Cutting the mustard

08 Apr

hock wc 1

With its recent Hannah Hock retrospective London’s Whitechapel Gallery has helped illuminate a star of the art world whose light has been somewhat shrouded by the vale of male dominated Dadaism for far too long. Hock was there at the beginning, exhibiting what would become her best-known work Cut With the Knife Dada Through the Last Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany at the inaugural International Dada Fair in Berlin 1920 alongside contemporaries John Heartfield, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia and George Grosz. The piece illustrated the cultural politics of the time with the opposing forces of anti Dadaism, the government and societies establishment, one side and the artists gathered on the other with Raoul Hausmann, a major Dada player, being excreted by a mechanised Karl Marx in the midst of all the turmoil. Sadly this major work was not included amongst the 100 or so works which ranged from early embroidery designs from her period in the fashion industry though other classics such as High Finance from 1923, a comment on the relationship between the banking industry and the army during the financial crisis across Europe at the time, and From an Ethnographic Museum, combining female torsos and tribal masks interrogating the idea of gender and racial stereotypes, and completing her final years, (she died in 1978) still with scissors and glue in hand continuing to make socio political narratives through photomontage.

hock pageHock was not universally a favoured member of the group, fellow collagist Heartfield and painter Grosz openly disparaged her work, the fact that she still took part in the 1920 fairs was due to Hausmanns (with whom she was having an affair) intervention, Hock would not exhibit again for many years and by 1930 had drifted away from the other Dadaists seemingly preferring the company of a wider circle of European arts community collaboration with Maholy Nage and Kurt Switters from whom she received appreciation of her work on equal footing with no regard to the usual gender discriminations of the time. She continued the make photomontage and college and to compile her Albums which contained magazine cuttings most likely as reference material both from an aesthetic and narrative point of view reviewing popular European cultural and social activities during the 1930s. Having lived in Holland for a period before the rise of the Nazi Party is was probably not the best idea to move back to Germany in the early 1930s; Hock was immediately identified as a “Cultural Bolshevik” by the regime, instead of fleeing to exile as many did she decided to hide in the open and bought a house on the fringe of Berlin where she remained working and storing the work of fellow artists until the storm had past. Hock absorbed the new colour made available through modern print techniques resulting in a les grotesque more decorative aesthetic to her work, in many ways this late work with its brash colour and complex narrative somehow seemed less serious at first; however the1967 piece Industrial Landscape detailing a crowded Swiss swimming pool sees Hock’s scalpel at its most visceral rendering source material into ribbons of industrial exhaust. She also returned to the symbols of her early days re-examining feminist issues and the female form in work such as Little Sun 1969. While Hock was not the only artist from the early part of the 20th century engaged in collage and photomontage she was absolutely a pioneer of this innovative method, on the evidence of this show she certainly never gave up her ideology as many of the other Dadaists did and see remained true to her medium evolving new ideas to from her source materials, Hock’s influence lives on in the work of John Stezaker whose grotesque collages and whimsical narratives are both evocative and engaging.

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