Flight into the People
by Adrian Notz
Recently we were in Hong Kong. Cabaret Voltaire and Dada were invited by POLYTROPOS as a giveaway gift for the people of Hong Kong. We wanted «to go into the people» - with Dada and POLYTROPOS
Hugo Ball, the founder of Cabaret Voltaire, had asked himself 100 years ago what the “Russian «go into the people»” might mean. He gave three possible answers. A totalitarian one: “To dis- cover the people, that is a class of human beings that had been neglected and despised, like a new part of the world.”
A more social and equal one, one of real interest: “to give the people education, and get from them a new and more solid education.” And a last maybe more magic and mythic one: “The event that is defined in the credo with the words ”descend into hell”.”
The idea of POLYTROPOS refers to Homer’s epic Odysseus, the cunning and adventurous protagonist of mobility, who is attributed “polytropos” by Homer. Polytropos, literally means “much-travelled” and “much-wandered”, but has also the metaphorical meanings “the man of twists and turns”, “turning many ways”.
Referring to Odysseus we decided not to be less ad- venturous and mobile by bringing Dada to the people and also challenged this mythic sphere. We planned to go to as many different places as possible in Hong Kong and to bring Dada as a Mobile Museum in the shape of an inflatable tent to these places. There we could not ex- pect art lovers, but much more fishermen, market sellers, Filipino housemaids, cows, fortune tellers, beach boys, soldiers and security officers. To these „people“ all across Hong Kong up to the border to China we wanted to bring Dada.
It was an honest intention like Ball described in his second answer. We brought Dada as a give-away gift to the people and wanted to learn from them, get a new and more solid education. At places where no people were, but only cows, trees, grass or oyster shells, we did not give up.
There we listened to the environment, attentively observed the logic of these districts, the specificities and physiognomic features of these places that were turning in many ways like our points of view. We had a group of scouts that would use the Dada tent as their own landmark and as their research base. From here they swarmed out to research the surrounding area, and get education from the people and the places. Their mission was to map the districts with a strictly naïve mindset.
By bringing Dada to the people - be it as a whole presentation video or just as a tent with the word Dada printed on it - we tested how good Dada as a gift works in places where nobody knows or cares about it. Sometimes we were a real Mobile Museum, sometimes we were a picnic tent, or even just a picnic blanket, other times we were a commercial stand trying to sell Dada and sometimes we were just a weird object in a totally remote area, symbolically standing as a last landmark of civilization.
We appropriated places with the Dada tent and exposed us to the milieus in which we planted our landmark. We did not only have to defend our landmark but we also had the mission to scout and map the surrounding areas with aesthetic urbanistic ideas that might not really apply to a high density place like central Hong Kong or to a deserted oyster field.
These exploratory ideas of scouting, mapping and urban research are strategies that had been developed in the West. And being in Hong Kong it wasn’t so clear if these strategies were the right ones to use in this context.
Also: In the tent itself we presented Dada by having a starry heaven with 165 Dadaist names written in the roof of the tent and showing all the places, where Dada was hundred years ago. Of course this is a Western European point of view. On the one hand there was a map showing places like Zurich, Paris, Berlin, Hannover, Barcelona or New York and only two Asian cities: Kolkata and Tokyo. And on the other hand there was a list of names with artists, authors and subjects. This might be said to be following the tradition of Western Enlightenment and with that the proclamation of the subject, the idea of Modernity. But even if Dada was against Modernity it still remains a product of a Eurocentric world.
Noticing that we had a Western mindset we were fighting against discovering the people and places, as a class of human beings and as exotic that had been neglected and despised, like a new, undiscovered part of the world. We were afraid of being colonial.
With this obsessed tour around Hong Kong we tried to get Hong Kong on the Dada map as well. We were afraid of a bold naïve approach like the Dadaists had a hundred years ago, when they got interested in so-called primitive art and started studying African sculptures and voodoo instruments. Like the Dadaists we were driven by a longing for an alternative to the ideas of Enlightenment, self-centered subjects and a search for truth.
We secretly longed to find a new way of seeing, experiencing and understanding the world. We were longing to find a culture that would be totally different to the one we live in. But we could not erase our cultural imprints and suddenly became neutral human beings. We could not throw our cultural heritage over board and stand there as empty pages waiting to be inscribed with a new cultural identity. We were not only afraid of going into the people and discover them as a class of neglected and despised human beings, we were also afraid of our longing for a flight out of our sophisticated world.
We were afraid of losing ourselves. But as Ball says in his second answer, we knew that we could only get something; gain a new way of seeing, if we would give away something in exchange.
We gave away Dada and we boldly followed our adventurous guide Odysseus, POLYTROPOS by visiting our very own underworlds.
We didn’t want to descend to hell. But we did. A bit.