Salon Voltaire at Senate House | 21 October 2016

Our Salon will offer an evening of readings and performances accompanied with food and wine. Drawing upon the talents and scholarly interests of the Institutes of the School of Advanced Study and Senate House Library, the event will evoke the spirit of the Cabaret Voltaire, which in 1916 which launched the Dadaist movement in Zurich.

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Designed by Isobel Williams. Used with permission and gratitude.

Dada sought to create art of the ‘here and now’, at a time when artists were fleeing their home countries in the shadow of the Great War: Hugo Ball (Germany), Richard Huelsenbeck (Germany), Tristan Tzara (Romania), Marcel Janco (Romania) and Hans Arp (France). Just as those artists came together in Switzerland, our Salon will evoke that sprit using languages across the European continent showcasing its common diversity. One of the sources of inspiration for the Salon was Living Literature: The Great Gatsby, an event designed by Professor Sarah Churchwell (Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study) to recreate the spirit of Fitzgerald’s 1924 New York. Although the Salon Voltaire evokes the Cabaret Voltaire, it is not a replica, more an echo, through which we hope to produce an immersive experience for the spectators. From this ahistorical perspective, the power of Dada is explored unusually in Latin as well as English slang. It also looks to the present future using technology like Instagram and Facebook streaming for some of the artistic installations.

The Dadaists built upon the first avant-garde movement of the Italian Futurists founded by F. T. Marinetti in 1909, which sought to break down the barriers between art and modern life.

Some of the Futurists’ defining features include the ability to represent new forms of technology while attempting to reproduce movement through simultaneity and the sounds of industrial Milan and Turin. The art of the Dadaists would move towards abstract art and readymades, demonstrating that anything could be art. Musical performances by Hannah Thompson, our Leverhulme Sound Artist-in-Residence, who has been recording the sounds of the Senate House, and by the Vocal Constructivists ensemble group will bring this very Dadaist notion to life.

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Salon Voltaire, Courtesy of @NaomiPaxton

In changing the name from Cabaret to Salon Voltaire, I wanted to point back to that period of time, by combining it with another European development, that of the salon, a place where one could have exchanges of philosophical ideas, debates and talks. If there is any characteristic motif to emerge from the first historical avant-garde movements, it is that art responds to contemporary life. With recent events in this country, I wanted to curate an event which will hopefully show that the development of culture is not limited by physical borders nor can it be furthered in isolation.

As a result, the Salon will feature installations and artwork inspired by the Dadaists and also more contemporary responses, including Brexit Bunny by British artist Isobel Williams, an Eye Wall (after Man Ray’s Object to be Destroyed) which challenges our perception of the readymade with spectator participation built around William’s original drawing and BE-cAuse (2015) an illuminated installation inspired by the work of French artist and photographer Charles Pétillion’s cumulus cloud Heartbeat and its counterpart, blUE.

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Installation-in-progress of BE-cAuse (2015)

At its most basic level, language functions as a bridge, a communicative act, that is used in order to be understood. Whether it is verbal, non-verbal, gestural, musical, non-lingual, we need and use language to connect with those around us. As the theme of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival is ‘Inspired by language’, I hope you’ll come and join myself, the speakers and performers to experience Dada and the power of Art and Language in the Senate House Salon Voltaire. (The full programme is listed below.)

Salon Voltaire is presented at Senate House on Friday October 21st at 6pm. Tickets are £6 but QUOTE VOLTAIRE for a 50% early bird discount. Each ticket comes with a complimentary glass of wine. Book here.

Colin J.P. Homiski (Curator, Salon Voltaire)

With contributions from:

Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute)

Sarah Churchwell (Institute of English Studies)

Catherine Davies (Institute of Modern Languages Research)

Sadaf Fahim (Institute of English Studies)

Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute)

Dominic Glynn (Institute of Modern Languages Research)

Claire Launchbury (Institute of Historical Research/IMLR)

Katia Pizzi (Institute of Modern Languages Research)

Hannah Thompson (Leverhulme Sound Artist in Residence)

Gregory Toth (Senate House Library)

Godela Weiss-Sussex (Institute of Modern Languages Research)

Isobel Williams

Vocal Constructivists

This post first appeared on the 2016 Bloomsbury Festival Festival Stories.

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