- DadaismBy Dietmar Elger
- Raoul Hausmann and Berlin DadaBy Timothy O. Benson
- Raoul Hausmann: Photographs 1927-1936By Cecile Bargues, Nik Cohn, David Benassayag, David Barriet, Beatrice Dider and Raould Hausmann
- PhotomontageBy Dawn Ades
- Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)By David Hopkins
Important Art by Raoul Hausmann
Having already taken inspiration from the bold outlines of Matisse's figures in a series of early watercolors, Hausmann's first encounter with German Expressionism came on a visit to Herwarth Walden's Sturm Gallery in 1912 and subsequently through his involvement with Erich Heckel with whom he became close friends. Indeed, he remained committed to expressionism as late as 1917, the same year he co-formed the Berlin Dada Club. Having joined Heckel's atelier, Hausmann produced a series of lithographs and woodcuts and, firmly in keeping with the ideology of the Die Brücke movement's political opposition to the bourgeois refinements of academic painting, Hausmann favored the more "primitive" modes of artistic expression. He also took on the role of staff writer for Walden's magazine, also called Der Strum, which gave him a platform for his polemical "anti-art" essays.
Hausmann met Hannah Höch in 1915; the pair quickly embarking on an artistic and tempestuous sexual relationship that would run more-or-less the course of the Berlin Dada movement. His portrait of Höch, who appears to be reclined in (their shared) bed, carries the same expressive energy and aggressive bold outlines that were a feature of the work of Heckel, and fellow Die Brücke group member, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In keeping with his Expressionist colleagues, Hausmann initially welcomed the war, naively buying into the group's belief that it would help cleanse German society of its staid bourgeois ideology and instigate the birth of the "new man". He did not hold his pro-war beliefs for long, however, and, anticipating the birth of Berlin Dada, would soon publish two essays on the relationship between artistic production and human subjectivity in Franz Pfemfert's anti-militaristic Die Aktion journal.
Hausmann's phonetic poetry was designed to be "read" and performed. Featuring letters and punctuation marks in an arrangement that forms a picture rather than a poem (or prose), his formations, that do not create words or sentences, but which still might be spoken or uttered, resemble rather small insects crawling in different directions, and in different formations, across the white page. The letters are not arbitrarily placed, however, and there is a vague meandering shape that leads our eyes ultimately down to the horizontal line of letters at the bottom of the page "o n o o o h h o o u u u m h n". The interplay between text and sound opens up the opportunity for a synesthetic experience if one sees in them an innate rhythm. The phonetic poem also prompts the more meditative viewer/reader to consider the nature of semantics and the arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning (or lack of).
This was one of Hausmann's first phonetic poems. Having been constructed on a typewriter, it was very much created to be performed like a musical piece, while the visual appearance of the letters themselves turned text into image. As historian Jeanne Willette writes "The vertical-horizontal arrangement [of text on page] was invaded and dis-arranged. Rather than organization, the Dada artists stirred up disorganization, which became their contrarian design plan". The writer and Curator Timothy O. Benson adds that Hausmann's phonetic poems "were proposing a new language combining perception and articulation in the subconscious; a form of processing and expressing the world that was no longer limited to just one sense. As one of the first in his experimentation with phonetics, the aspect of performance came to be thoroughly formative for a lot of ideas later on in his life that toyed with the fusion of sound and image". Indeed, one could site bbbb as an antecedent of mid-twentieth-century Concrete Art movement in the way it offered a precise compositional structure at the expense of any kind of commitment to represent lived (or mythological) worlds.
With this sculpture Hausmann brought together a collection of seemingly random manufactured objects and in so doing he was in keeping with the Dadaist agenda of subverting aesthetic and artistic conventions and expectations. Indeed, The Spirit of Our Time is a classic work of Dada assemblage; giving everyday objects a new context and thereby prompting the viewer to rethink their perception of them. Hausmann said of the piece: "The everyday man has nothing but the capacities which chance has glued to his skull, on the exterior, the brain was vacant. So I took a nice wooden head, polished it for a long time with sandpaper. 1crowned it with a collapsible cup. I fixed a wallet to the back of it. 1 took a small jewel box and attached it in place of the right ear. 1 added further a typographic cylinder inside and a pipe stem. Now on to the left side. And yes, 1had a mind to change materials. 1 fixed onto a wooden ruler a piece of bronze used to raise an old antiquated camera and I looked at it. [I] still needed this little white cardboard with the number 22 because, obviously, the spirit of our time has but a numerical signification. Thus it still stands today with its screws in the temples and a piece of a centimeter ruler on the forehead".
Coming in the immediate aftermath of World War One, this piece remains probably Hausmann's most iconic work. It represents the absurdity of "the war to end all wars" and the idea that human world has been overrun by machines, and that the "machines of war" have reduced the loss of so much human life to an empty list of statistics. The title of the work could be read thus as a direct reference to the influential German philosopher Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel, who discussed the concept of "spirit" "geist" (or "zeitgeist"), as that which encompassed the human spirit at a given time and place. In any case, Historian Timothy O. Benson suggested that Hausmann's take on the idea of "geist" was ironic and manifest in "the concrete materiality of the objects used in place of raw art materials". Hausmann himself seemed to confirm Benson's reading when stating, "Dada is the full absence of what is called Geist (Spirit). Why have Geist in a world that runs on mechanically?"