the narrator depicts herself “with the soul of a predator in a sparrow's nest ... coming home to the order of life with a soul in rebellion—and sitting down calmly when we really want to dance strangle smash.” (The shift to the first person plural might be read as a statement about how common this feeling is among bourgeois women of the time.) In "Unmoorings," the first line consists of a single word standing alone: "Fuggire." ("Escape.")

D'Arezzo's work is characterized by the intense ambivalence and ambiguity of the boundaries between soul and body, freedom and constraint, love and violence. For the translator, the challenge is to maintain the youthful voice of a poet focused on the urgency of music and expression as well as that ineluctable tension—the recurring "si e no" ("yes and no") of the indecisive trees that paralyze her, the sense of being at once "everything and made of nothing" ("tutto e fatta di nulla"). Whether or not d'Arezzo's poems reveal anything about the poet's own experience, they often describe someone (the poetic "I") caught between the expectations of bourgeois Catholic women (even those who are privileged and well-educated) in early twentieth-century Naples and what lies elsewhere—perhaps the dynamic world of avant-garde literature, with Tzara and his Dada compatriots, or perhaps along another path.

As with Dadaism, d'Arezzo flirted with Futurist poetics, but never embraced the movement, likely in part due to one of the central precepts laid out in the Futurist manifesto: the destruction of the poetic "I." As critic Cecilia Bello Minciacchi has noted (in her invaluable collection of Futurist women writers that has served to revive so many voices), d'Arezzo's self-perception at the emotional and psychological level seems to proceed from the physical, sensory level; the inner conflict that infuses her work plays out in the physical world. And while many of the best-known Futurist poems focused on machines, and particularly the revolutionary airplane, d'Arezzo's "Flight" is organic—the wings are her own, a part of herself, allowing the poetic "I" to soar. 

D’Arezzo: Two Poems

Poetry Maria d’Arezzo 
Translated from the Italian by Olivia E. Sears


It would not surprise me to find I am dead—
as my soul is full of sweet things
I never found in life.
The trees down there say yes and no, yes and no—
and the sky is like a distant kiss—
I must remain silent to understand, and make myself understood—
I will not break the rhythm of this stillness with a gesture, no—
tonight I am everything and I am made of nothing—
I have even forgotten my name—
and I cross my white hands, in themselves a prayer—
maybe I imagine a kiss that is meant for me—
and I too say yes and no yes and no like the trees
yes and no, yes and no my whole life without moving from here—
I feel like some old portrait of an unknown Florentine—
I have those white hands and that faded smile—
and I feel so distant so dead so at peace
while the hours slide by, silent in silk slippers on the carpet of time.


              in the sun
              (the first sun after days and days of unending rain)
              as one alive and drunk on the fresh air burrowing indiscreetly into
my collar and my cuffs—
              have an uncommonly vigilant sense of this subtle body
              bundle of nerves vibrating elastically à son aise in this ample tunic
of ashen blue—
              the sun fans out a golden halo on my head, as in the holy pictures
of saints—
              I have wings—
              but I could also set myself like a little white madonna in that hard
sky of blue tile shining above—
              by now far beyond all my troubles: today I am truly me—
              my face with its red mouth on the top of this agile body soars up
and leans towards possibility, just as a rose soars up and finds its bearings on
the top of its stalk—
              my friend, seize the moment, put out your hands and catch me—
              I have slain all my troubles because I am me—
              to hell with the selbstbespiegelung and all other sophistry—
              je veux vivre, j’ai seulement une envie folle de vivre—
              —voilà tout—

Olivia E. Sears is founder of the Center for the Art of Translation and the journal Two Lines, which she edited for more than a decade. She has published translations of both modern and Renaissance Italian poetry.