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Dada was a movement known for collage, upturned urinals, and its radicality--a reaction to the horrors of World War I. It was NOT known for its food, but in 1961 artist Man Ray offered this "Menu for a Dadaist Day," and we cooked it for you.

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To learn more about Dada and access original sources visit International Dada Archive at the University of Iowa Libraries: https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/dada/

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Throughout history, food has served as subject matter, inspiration, and of course, sustenance for artists.  Food has also been the art on a number of occasions.  Today, we're delving into an early 20th century movement known for its radicality, irreverence, incoherence, and not at all for its food.  I hope you're not hungry.  

We're working from the 1961 Artists' & Writers' Cookbook whose dedication speaks to me deeply.  Alice B. (?~0:32) wrote the foreword and the recipes that follow were offered by a broad range of artists and poets and novelists, like Harper Lee's crackling bread, Helen Frankenthaler's hamburger helene made for her husband Robert Motherwell, and Marcel DuChamp's steak tartare, a recipe, he says, originated with the Cossacks in Siberia which can be, "Prepared on horseback, at a swift gallop, if conditions make this a necessity."

While DuChamp was associated with dada and preparing steak tartare on horseback would no doubt make for good TV, it's actually a recipe on page five we're gonna follow, and it's Man Ray's "A Menu for a Dadaist Day".  Fittingly, it does not relate to any event that actually took place during the late nineteen-teens when dada unfolded, but the dada spirit was nonetheless alive when Man Ray offered the recipe for this book several decades later.  

We start with le petit dejeuner, or breakfast, and we're asked to take a wooden panel of an inch or less thickness, 16 to 20 inches in size.  Okay, that's not gonna work.   Let's try this one.  Okay, we're good.  Now we gather the brightly colored wooden blocks left by children on the floors of playrooms.  Not a difficult task in my house and paste or screw them on the panel.

Now, he doesn't actually say how the blocks should be arranged on the panel, but that's very much in the dada spirit, so I'm going to take a cue from one of the founders of the Zurich-based dada group, Jean Arp and his collage series "According to the Laws of Chance".  Supposedly the series began when Arp was frustrated with a drawing, tore it up, and threw it on the ground and later realized the chance arrangement of forms on the floor had more expressive power than what he had been trying to achieve through deliberation.

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So let's just take our blocks, let them spill out of a bowl, and see where they fall.  Alright, that'll work.  Then let's take some wood glue and fix them into place roughly where they fell.  You see, Arp was among a number of artists and writers from around Europe who sought refuge in neutral Switzerland to escape the ravages of World War I.  Arp was French and German and had grown up in (?~2:34) and in Zurich, he joined up with Germans Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, and Hans Richter, Romanians Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco, Swede Viking Eggeling, and Swiss Sophie Tauber, who married Arp.  Their headquarters, founded in February 1916, was the Cabaret Voltaire, named after the French satirist whose skewering of his own time the dadaist took as inspiration.

There, they staged wild and often unintelligible performances, collaborations combining gibberish incantations by Ball, props by Taubert, and costumes and masks by Janco.  It didn't make sense and it wasn't supposed to.  The mass carnage of World War I, which would ultimately claim more than 18 million lives, was unrepresentable.  The pandemonium dada created was a way of acting out this crisis, attacking all norms and traditions, in Hugo Ball's words, "To draw attention across the barriers of war and nationalism to the few independent spirits who live for other ideals."  

Randomness for Arp undermined conventional notions of authorship and it was both a denial of human egotism and a principle of dissolution and anarchy.  It was a way to dismantle the supposed order and rationality that had led to the horrors of war.  

Dejeuner, or lunch.  We are instructed to take the olives and juice from one large jar of prepared green or black olives and throw them away.  

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In the empty jar, place several steel ball bearings.  Fill the jar with machine oil to prevent rusting.  Naturally.  With this delicacy, serve a loaf of French bread 30 inches in length.  Eh, close enough.  Paint it a pale blue.  I've found some edible food paint that I'm gonna use here to achieve our blue, which some may not define as pale.  By this point, you're probably wondering about the man behind our menu.

Dada was an international movement, with other bases of operation in Paris, Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, and New York.  They were connected by the journals they published and the fact that they all moved around during and after the war.  Man Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky, grew up in New York and befriended Duchamp, whose influence you can see in his early sculptural constructions that combined unlikely, everyday materials into curious and foreboding objects.  An army blanket wrapped around a sewing machine and tied up with string.  A metronome with a cut out photograph of an eye attached with a paperclip that he would set to a tempo and paint 'til it stopped.

We see this kind of incongruous intermingling of familiar things throughout this meal.  Ready-made materials, easy to find, made strange through combination, upsetting the conventions of bourgeouis life in the nineteen-teens, in the 1960s, and today.  Let's try it out with one of these luscious ball bearings, not forgetting to spoon over some of that flavorful machine oil.  Mmm.  As delicious as it looks.

And now for our final course, diner, which I don't think I need to translate.  Gather wooden darning eggs, one per person.  If a variety without handles cannot be found, remove the handles.  We then piece lenghthwise so that skewers can be inserted into each darning egg.  I'm putting a clamp around my egg so I can stabilize them and hopefully not drill a hole through my hand today.  This might be painful to watch, so let's return to our story while I butcher these things.

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Dada was not just one style, but a confluence of many mediums and approaches, often contradictory, but brought together by the shared aims of meaninglessness, provocation, and refusal.  They were against everything, even themselves.  "Dada is anti-dada" was a favorite saying, and it was short-lived, petering out in the early 20s as many of its members were folded into surrealism or went their own ways.

Okay, so we've pierced our eggs and no one was injured and we're asked to lay the skewered eggs in an oblong or oval pan and cover with transparent cellophane.  And there's our dinner.  Magnificent, isn't it?  It will keep really well at room temperature, so this is something that you could totally make ahead for a party.  I bet it freezes beautifully, too.  

Man Ray doesn't include a dessert, but I'm not quite full yet, so let's tack one on.  To cap off our meal, we're gonna make Tristan Tzara's 1920 recipe 'To Make a Dadaist Poem" from his manifesto on feeble love and bitter love.  It goes like this: Take a newspaper.  Take some scissors.  I'm using a kitchen knife here in homage to Berlin-based dadaist Hannah Hoch's famous photo montage "Cut With the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch Of Germany". 

Choose from this paper an article, the length you want to make your poem.  Cut out the article.  I'm taking some liberties here so that you can actually see the words.  I really don't think he'd mind.  Next, carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.  Shake gently.  Collage was a favorite medium of the dadaists for good reason, as it allowed them to take the raw material of their culture and their time, information and images intended to illustrate and elucidate, but under their knives, the language was made absurd, emptied of its logic and power.  The name 'dada' was allegedly chosen randomly from a German-French dictionary.  In French, it meant 'a hobby horse'.  In German, 'a kind of stupidity or naivete' and in Romanian, it meant 'yes yes'.  

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It worked because it had resonance across languages and cultures but also meant nothing at all.  Next, take out each cutting one after the other.  This way seems more expedient.  Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.  I'm gonna lay them out roughly in the order that I turn them over.  A true anarchist, I know.  As our poem is unfolding, I'm remembering something Hugo Ball wrote, that a line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language.  Every word that is spoken and sung here says at least this one thing, that this humiliated age has not succeeded in winning our respect.  

Tzara's recipe concludes, the poem will resemble you, and there you are.  An infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.  While the dadaist spirit was destructive, it was also exhilirating, freeing, and affirming in its way.  It continued and continues to live on, in its influence on other artists and resurgences in contemporary culture.

Dada may be officially over, but its revolt against certainty is perhaps as relevant as ever.  

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