Thursday, February 9, 2017

mini-Kus! Of The Week # :11 S! #26: Dada

This is my final Kus! article for a while, as I've caught up to most of their work. For this final installment, I'll be reviewing issue #26 of the Kus! anthology, S!. Doing Dada-inspired work can be a tricky business, especially if one's understanding of Dada as an art movement is limited to surface qualities like absurdity, randomness and negation. Dada is aesthetic, political and personal. It examines the limits of rationality and the ways in which rationality is a slave to convention. It questions assumptions, smashes elitism and is frequently conceptual at a level where one questions the foundations of art. Dada is dead because specific Dada artists created particular works to address specific ideas at precise moments in time. Those moments of time are now gone, and now the work is inert. Dada will never die because there are always new moments to describe and new problems to address. The famous quote goes, "Like everything else, Dada is meaningless." Dada questions its own assumptions and existence the way it questions everything else.

So what are comics inspired by Dada like? They should be personal, they should be readily available to the public (a comic is an excellent format for Dada-inspired art), and they should explore and go beyond our everyday understanding of what comics, lines on paper and text can be. Two of the artists who really nailed it were Marc Bell and Dunja Jankovic. Working in their own styles, they captured different senses of what Dada explored, with the understanding that Dada's various manifestations across the globe had different emphases. Bell has always been an absurdist who has used cultural detritus to inform his jokes, as well as a "ready-made" style of repurposed imagery. In his strip here, he employs his tortured warping of language to create almost entirely nonsensical conversations between different creatures, with a nod of the hat to Dada artist Francis Picabia. There is nothing naive or random about this comic; it's an entirely calculated series of images and words that form a complex and connected set of visual and verbal jokes. Jankovic works in her story, eschewing language in favor of alternating psychedelic black & white patterns and brightly-colored & vaguely phallic shapes. Each is meant to stimulate different parts of the brain; the psychedelia is there to shut down thought and engage in the powerful visual stimulus. The shapes are meant to inspire interpretation, preferably a dirty one. It's part of the gag, and the way Jankovic whips one's sense from one mode of thinking to the next is precisely the kind of disorientation that Dada is meant to produce.

Roman Muradov, another artist already heavily influenced by the shapes of artists like Jean Arp, uses the old Dada cut-up technique to form text that drives the geometric shapes he uses for this slip of a story about body parts. Olaf Ladousse uses the formal qualities of bright blue and pink, reminding the reader of the artificiality of the colors in his construct, to create a gag about Dada. Brie Moreno does something similar with her Peter Max-inspired, brightly colored figures that discover a living version of Raoul Hausmann's famous sculpture The Spirit Of Our Time: a sort of (literal) dummy head representing banality. The characters in the story are literally bitten by this banality in their effort to try to care for it. Jaakko Pallasvuo uses a collage technique by taking an old issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman and repurposing it as an ode to Marcel Duchamp, especially the way his art was so conceptual. The story is a kind of dream about Duchamp (hence appropriating material about the Dream King), thinking about his prowess playing chess and the way he rushed through his ideas.

Andy Burkholder's absurd breakdown of language and image, of sign and signifier, is funnier still because of the way he also breaks down the idea of the iconic, cartoon image. It's a metacommentary where all artifice is not only laid bare, but the component parts are broken down to such a degree that language is made meaningless and image is also an artificial construct. Vincent Fritz explores shapes and the way the brain immediately applies utility to them, using three circles as a sort of perpetual-motion figure that's having items dropped to it. Sammy Stein comes at this idea from a different angle, as he begins with a tree, then we see it chopped down and sectioned; the sections are sent overseas to then get stacked and covered in concrete, and finally they are placed in a graveyard as a sculpture memorializing Dada. It's a good gag that nonetheless gets at the absurdity of certain processes and the arbitrary nature of monuments.

Daniel Lima brilliantly remixes the dialogue and situation of a George Herriman Krazy Kat page in his own style, with the now-human characters in sacks and toting around doors, creating odd geometries that still has a powerful impact because of the Herriman's deliberate mangling of language that is nonetheless recognizable. Both Liva Kandevica and Jose' Ja Ja Ja focus in mostly on the ways that language gets mangled; in the former case, language is seen as a constant form of aggression, and in the latter, the artist reinterprets famous Dada quotes around his own angular, cluttered imagery. Some of the other comics don't quite zero in on Dada's principles in a recognizable way; a couple (like Dylan Jones and Ernests Klavins) focus in on more of the random images or strange narrative ideas that some associate with something being absurd than specifically Dada. Still, this tightly-edited book is surprisingly challenging and well-considered with regard to its theme, and a number of pieces fit perfectly in the Dada tradition.

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