February 5th, 1916:
During the rational madness of the Great War, a group of artists and exiles founded the Cabaret Voltaire. Modeled after the 1880s Parisian bar, Le Chat Noir, the Cabaret’s inauguration was announced through a press release to Zurich Newspapers:
“The Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has formed with the object of becoming a center for artistic entertainment. In principle, the Cabaret will be run by artists, permanent guests, who, following their daily reunions, will give musical or literary performances. Young Zurich artists, of all tendencies, are invited to join us with suggestions and proposals.”
This open invitation culminates in the creation of Zurich DADA. On the stage of the Cabaret Voltaire a raucous and irrational counterpoint to the war occurs. The artists, in need of a cathartic release, called their open stage the center of the newest art. Upwards of 20 people would take the stage, reciting different pieces of writing simultaneously. Deliberately infantile behavior was common and intended to counter intellectualism. Hugo Ball will call the Cabaret a total work of art and for the first time gibberish, non-sense and anti-art are explored as acts of aesthetic terrorism, intended to break away from tradition and express life. With immediacy in the absence of representation, searching out a pre-rational self that existed at the kernel of the human psyche, they achieved an order of aesthetic anarchy previously unknown.
Whenever we’ve faced an existential crisis, a new aesthetic is born. Artists, poets, designers broke out of the old ways of thinking and pushed us in brave new directions. Now, as catastrophic climate change threatens to plunge us into a 100000 year dark age, we need another of those great DADA moments to wash over us.