As the war rages across Europe, Switzerland remains an oasis of tranquility. The mountainous country is surrounded by belligerent nations but has managed to escape the destructive madness. Switzerland has become a haven for those seeking to escape the war, particularly artists, pacifists and people of eccentric political opinions who want to avoid conscription into the armies of their homelands.
Zurich is the base for many of these exiles. Here one finds the Russian socialist Vladimir Lenin, the Irish writer James Joyce, the Franco-Romanian artist and essayist Tristan Tzara and the German author and poet Hugo Ball, amongst many others. Not all of these figures would have known or approved of each other, but Tzara and Ball are part of the same circle. They are habitués of the Cabaret Voltaire nightclub, a night club for artistic, also the base of the Franco-German painter and poet Hans/Jean Arp and the Swiss artist and dancer Sophie Taeuber.
The Cabaret Voltaire is the scene of bizarre performances by the various writers and artists who frequent it. Their experimental work is like nothing previously seen, an avant-garde reaction to the madness engulfing Europe. Their movement begins to acquire a name: Dada. The word is deliberately meaningless, yet it is also the first word said by infants learning to speak.
Hugo Ball has already started editing the Dada journal. Tonight in the Cabaret Voltaire he delivers the Dada Manifesto. Or maybe he delivered it somewhere else two weeks ago. Dada is hard to pin down. The manifesto is largely meaningless, which may be the point, but in a continent destroying itself no one can accuse the artists of being mad fools.
Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire (Wikipedia_
Note: I am not sure where the Cabaret Voltaire videos originally come from but as there was no sound cinema in 1916 they must be reconstructions after the fact.