Optophonetics

This fisticuffish visage belongs to Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971), an Austrian artist and writer, and a key figure in Berlin’s Club Dada. (This 1919 portrait is by Hannah Höch, who was his lover from 1915-22.)

He invented photomontage—at the same time, supposedly, as his co-conspirator dadaistes George Grosz, John Heartfield and Johannes Baader. In the spring of 1918, when Hausmann and Höch holidayed on the Baltic Sea, the guest room in which they were staying had a generic portrait of soldiers onto which the patron had glued photographic portrait heads of his son five times; in 1958, he recalled,

It was like a thunderbolt: one could—I saw it instantaneously—make pictures, assembled entirely from cut-up photographs. Back in Berlin that September, I began to realize this new vision, and I made use of photographs from the press and the cinema. (Leah Dickerman and Brigid Doherty (eds), Dada . . . [Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2006] 90)

“ABCD” (c.1920; see Dietmar Elger and Uta Grosenic, Dadaism [Taschen, 2004] 40).

He developed typographical experiments into collages into what he called “phonemes,” or more exactly, the practice of opto-phonetics, that is, “the science of visible speech sounds,” probably the model for Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” (1922-32).

“kp’erioum” (1919)

Such constructions embodied the Dadasophy he created for Berlin Dada that embraced “destruction as an act of creation,” a schizo-aleatory process (Dada . . .); at the same time, when read aloud, they disconnected phonetics from semantics and became “exercises in strange forms of vocalisation and sound production” (Cornelius Brock, “Sound Work and Visionary Prosthetics: Artistic Experiments in Raoul Hausmann,” Papers of Surrealism 4 [Winter 2005]: 16).

But, more than that, they were prosthetic—”an outperformance of the human body” that was “a mechanical intensification of our natural faculties”:

Typography is an intermediate domain between art and technology, between seeing and understanding, and is one of the most obvious means for the permanent psycho-physiological auto-instruction of human beings. (“Biodynamische Naturanschauung,” in Eva Zürchern (ed.), Scharfrichter der Bürgerlichen Seele: Raoul Hausmann in Berlin 1900-1933 [Ostfildern, 1998] 171)

(Note that aside from his collages, his most well-known work was assemblages like “Mechanical Head.”)

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  1. Pingback: 2010 in Review [sic] « Te Ipu Pakore

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