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Beyond Modernism. Berlin Dada and Form as Contradiction

Nachtigall, J; (2017) Beyond Modernism. Berlin Dada and Form as Contradiction. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis revisits dominant historical accounts of modernism by engaging with the contradictions it identifies as defining Berlin Dada’s approach to form. As a group of artists, writers and cultural practitioners that worked collectively between 1918 and 1920 in Berlin, Dada has been historicized as the epitome of the political avant-garde in the West: canonical interpretations veer between commending its ‘radicality’ and dismissing its inconsistencies as ‘anti-art’. My argument is that Dada was neither ‘radical’, nor were its contradictions (e.g. remaining art while demanding its abolition) the logical outcome of its ‘anti-art’ stance. Instead I propose they resulted from attempts to re-function art as a social practice in a capitalist society and the specific nature of this challenge: to socialise art in Weimar Germany’s consumer culture meant, for Dada, re-configuring its forms vis-à-vis commerce rather than, as in Russia, labour. Taking the Berlin group as a case study, I take issue with the retrospective attempts to smooth out the contradictions that arose from this and that become most tangible in artists’ relation to artistic forms and technical media. I argue in turn that modernism was far less monolithic than prevailing approaches to form and their premises of medium-specificity (or its decline) allow grasping. Drawing on what I call a socially expanded formalism and its dynamic notions of form as developed in the vicinity of Russian formalism, productivism and heterodox Marxist art historians such as Lu Märten, I focus on form as going behind and beyond art (history) in order to develop a perspective on art from its limits rather than from the security of a dominant centre. Doing so, I propose, not only significantly broadens our understanding of modernism but also of art today.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Beyond Modernism. Berlin Dada and Form as Contradiction
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1555563
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