Arp by C. Giedion-W elcker, Zurich. 
Arp was born in the Alsatian city 
of Strassburg in 1887. Situated at 
the foot of the Vosges Mountains 
and the Black Forest, this beautiful 
mediaeval city has for centuries been 
subject to a curious interplay of 
French and Alemannic elements. 
This is clearly reflected in both lan 
guage and political development. 
Arp belonged to the harried and 
menaced generation that had been 
forced to bear the miseries that re 
sulted from the neurosis for power 
and technical ingenuity being di 
vorced from imagination. There 
were a few — the young Arp among 
them — who boldly stood up against 
everything that was spiritually bank 
rupt and hypocritical. They kidded 
and parodied the complexity of daily 
existence and, with fanatical energy, 
endeavored — with success — to 
stimulate both a new and more ele 
mentary mode of living and creative 
expression through art. They re 
nounced the false educational 
clichés that asserted universal prog 
ress. Culture was to be found among 
the primitives, among the “barba 
rous” in the eyes of an over-organized 
and mechanical civilization. They 
were convinced that those elemen 
tary forces that are the fruit of 
“thought sprung from fantasy,” as 
Vico formulated it in the 18th cen 
tury, could liberate mankind and 
art from the sterility of mere vir 
tuosity, from, among so much else, 
the excrescence of man’s intellectual 
and materialistic desire to be the 
all-important nucleus of the uni 
verse. The time had come for the 
constructive forces of the imagina 
tion to take up arms against the rule 
of common sense. Vico’s struggle 
with the world of Descartes was con 
tinued with increasing vehemence. 
What else were the first Dadaists 
up against, if it was not the festering 
rational world, its spurious moral 
standards and its bloated beauty 
cult founded on outworn classical 
recipes? “We must destroy in order 
that the lousy materialists may in 
the ruins recognize what is essential. 
. . . Dada wanted to destroy the 
rationalist swindle for man, and to 
incorporate him again humbly in 
nature. Dada wanted to change the 
perceptible world of man today into 
a pious, senseless world without 
reason.” 1 
Behind the seemingly nihilistic 
and destructive Dada actions lay a 
firm belief in those concealed prop 
erties without which there can be no 
organic beauty, no human grace. It 
was high time indeed that Hugo 
Ball’s vox humana made itself heard 
to remonstrate against the stifling 
process of mechanization. From 
1916-18 an inspired medley of paint 
ers, poets, dancers and diseuses gath 
ered in Zurich to form the almost 
legendary Cabaret Voltaire/ anx 
iously seeking for the “buried face of 
the time, its personality and origin, 
the cause of its affliction and its 
resuscitation.” z Somewhere in his 
1. From Arp’s diary, Transition, 1932. 
2. Arp, Tristan Tzara, Richard Hiilsenbeck, 
Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings and Marcel Janco. 
3. Written by Hugo Ball, who had come to
	        

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