From Dada to Surrealism
The atrocities of the First World War left the people of Europe deeply scarred, marking itself as a site of unprecedented historical trauma. What value could art possibly have in the face of such violence, where over 18 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives?
In 1915, the Dadaists, who were originally based in Zurich, though began to flourish in Paris and New York, attempted to negotiate this problem; not through rationality and meaning, but rather through the irrational and nonsensical. Collaging found objects together with text, performance and poetry, the Dada method, perhaps best exemplified by Marcel Duchamp, formed a rebellion against the past zeitgeist of art, culture and values.
Around the same time, writer and artist, André Breton, along with a group of likeminded European artists who rejected rational political engagement, began to come together to form a similar model of counter-cultural artistic production. Hailing themselves as the 'Surrealists', they turned away from the external world, looking instead to the realm of dreams, unconscious thoughts and internal desires.