On January 16th, I presented a new show with collaborator Michael Cuccaro at the Carnegie Museum of Art, as part of their Culture Club programming for the 2013 Carnegie International. The fifteen-minute, Dada-inspired show was performed toy theatre-style in the Museum Café with a cast of newly crafted puppet characters including Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara and a drone. Sets for the production included a battlefield scene, the interior of the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, Switzerland, 1916 and Hugo Ball’s bedroom. The Carnegie Café was transformed into an installation for the International, making it an interesting venue for the event. Also performed that evening was Museum Piece: For Margo Lovelace, a puppetry performance by Paulina Olowska, performed by Kristen Barca and Joann Kielar.
In the fall of 2012, I met Polish artist Paulina Olowska. She was visiting to plan her 2013 Carnegie International installation for the Carnegie Café. We talked about the beginnings of the Dada movement at the Cabaret Voltaire and her plans to transform the museum café into a cabaret atmosphere. When Olowska later invited me to work on the performance piece for her project (and exhibit a collection of my puppets), I began thinking about creating a show about the ideals of early Dada artists.
It’s difficult to think about the trauma experienced by European artists living during World War I. What were artists to do at a time when humanity was pushed to the edge? The reality of war and suffering permeated everyday life. New, more efficient weapons, tanks and gasses were implemented. What were artists to do in this time of trauma? The Cabaret Voltaire was an outlet for artists and intellectuals to express their disgust, their needs and their aim to redefine art.
Today, wars are often managed by drones controlled from locations far from the battlefield. We watch football, go to the movies and get into arguments at the supermarket as wars are being waged halfway around the world. In developing this new puppet show, I thought about the iconic figure Hugo Ball, dressed in a shiny cone-shaped bishop’s outfit. I wondered what Ball, his wife Emmy Hennings and other Zurich Dadaists of 1916 would think about the world and warfare today.
The puppet show, Flight Out of Time (after Ball’s diaries), recreates the scene of The Cabaret Voltaire. A fantastical ending suggests a prophetic element in Ball’s prose. The show includes an adaptation of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto as well as a reenactment of Hugo Ball’s sound poetry.