Dada’s women in Switzerland

An introduction
Dr. Sonia Allori – Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

Dr. Sonia Allori – Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

Hello! This is Sonia Allori. I’m a musician and composer and move about the planet in a wheelchair which is sometimes frustrating and usually eventful (especially given my knack for finding pot-holes)! The project I have been developing with the support of Flip Artists concerns the creation of an opera with subject matter drawn from the female members of the early 20th Century Dada artistic movement.

Dr Ruth Hemus – Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

Dr Ruth Hemus – Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

My source of inspiration is the book “Dada’s Women” (YUP, 2009) by Dr. Ruth Hemus, which gives voice to previously unrecognised female Dada artists. I first encountered Ruth in the introductory meeting for our postgraduate Masters Degrees at Edinburgh University.

I was wearing a shocking pink item of knitwear and she maintains this as the reason for being drawn to sit next to me in the great lecture hall. I think this says a lot about us, our enduring friendship and our creative partnership!

In December 2014 I received a very exciting email from Ruth inviting me to attend some cultural events on Dada’s Women in Zurich, Switzerland. This seemed like an excellent (if unexpected) beginning to our project and we quickly made plans for the trip in January 2015.

Zurich, January 17th 2015

Zurich, January 17th 2015

Left is the renovated “Cabaret Voltaire” where Dada had its beginnings in Zurich in 1916. After a rather interesting journey navigating the wheelchair through cobbled streets and with my teeth more or less intact we found ourselves here on the evening of 17th January. I partook of a peculiar gin with ground black pepper … our grinning photos above are taken within the bar area. I sat back and imagined the same room almost 100 years before … Artists had been drawn to neutral Switzerland during and after WW1 and Dada itself arose as a reaction to the war. Dada is a wide-ranging movement encompassing many art forms and prior to Ruth’s book in 2009 most notice had been given to the male artists.

Theater Tuchlaube – Aarau.

Theater Tuchlaube – Aarau.

Now for the culture: At Theater Tuchlaube we had the opportunity to watch a new interpretation of Céline Arnauld’s (1885 – 1952) poetry as dramatic performance art.

Still of the performance setting: Theater Tuchlaube – Aarau.

Still of the performance setting: Theater Tuchlaube – Aarau.

This was devised for 1 actor and 1 actor/musician. This was my first experience of actual Dada art performed in the present day and it was genuinely moving despite my lack of German. I was able to follow the gesture and symbolism of the language …… including something about trains …!

Forum Schlossplatz – Aarau.

Forum Schlossplatz – Aarau.

“Die Dada La Dada She Dada” (curators – Nadine Schneider and Ina Boesch) at Forum Schlossplatz is an exhibition of different materials by some of the Dada women artists. It was fascinating to see these items with my own (four!) eyes because it brought me closer to the artists somehow.

Forum Schlossplatz – Aarau.

I am unable to reproduce images of the art works here due to copyright but the featured artists included: Sophie Taeuber-Arp (Zurich Dada), Hannah Höch (Berlin Dada), Céline Arnauld (Paris Dada), Angelika Hoerle (Cologne Dada) and The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (New York Dada).

The exhibition also showed the work of 5 contemporary Swiss women artists who each created a video installation in response/dialogue with one of the 5 Dada’s women.

Forum Schlossplatz – Aarau.

I also enjoyed the film installation by one of the curators Ina Boesch, whose careful and in-depth research into the Dada women artists/performers/muses is documented as an affecting video photo-montage.

Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

Upon returning to snowy Scotland from equally snowy Switzerland, my head was filled with possibility as well as a hearty dose of realism. (This is actually a positive thing!). I am now based in the Highlands of Scotland and Ruth in Windsor and this research trip gave us the opportunity not only to explore and experience real Dada materials but also afforded us time to begin the conversation and the story of our journey in creating this new artistic response to Dada’s Women.

Before the trip to Zurich I had it in my mind to create a large-scale opera but this has now changed drastically as I have come to realise that something more intense and intimate is needed for this new work. It is partly seeing the performance poetry brought to life and also examining the artistic materials closely and learning more about the Dada artists themselves that has caused me to alter my vision and emotional connection. I was first drawn to Ruth’s book because I myself was literally silenced for several years after losing my speech following neurological trauma. The book tells the story of these women’s art, finally painting detail on a previously sketchy canvas. They have a new voice and output brought into focus for the centenary next year in 2016. I too am no longer silent …

Sonia Allori

This is a slightly amended version of a blog first published on the Flip Artists website 6th February 2015

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