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Poster poem,   poema cartaz
Austrian, austríaco, 1886-1971

Peça do Centre Pompidou, Paris




         To abandon oneself to the laws of chance was to renounce the talents which had long defined artistic practice—craft, control, intentionality along with the rules or conventions commonly used to construct pictorial meaning—composition, perspective, modeling. Chance can be applied to both visual and verbal languages. After all, if colors and shapes don't have to work together to create a coherent, plausible view onto another world, why shouldn't letters and punctuation simply be set free from the rules of conventional spelling and grammar? Why couldn't the laws of chance also encourage wordplay, turning letters and words into abstract elements, as with Raoul Hausmann's phonetic poster poem of 1918 and Théo van Doesburg and Schwitters's 1922 poster program for a Dada evening .



         The individual letters on Hausmann's poster poem stand about six inches high, inviting them to be read from a distance rather than approached intimately as in a book. The size of the black letters suggests a connection to the world of popular culture, such as the billboard advertisement: scaled for clarity, intended for broad consumption. However, this assembly of letters fails to follow any conventional logic. Instead, letters, pictograms, and punctuation marks remain resolutely on the page as raw utterances, refusing to cohere into familiar words or phrases. Once-familiar letters take on an abstract quality, like the script of a foreign language that one does not understand but admires for its visual pattern and aesthetic continuity. By breaking apart and isolating language's components, Hausmann aimed to recapture the immediacy of pictograms or hieroglyphs, where in a direct "agreement between picture and text," a word such as "eagle" is communicated by a sign that resembles the bird rather than by a sequence of abstract shapes (letters) strung together.


         To compose his poster poem, Hausmann instructed a professional typesetter to select letters of moveable type "as they came out of their box—just according to [the typesetter's] own mood and chance.... A great écriture automatique, automatic writing with question marks, exclamation points, and even a pointer!" In the years to come, automatic writing would become a key strategy of the French Surrealists, who believed that writing without premeditation could access untapped psychic forces.


          Hausmann, however, was interested in what he called the "raw construction of chance," which involved a fundamental redefinition of the role of the artist. Except for titling, signing, and dating the poster poem, Hausmann's "hand," per se, is absent from the work: the form of the letters is readymade (or machine-made), and their selection and sequencing is determined by the typesetter. Rather than manually executing his work, Hausmann directed its creation as if by remote control, a fundamentally collaborative process that left key decisions open to interventions by chance. The result was a work that severed all logical relationships between letters and their meaning.


         The randomly selected typography was ultimately, for Hausmann, just a visual means to provoke an auditory end. When read aloud at a Dada soirée, the poster became a sound poem. According to Hausmann "a chaos of sounds and tones" issued from his mouth as he tried to sound out individual letters that did not conform to the conventional pattern of syllables. Because he believed letters should carry meaning independent of

their placement in a word, the sound of each letter was followed by a pause. Uppercase letters were given more emphasis than lower- case ones. The seemingly senseless arrangement of letters provokes us to give it a try, to read the letters out loud and try to make sense of something that is, in a profound nonsense.


         This exercise in frustration turns the reader from passive recipient of information into active collaborator, performing what Hausmann described as "the multititude of possibilities which our voices offer us…  which we produce with the aid of the numerous techniques of breathing, the positioning of the tongue in the palate, the opening of the larynx and the exertion of different degrees of pressure on the vocal cords." 





Kleine Dada Soirée

Dutch, holandês 1883-1931

1887-1948, German/alemão
(peça do Museu de Arte Moderna de Nova Iorque)


         The poster program created by Schwitters and van Doesburg for a series soirées that comprised their 1923 "Dada Campaign" in Holland presents a discordant pattern rather than an effective information-delivery system. The incongruous appearance of the poster, with words that interrupt each other and shift direction, voice, and language reflects the tenor of the Dada soirées. Such evenings would commence with pseudo-serious lectures on art interrupted by, say, a barking audience member such as Schwitters,  who, having diverted attention away from the program, would then offer his own phonetic poems (…) which was to include a prelude of "Dadawisdom by Théo van Doesburg," as well as "abstract poems declaimed as possible” by Schwitters.  (…)


         As van Doesburg concluded, Dada “wants nothing… but nothing in a  positivesense”.



Extracted from”LOOKING AT DADA”BY Sarah Ganz Blythe and Edward D. Powers.  New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006   Catálogo da exposição.





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