DADA DATA | Contemporary art practice in the era of post-truth politics

DADA DATA, Contemporary art practice in the era of post-truth politics was a session that took place at our 2019 Annual Conference in London. Session Convenors, SARAH HEGENBART and MARA-JOHANNA KÖLMEL summarise the research areas and discussions that were explored in this session.

‘Big Data excites everything. Big Data knows everything. Big Data spits everything out […] The ministry is overturned. By whom? By Big Data.’

If you replace the word ‘dada’ in the Dada manifesto written in 1921 with the word ‘Big data’ (as above), it seems that the Dadaists were far ahead of their time. Were the Dadaists already anticipating the powerful ‘Data-ists’ of our time, including Facebook or Google? The allegations against Cambridge Analytica are one of countless examples that show how data power and political discourse entwine. If populist politicians persuade the masses by tailored data strategies and simplified conceptions of reality, how can art highlight the neglected nuances of the so-called ‘post-truth’ era? Dada’s artistic response to the aggression, nationalism and rising fascism defining its time offers a fruitful backdrop from which to approach such a question. Our panel invited nine art practitioners and theoreticians to explore whether artistic strategies of Dada could illuminate the art of our time.

The aim pf the session was to foster critical vocabularies in confronting our contemporary moment, mediated by post-truth politics, information floods and ‘big data’.

REBECCA SMITH started the session with a historical survey of the Berlin Dada Group, whose parafictive acts even included the annunciation of the adapting Dada photomontage to denounce the hate-driven ideologies of our current moment. Artistic acts of slicing, cutting, hacking and remixing in order to re-configure toxic colonial rhetoric and neoliberal consumerist fantasy also featured centrally in JAIME TSAI’s presentation on the practices of Australian pixel pirates Joan Ross and Soda Jerk. While the photomontage used to function as a powerful political weapon, these counter-cultural tactics have also been (ab)used as counter-cultural marketing tool.

VID SIMONITI analysed the meme as invitation to sacrifice truth-directed enquiry. He identified current imagedriven strategies, oscillating between lies, bullshit and simulacra, that allow altright collages to circumvent facts and consequently thrive. CLARA BALAGUER examined precisely the opacity and nonlinearity of such developments through the perspective of online-trolling in the Philippines. In the online world of political trolling at the service of controversial president Rodrigo Duterte, the most successful protagonists are, paradoxically, women or alternatively gendered. When marginalised groups support a president known for misogyny and a self-proclaimed war on the poor, Dadaist Republic in Berlin. Their legacy was discussed in conjunction with the humorously political modes of intervention by artists Ubermorgen and activist group The Yes Man. Such iconographies of resistance, in which artistic practice is reconceptualised as a form of political tactics, also surfaced in LEONOR DE OLIVEIRA’s paper on Portugese artist Paula Rego or the The Dadaesque attitude of art collective IOCOSE. For the work Dadasourcing, specially conceived for the panel, the group had commissioned anonymous online workers via crowdsourcing to fulfil the following task: Go in a public place, hold signs with slogans taken from the DADA manifesto by Tristan Tzara and photograph yourself. The documentation – reminiscent of a modifiable protest – played on the emergence of a new kind of political rhetoric. Here, facts can be customised. The truth is made infinitely malleable.

JACK SOUTHERN told the multiple narratives of post-truth politics through pictures. Referencing the political scientist Victoria Hattam, he argued that political education has to happen visually. His call became evident following a presentation by LUCY BYFORD, a member of the art collective Montage Mädels. Drawing from Jürgen Habermas’s definition of the bourgeois public sphere, Lucy scrutinised how Kekistan and other visual memes and alt -right symbols are currently used to create new forms of belonging in onand offline communities. Such demagogic rhetoric was contrasted with the Montage Mädels own practice adapting Dada photomontage to denounce the hate-driven ideologies of our current moment.

Artistic acts of slicing, cutting, hacking and remixing in order to re-configure toxic colonial rhetoric and neoliberal consumerist fantasy also featured centrally in JAIME TSAI’s talk on the practices of Australian pixel pirates Joan Ross and Soda_Jerk. While the photomontage used to function as a powerful political weapon, these counter-cultural tactics have also been (ab)used as counter-cultural marketing tool.

VID SIMONITI analysed the meme as invitation to sacrifice truth-directed enquiry. He identified current image-driven strategies, oscillating between lies, bullshit and simulacra, that allow alt-right collages to circumvent facts and consequently thrive. CLARA BALAGUER examined precisely the opacity and nonlinearity of such developments through the perspective of online-trolling in the Philippines. In the online world of political trolling at the service of controversial president Rodrigo Duterte, the most successful protagonists are, paradoxically, women or alternatively gendered. When marginalised groups support a president known for misogyny and a self-proclaimed war on the poor, the idea of intersectional discourse is turned on its head.

While our speculative cross-reading of dada and data generated many productive openings to think about the challenges of our present moment through artistic practice, it also brought out quite clearly that it is no longer a liberal avant-garde that revises Dada strategies for contemporary times. If Dada strategies are now used even by the alt-right, how does genuine artistic resistance need to be re-thought in the era of post-truth?

Session Convenors
SARAH HEGENBART, Technische Universität München
MARA-JOHANNA KÖLMEL, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

Image credit: IOCOSE, Dadasourcing, in which anonymous online workers fulfilled the task: Go in a public place, hold signs with slogans taken from the DADA manifesto by Tristan Tzara and photograph yourself.