Hannah Höch’s relationship to DADA and Female identity

Analyse the work of Hannah Hoch and explore its relationship to Dada and female identity 

Hannah Hoch’s work brought the Berlin Dada movement to new heights, although some people believed she wasn’t the most well-known name to come out of Berlin at the time she had been noticed for her unique photomontages showing chaos and destruction to the visual culture of Berlin from a female’s interpretation and to critique and fight sexual identity and how females are interpreted in the mass media.
Born in 1889, Hoch arrived to the Dada scene the same time Expressionism and World War 1 where well under way and began her career studying applied arts working with various materials from glass to wallpaper designs. In 1915 she met Raoul Haussmann who brought her into the avant-garde where the leading community of Expressionist artists and writers were in Berlin such as Herwarth Walden and Der Strum, together they created a revolution in their attempt to use art as a way to disrupt the status quo, since then it was believed that Hoch had made a balance between two contradictory areas: the avant-garde and art field was more down the base of emotion and self expression; and the commercial area where she worked as a embroidery designer for the masses for the Publishing Company; Ullstein. Her early work for the commercial sector magazine and early abstract experiments with were naturally related, blurring the boundaries between what was classed as traditionally masculine and feminine forms of expression.
Hoch collected her materials often from mass media magazines to construct abstract pieces of art work from the everyday life and used this tool to respond to the call for explosive, new form of expression through her creation of Photomontages that the Dadaist were seeking. Through the work of Hoch, the female pleasure was linked to spiritual compulsions through metaphor. Photomontages allowed Hoch to question the way that society sees itself and critique the views of others. She used her collages such as Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany (1919-1920) and her photomontage titled Die Susse  (the Sweet One:1926) to

engage people into the political figures and contemporary politics which was exhibited in in the First International Dada Fair in 1920. Die Susse combines a Congo tribal mask with a European female eye and lips, a wooden style figure from the Bishongo tribe, along with a German woman’s legs and shoes creating a hybrid figure. In Hoch’s discussion of the female vision, Maud Lavin quotes Freud’s theories of “psychological fetishes” in which the object of the male gaze is the figure of denial such as Hoch’s woman in Die Susse (The Sweet 1926) is invalid through the objectification of a woman as other. With her legs of a dancer, a modest gesture of her hand, a slightly upward glance and a beautiful figure ready to be ‘consumed’. Lavin argued at this point that the female viewer generates a bipolar suggestion when it comes to Hoch’s images:  on one hand, through the direct knowledge of the socialized and culturally changed female roles, and, as well on the other hand the acknowledgment of the male exemplar that must be compete with a sense of power and dominance to be in control  (Maud Lavin, 1993, p72)

If you look back to early scrapbook pages, Hoch’s female figures are elated and dance around in natural or urban surroundings whereas in later pieces of work they are continuously objectified in a sharp and ironic manner to attempt to de-stabilize and undermine the gender construction and the globalised mass media stereotypical judgement. The female pleasure is also depicted in many of Hoch’s work as she was fond of the exploration of female eroticism and sensuality is relevant and uplifting as she describes the soft alternation of intimate suggestions in which the two genders blur together.  An example of this can be seen  though this period of the kitchen knife where the connotation of the multi-layered metaphor for the kitchen knife , Hannah Hoch’s work became more complex and contained hidden subtexts within her work as she started to raise question on how women are represented in the mass media and how that has an effect on the feminine identity, she wrote “Ich mochte die festen Grenzch verwischen, die wir Menschen selbstsicher, um alles uns erreichbare zu ziechen geneigt sin” which translated “I want to blur the firm boundaries that we human beings tend self-assuredly to draw around everything within our reach (Lavin 1993: 167). Hoch placed a female twist on her work by replacing scissors with what I believed to be a more metaphorical kitchen knife to represent the different levels on the feminine representation it held: ‘kitchen’ the realm of the woman and where the female prepares food and provides nourishment; however, ‘Knife’ can also represent an act of violence or murder which in this context could signify women being cut off from achieving their full potential.  Along with the Kitchen Knife, Hannah Hoch also uses images of modern women of the time to question the complex relationship between the sexes in Post-World War 1; Hoch wrote her wish to blur away the boundaries oscillated between gender positions especially the “New Woman” as Hoch’s work explored the use of ironic humour to mask anger because irony at once represents a sign and its contradictory which shows that Hoch’s work explores the conflicting representation of women in Weimar publication.  As the “New Woman” developed in the Weimar period her representation within the magazines became subtext

and her dreams and aspirations twinned with her anxieties and fears. She juxtaposed various sporty, active women surrounded by domestic appliances and modern technology, creating ironic statements on the unsure and deep conflicts that faced them ahead. However, not satisfied with the simple thrusting the idea, Hoch wanted to enforce the matter of sexual identity therefore her work became more compelling and complex which was more prominent in the Dadaist turbulent era between the world wars. With a gradual dispersal of Dada out of Berlin, Hoch remained and ventured through an extremely experimental period in her art work. It is at this point why some artists, such as Hans Richler didn’t feel that Hoch belonged in the Dada movement and dubbed her “the good girl” to be pushed to the margins of the movements as she was independent in her own practise and I believed she refused to stand down against her practise rather than fleeing to the states to start a new Dada – therefore she started to create collages from embroidery patterns and coloured paper and in the late 1920’s – early 1930’s Hoch’s work became enriched as he personal life overlapped her poetic and political desire; she became involved in a lesbian relationship with the Dutch Poet Til Brugman, to who she lived in the Netherlands with for a short period of time. These years proved to helpful to Hock as it fuelled her Photomontage work and allow for her to further into her wonderment and question further the construction of the sexual identity and changing of nature through relationships and love.
Amongst the most challenging and disturbing photomontages Hoch created are ones under the name “From an Ethnographic Museum” during 1925-1930, showing photographs of female body parts attached to sculptures, Hoch combined the unusual with familiar and the self with the other in a powerful prosecution of the fetishisation of the human body within a consumer culture.
For Example, In the 1930’s Indian Dancer, Hoch showed a publicity still of Marie Falconetti (actress) as Joan of Arc, a wooden dance mask from Cameroon covers Folconetti’s eye and mouth, freezing the sulk of the martyr into a pin up girls seductive glance. Joan’s crown is transformed into cutouts

of domestic silverware from straw, changing her from martyrdom into a woman of domestic enslavement.
It is obvious that Hoch was highly visionary and setting the path sixty years prior for the likes of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Recent critiques of the representation of women in the mass media as nothing more than consumption for the male gaze has provided sufficient substance for artists.
By the end of the 1920’s, Hoch reaped the benefits and beyond with the increasing popularity of photomontages, as she was no longer only associated with Dada, her photomontages became increasingly important vehicle for promotion, advertisement and design which benefited from a gain in interest in the use of photographic montaged images. For the first time in her career, she was publicly recognised for her provocative photomontages, which were involved in several worldwide exhibitions including the “Film and Photo s” show which was held in 1929 and is still the most all-inclusive exhibition to this date.
Although all this came to a halt when Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933. Hoch and many of the avant-gardes were banned from exhibiting their work in public areas which resulted in many of Hannnah Hoch’s friend leaving Germany. Those who stayed behind like Hoch became isolated and daunted by the Nazi’s. During this time, Hoch took the opportunity to buy a house in the suburbs of Berlin during her brief marriage to a German Businessman to establish her boundaries with her personal life and cultural terrorism she was receiving from the Nazi’s between 1938 and 1944. Due to this you see a change in Hoch’s work as you begin to see her growing concern for her own safety under the Nazi government and also anticipated her withdrawal into a world of nature and fantasy which symbolized her lush gardens in the suburbs and her photomontages of surreal and strange landscapes.
With the end of the war most artists like Hoch were apprehensive to reconstruct the form of

community and culture they once had before that had been lost under the Nazi dictatorship, this meant Hoch stayed safe and steered away from her dominant opinion of the sexual identity and in my opinion her work became a bit tame and weren’t as effective or strong as her earlier work.  After the war Berlin became divided into four zones and became the location of intense cold wars to which art had become the tool in the ideological split between the east and west with the capitalists zones and the Social Realism representing with the ideal of a workers in the soviet sector and the abstract artist standing up for freedom of expression to which Hannah Hoch fell into.
However, after years of solitude and silence, modern art allowed her to restate her own artistic voice and with her work from the late 1940’s – their suggestions of natural wonders and complex abstract interactions of colour, textures and forms which reflect Hoch’s enduring interest in natural science, formal construction and technology.
By the mid -1950’s the photomontages such as the Burst Unity benefited from the outburst of colour photographs and various experimental colour techniques in popular magazines, as well as the influences of American Abstract Expressionism avidly promoted in the international press which shifted Hoch’s focus from the Dada based political feminine role to a more experimental and expressive form of the Abstract Expressionist movement. However, with the renewal of interest in Berlin Dada and her inclusion in major Dada showings and reappearing in the late 1950’s- early 1960’s, Hoch returned to a subject she had seemed to abandon since the war, the media representation of women. It seemed after her several year break from the topic Hoch had seemed to regained her strength to find her voice after being clamped down by the Nazi regime and return to a topic she felt strongly about. Spurred on by the anti-high art movements such as the Flulux, neo – Dada and the  women’s movements of the 1960’s, Hannah Hoch once again found herself as part of an international art group that where dedicated their life’s work to critiquing and producing ironic

masterpieces with once again montages and collages being to the fore of the movement. A lot of Hannah Hoch’s photomontages from this period, such as the Homage of Riza Abasi from 1963 and the Strange Beauty || from 1966 was purposely recollected from her earlier word from the 1920’s to the 1930’s.

Strange Beauty || (1966) 1

In Homage to Riza Abasi, Hoch contrasts hyper sexualized figure of a belly dancer with a lookalike Audrey Hepburn with a bizarre reference to a Persian miniaturist named Riza. Both the fashion icon and the female figure are both characterized in this ‘homaged ‘ ironic modern femininity. By the 1960’s Hoch had gained such a level of experience from working a lifetime with the medias representation of women that she could work on her subject from a distance, over several years of representing women Hoch has learnt how to manipulate and distract the male gaze to focus on exactly what she wants the viewer to be engaged in. By Producing over five turbulent and unsettled decades, Hannah Hoch’s photomontages demonstrate the remarkable ability for one individual to create and  sculpt a sense of identity and critique out of the turmoil of modern consumer culture along with the piercing satirical references and jarring formal clashes  that became of a result of

Hannah Hochs brilliant reconfiguration becoming part of her legacy left behind to us as we continue on to withstand the sensory overload of images and experiences of our own highly-technological media induced culture.

All work is protected from infringement by law: Copyright © 2014 Mica Bohannon.

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