Hugo Ball

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"Art for us is an occasion for social criticism, and for a real understanding of the age we lived in"

Hugo Ball and his wife Emmy Hemmings arrived in Zurich shortly after the outbreak of war in early 1915. However, it was not long before he became the chief organiser of the Cabaret Voltaire. This club attracted many of the avant-garde artist/performers which were beginning to arrive in Zurich. Any concise account of Dada must be aware of the state of mental tension in which it grew up. In the following extract taken from Ball's diaries which he titled "Flight from time" he gives valuable insight into his reasons for establishing the Cabaret Voltaire.
"I was sure that there must be a few young people in Switzerland who like me were interested not only in enjoying their independence but giving proof of it.
Cabaret Votaire, which has as it's sole purpose to draw attention, across the barriers of war and nationalism, to the few independent spirits who live for other ideals"
Directed, or maybe plagued by his remorse, at the events ensnaring Europe at that time Ball became the human catalyst who united all the elements which finally produced Dada.

Ball was deeply religious and had a great belief in life however, he had become a skeptic, having seen how the world had decended into the absurd meaningless which he believed the war to be. It has been noted by his contempories that Ball was in search of a meaning which he could juxtapose against the tragedies which were going on around him. He had been a producer before the war at the Munich Kammerspiele and his ideas had been greatly influenced by Wassily Kandinsky, and through his influence Ball adopted the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art).
"In 1914, when I was thinking over the plan for a new theatre, I was convinced of this: a theatre which experiments beyond the realm of day to day preoccupations. Europe paints, composes and writes verse in a new way. A fusion, not merely of all art, but of all regenerative ideas. The background of colours, words and sounds must be brought out from the subconcious and given life, so that it engulfs everyday life and all it's misery."

Ball's belief was that the world reflects art and being witness to world events in 1915 his concern, as was that of Kandinsky was to bring about the rebirth of society through the medium of all artistic trends and potentialities. This was a common motivation of most of the dada collaborators at this time.
Ball's major contribution of work to the movement was the phonetic poem. Ball believed that poetry should follow the same route as art; where the human figure had progressively disappeared because it represented something which had become ugly and unworn. What Ball was suggesting was that poetry should disregard language and start a fresh unblemished. Richter writes of the first night when Ball performed these poems  "In the overwhelming mass of unknown and startling experiences, this innovation had failed to register properly"

Ball's phonetic poetry must surely be considered one of the most important contributions.However, with the emergence of the Romanian Tristan Tzara Balls grip on the reigns of the movement began to lessen. Ball and Tzara were opposites and the new directions in which the movement was progressing ( to more anarchistic anti-art quaters) convinced Ball it was time to depart.
Ball went to Berne, to work as a journalist on the Freie Zeitung of Dr Rosemeir. He then retired to Ticino to live a
religious existance in voluntary poverty.

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