If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:12:01

Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany

Video transcript

(jazz music) Voiceover: This amazing photo montage is by German artist Hannah Hoch and it's from 1919 to about 1920 and it has an extremely long title. Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany. It was displayed in First International Dada Fair. Voiceover: 1919-1920, that was a really pretty frought moment. What was going on? Voiceover: Political chaos. Voiceover: Okay, she seems to have captured that. Voiceover: She has captured it (crosstalk) Voiceover: What kind of political chaos? Voiceover: Well, the government has been completely changed after World War I. There's a lot of conflict between the Spartacists, which is the far left wing communist, some of which of those people are featured in this. There are conflicts between those groups and the [fry court]. The [fry court] was encouraged to attack people by members of the government. There are all these clashes and a lot of people end up getting arrested and some people end up getting killed and that's just one particular moment. That's January of 1919, all of that fighting happens. Voiceover: All this fragmentation is just beautifully captured here. The contrast from the kind of long war, which would have really focused the country's attention and then this complete breakdown. The contrast is just stunning. Voiceover: It's really a sort of tabula rosa here (crosstalk) Voiceover: That's a very important point. There's a lot of little pieces that are left over. That's exactly what Hoch is working with here. All the political players (crosstalk) between them. If you think about the title, Cut with the Kitchen Knife, think about the idea of cutting things literally. That works for the photo montage and she's sort of cutting a swath through all this and piecing things back together in ways that make sense to her. Focusing on the fragmentation as defining culture at that moment. Voiceover: But I love that it's a photo montage and I'm assuming most of these photographs came from newspapers from magazines, so it's all immediate and topical and all relevant in this moment, but it's being reconstructed. Voiceover: But I love that it's a kitchen knife. Voiceover: She's very focused also the role of women artists. She talked a lot about it and she wrote about it. As a Dadaist, how was she treated? She wasn't treated very well. I think one of the things she actually had a problem with is a lot of male Dadaists had grand ideas about changing cultural morays and views and gender equity, but then in their practice of that, they did nothing. There was a couple of ways that is visualized here. If we look at the very central image, we actually see one of the foremost German expressionist artists Käthe Kollwitz Voiceover: It's also been severed. Voiceover: And the body underneath her is dancer Niddi Impekoven and if you look at the way that that forms a central point around which everything else rotates and there is a sense of movement happening all at the same time. Voiceover: Well, I noticed a lot wheels and gears (crosstalk) Voiceover: It's a machine. If you think about the machinery of - Voiceover: Government. Voiceover: Government, the machinery of culture of ... If you think of the machine itself, even the machine of Dada. Voiceover: But the machine, to me, has a very male connotation to it. Voiceover: One thing I always think is really interesting to point out if we zoom in and look in the far right lower corner. This tiny little head right here is actually Hannah Hoch. Instead of putting her signature, she puts a little portrait of herself and what it is is it's actually pasted on to the corner of a map which shows the countries in Europe that had women's voting rights at the time, so that's one of the ways that we know she was thinking about the role of women in society and in the art world. One of the best ways to deal with a picture of this scale, where there's so much happening is to look at this other version that I actually annotated. Voiceover: We're in Flickr now. Voiceover: We're in Flickr right now and I created this image, which has a lot of notes on it. Voiceover: If you want to see this, you can just go to the SmartHistory group in Flickr. Voiceover: In Flickr and you can find this image. Then what happens is we wave over it and we see all these different things. First of all, if you think about this image in terms of quadrants. There's an upper right and a lower right and a lower left and an upper left. I've decided to name the left side, even though they're not usually named. Usually the right side is known as the anti-Dadaists and if you look, she's called that "di anti-dadists" right over here. She's cut out a lot of text, as well, and that's up here. The people that are in the anti-Dadaist corner are obviously politicians and former politicians. Kaiser Wilhelm is right here. His head is really big and this figure is quite large. Voiceover: And Kaiser Wilhelm has been deposed. Voiceover: He's abdicated in Holland. Voiceover: Okay. (crosstalk) And he's led the country into World War I. Voiceover: Yes, into disaster, so he's gone. Voiceover: I just want to be clear who he was. Not a nice man. Voiceover: Not a nice man and there's a lot of satire going on in this. Then there are also other political figures. There's General von Hindenberg, the head of him on the body of this exotic dancer. Voiceover: She took a male general and put him on a female body and castrated him in a way. Voiceover: She makes fun of Kaiser Wilhelm with this little figure of two wrestlers that are creating the mustache. Down here there is German Minister of Defense Gustav Noske. He's talking to another general over here and this general up here is standing on their heads. Voiceover: Another man who led them into war. Voiceover: Yeah. Voiceover: Sort of like the Donald Rumsfeld, (crosstalk) Voiceover: If you think about pictures of our contemporary US. Voiceover: These are people (crosstalk) Voiceover: And some of them were still in power. They're working with reformulating the government, which is not ... There's no way any sense of organization fragmented in many ways and all these people are grasping for power that they did have before and trying to figure out ways to pull the country together, but if we go down here, in the lower right corner, we see the world of the Dadaists. "Die welt Dada" and right here it says "Dada isten" right there. This is the corner that has Hannah Hoch and the map. Then it also has other Dadaist figures. There is the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann. Hannah Hoch had a relationship with Hausmann for a while, not her whole life, and for a long time all the literature on Hoch focused on her relationship. She was always referred to as the wife of Raoul Hausmann. Voiceover: What's interesting is that visually the bottom right corner, the Dadaist corner is much less dense (crosstalk) Voiceover: Here you see the two heads of Dadaists George Grosz and Wielande Herzfelde. Wielande Herzfelde is the brother of John Heartfield. John Heartfield changed his name, he anglicized his name and Niddi Impekoven, the same dancer that's in the center here, is now over here bathing John Heartfield in this bathtub. Voiceover: It seems to be demeaning men. Voiceover: She is, I think very specifically, trying to reverse as much - Voiceover: Power relations. Voiceover: Yeah, power relations as much as she can. In here we have in the center Lenin is over here, kind of in the center, you can't really see it right now and then there's another Dadaist, Johannes Baader and then you see one of the communist party leaders, Karl Radek and he was back and forth between Russia and Germany, so he's very involved with the communist party in Germany. Those three together, there's Karl Marx, because we always have to have Marx, then over here is the head of modern art critic and writer Theodore Däubler and his head is on top of a baby's body (laughing) Voiceover: A huge baby's body. (crosstalk) Voiceover: It's pretty funny. Voiceover: So really infantilizing all of these people. Voiceover: And they're all men, all these Dadists are men. Voiceover: And her colleagues. Voiceover: What I've decided is that on the left side, they're forms of Dada. This is Dada propaganda. This is Einstein right here, actually. And he is saying a couple of different things. Right here, this little bit of text is in German and it says, "He he, young man, Dada is not an art trend." It's not just something that's coming and going and that it's actually something more meaningful and that it's about (crosstalk). Voiceover: Political and worldy and timely. Voiceover: Up in the corner this is another thing. (crosstalk) Voiceover: Propagandistic messages designed to tap into the idea of art making is a money venture, it's an investment. Voiceover: But it's also clearly absurdist. Voiceover: It's just mocking the entire venture. Voiceover: Down here, there's a lot of scenes of mass gathering. We see in the center here this figure. This is Karl Liebknecht, one of the German communist party leaders, along with Rosa Luxembourg, who were, as it says, jailed, tortured, and then assassinated in January 1919. That was a moment that really brought together - Voiceover: Galvanized the left. Voiceover: Galvanized the left. These are all photographs that she's taken out of popular press. She's taken that figure of him and right here, he's saying, "Join Dada." This is why I think it's a kind of Dada persuasion. These are persuasive messages, right? This is all about - Voiceover: Resist these, resist that. Voiceover: After all, these images came out of a commercial magazine. It was - Voiceover: Product magazines also and popular women's journals and the Berliner Illustrated Zeitung, which is the illustrated press of Berlin. Voiceover: Dada had only been around for a couple of years at this point, for just a few years. How was this being received? What kind of audience did this have? Voiceover: This had the audience of other Dadaists (laughing) in Berlin. Dada is going on all over Europe and there are different centers of Dada. There is a Dada movement in Paris - Voiceover: Zurich (crosstalk) Voiceover: And Hanover and in Berlin. They all have different art making practices and photo montage was central to the Berlin Dadaists. Voiceover: What is the the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch mean? Voiceover: Abundance and gluttony and beer, of course, being, to me, very German, having a beer-belly and those last vestiges of that bourgeois - Voiceover: Wealthy, stable culture that had allowed the first World War to really happen. There were some artists that were actually looking at traditional painting as having been, in some ways, responsible for the violence of the war, and responsible for the culture that could've produced this war and art having some - Voiceover: Or holding up those values. Voiceover: Holding up those values, exactly (crosstalk) Commodity of (crosstalk) Would have allowed for the hierarchy to create this kind of violence. Voiceover: Another kind of armchair bourgeois. Voiceover: Yeah, that's right, and what is art's responsibility within that cultural framework? Voiceover: in the upper right we have a political establishment, but on the lower left (crosstalk) that's a huge contrast. That tension remains (crosstalk) Voiceover: Dada cutting a swath, in a way, (crosstalk) Voiceover: The word "Dada" in the upper left through the word "Dada" again in the lower right and her own self portrait with Kollwitz in the middle there. Voiceover: Dividing those classes. Voiceover: Women, in a way. Voiceover: And women, I think, she puts in places of power, or at least as a destabilizing force. Voiceover: The whole notion of the kitchen knife is really empowering. Voiceover: The idea of domesticity as being something that could undermine cultural values. It's an amazing idea. Voiceover: Yeah. Voiceover: It's brilliant, I love it. Voiceover: I love it. Voiceover: It's cool. (jazz music)