Hannah Höch of the Dada art movement is our subject today. The Dada art movement originated amidst the turmoil of early 20th century Europe. My adult beverage of choice for this journey into the bedlam is Barefoot Wine Red Moscato because why not?! Nothing makes sense and life is absurd. It's also what I had on hand so .... let’s open a bottle and delve into the mess that was the early 20th century and the amazing Hannah Höch.
In the early 20th century the world was in total chaos - wars and revolutions galore!!! It is no wonder everyone was freaking the f#$& out. Besides all of the war and chaos the early 20th century also had several technological and industrial advances that would have a huge effect on what materials were available, how artists worked, and how they viewed the crazy world. As you can imagine the combination of chaos and new means of expression made for some cool and sometimes disturbing art. Dada artists were primarily interested in destroying the consumer and Bourgeois society, which they saw as the cause of the First World War.1 They achieved this by making their art about arbitrariness and absurdity.
An innovative new Dada art form that used both absurdity and modern technology was photomontage. Photomontage is just a fancy way to say cutting and arranging images to create a new image. Photomontage took a lot of effort and precision since it was the olden times and there was no digital photography or Photoshop, kiddos.
The queen of photomontage was Hannah Höch (German 1889 - 1978). Her “experiments with photomontage helped sever the photograph from its existence as an autonomous artifact.” 2 In her work she used photos, images from magazines and advertisements in a new way; she showed photographs and commercially produced images were more than just tools to document events - they could also express social and political commentary.
Hannah’s modernity and social commentary fit in with the Dada movement, however, the Dada movement was for all intents and purposes a boys' club. Despite her talent Hannah had to work hard to infiltrate the club. Once she was in, however, she wasn't about to be silent about misogyny and traditional representations of femininity. ‘The distortion of scale in her collage The Tailor’s Flower (1920) was a rejection of conventional femininity. Her use of abstract forms next to traditional cultural signs of femininity are also a commentary on femininity,gender, and art were social constructs.’3 The same could also be said of Beautiful Maiden (1920) where traditional signals of femininity (hair, legs) are reduced to disembodied parts.
Hannah's innovative style didn’t apply solely to feminist themes; she also used photomontage as a form of political commentary. Höch’s most well known work is Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (photomontage,1919) seen here.
This work depicted her thoughts on post WWI and pre-WWII German society and politics. The repetitive use of machinery and gears represents modern industrialization that was rapidly developing. Her use of absurdity, like representing Kaiser Wilhelm's mustache using legs, satirizes political figures in the most Dada way.
With the unrest of 1930's and 1940's Europe it is amazing that political work like Hannah's survived. She actually hid her work and several fellow artists' works until after WWII was over!4 Without her bravery we may not have ever been able to appreciate her art.
So my bottle of wine is just about empty and you now know about Hannah Höch and how she cut through the patriarchy with photos and saved Dada art for future generations to enjoy. Cheers, Hannah!
1) Fer, B. & Batchelor D. & Wood, P., Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism - Art between the Wars,Yale University Press, New Haven & London in Association with the Open University, 1993, pp. 30-31
2) Chadwick, Whitney, Women Art and Society,Thames and Hudson 1990, pg. 252
3) Chadwick, Whitney, Women Art and Society,Thames and Hudson 1990, pg. 250
4) Hess, Barbara, Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century, ed. Uta Grosenick, Taschen, Köln, London, Los Angeles, Madird, Paris, Tokyo, 2005, p.135