In 1889, on November 1 in Gotha, Germany Anna Therese Johanne Hoch, who later would be known as Hannah Hoch was born. Being the eldest of five children, the girl was brought up in a comfortable and quiet environment of the small town. Her parents, a supervisor in an insurance company and an amateur painter sent her to Girl’s High school. However, at the age of 15 Hannah had to quit studying for the long six years to take care of her newborn sister. Only in 1912 she continued her education with Harold Bengen in School of Applied Arts, mastering glass design. As the World War I broke up Hannah returned to the native town to work in the Red Cross.
The first years after war the young woman recommenced her studying, getting to know graphic arts. 1915 was highlighted by an acquaintance with an Austrian artist Raoul Hausmann, which grew into the long-lasting romantic relationship and involvement in Berlin Dada movement. For ten years till 1926 Hoch worked in Berlin’s major publisher of newspapers and magazines. Her task was to design embroidering, knitting and crocheting patterns for the booklets.
Being on vacation with her beloved in 1918, Hannah discovered ‘the principle of photomontage in cut-and-paste images that soldiers sent to their families’ (National gallery of Art). This find affected greatly on her artistic production, and she created mass-media photographs comprising the elements of photomontage and handwork patterns, thus combining traditional and modern culture. Her prior preoccupation was to represent the ‘new woman’ of the Weimar Republic with new social role and given freedoms.
Hoch was the only woman in Berlin Dada, who took part in all kinds of events and exhibitions showcasing her socially critical works of art. Till 1931 she participated in exhibitions but with the rise of National Social regime was forbidden to present her creative work. Till her last breath in 1978 Hannah Hoch lived and worked in the outskirts of Berlin-Heiligensee.
The piece of art which is going to be analyzed in this research is ‘The beautiful girl’ designed in 1919–1920. It combines the elements of technology and females. In the middle of the picture one can clearly see a woman dressed in a modern bathing suit with a light bulb on her head which probably serves as a sun umbrella. In the background a large advertisement with a woman’s hair-do on top is presented. Maud Lavin describes strange human as ‘she is part human, part machine, part commodity’ (Lavin). The woman is surrounded by the images of industrialization as tires, gears, signals and BMW logos. A woman’s profile with the cat eyes, untrusting and skeptical, in the upper right corner is eye-catching as well. This unusually large eye symbolizes DADA movement — a monocle, which is present in almost every Hoch’s work. The colour scheme does not offer rich palette of tints, including mostly black, white, orange and red pieces. The photo is surrounded by the BMW circles which add the spots of blue.
An apt description of the piece is given in the book ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife’ and states that it is ‘a portrait of a modern woman defined by signs of femininity, technology, media and advertising’ (Lavin). In other words Hannah Hoch focused on the woman of the new age, free and keeping up with the fast-moving world. The artist promoted feministic ideas and from her point of view urbanization and modern technologies were meant to give hope to woman to gain equality of genders. With this photomontage she commented on how the woman was expected to combine the role of a wife and mother with the role of a worker in the industrialized world. The light bulb instead of a face shows that women were perceived as unthinking machines which do not question their position and can be turned on or off at any time at man’s will. But at the same time they were to remain attractive to satisfy men’s needs. The watch is viewed as the representation of how quickly women are to adapt to the changes.
In a nutshell, Hoch concentrated on two opposite visions of the modern woman: the one from the television screens — smoking, working, wearing sexy clothes, voting and the real one who remained being a housewife.
The beautiful girl’ is an example of the art within the DADA movement. An artistic and literal current began in 1916 as the reaction to World War I and spread throughout Northern America and Europe. Every single convention was challenged and bourgeois society was scandalized. The Dadaists stated that over-valuing conformity, classism and nationalism among modern cultures led to horrors of the World War I. In other words, they rejected logic and reason and turned to irrationality, chaos and nonsense. The first DADA international Fair was organized in Berlin in 1920 exposing a shocking discontentment with military and German nationalism (Dada. A five minute history).
Hannah Hoch was introduced to the world of DADA by Raoul Hausman who together with Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian and Hans Richter was one of the influential artists in the movement. Hoch became the only German woman who referred to DADA. She managed to follow the general Dadaist aesthetic, but at the same time she surely and steadily incorporated a feminist philosophy. Her aim was to submit female equality within the canvass of other DADA’s conceptions.
Though Hannah Hoch officially was a member of the movement, she never became the true one, because men saw her only as ‘a charming and gifted amateur artist’ (Lavin). Hans Richter, an unofficial spokesperson shared his opinion about the only woman in their community in the following words: ‘the girl who produced sandwiches, beer and coffee on a limited budget’ forgetting that she was among the few members with stable income.
In spite of the gender oppressions, Hannah’s desire to convey her idea was never weakened. Difficulties only strengthened her and made her an outstanding artist. A note with these return words was found among her possessions: ‘None of these men were satisfied with just an ordinary woman. But neither were they included to abandon the (conventional) male/masculine morality toward the woman. Enlightened by Freud, in protest against the older generation… they all desired this ‘New Woman’ and her groundbreaking will to freedom. But — they more or less brutally rejected the notion that they, too, had to adopt new attitudes… This led to these truly Strinbergian dramas that typified the private lives of these men’ (Maloney).
Hoch’s technique was characterized by fusing male and female parts of the body or bodies of females from different epochs — a ‘traditional’ woman and ‘modern’, liberated and free of sexual stereotypes one. What’s more, combining male and female parts, the female ones were always more distinctive and vibrant, while the male ones took their place in the background. Hannah created unique works of art experimenting with paintings, collages, graphic and photography. Her women were made from bits and pieces from dolls, mannequins of brides or children as these members of the society were not considered as valuable.
Today Hannah Hoch is most associated with her famous photomontage ‘Cut with the kitchen knife DADA through the last Weimer Beer-Belly Cultural epoch of Germany’ (1919–1920). This piece of art highlights social confusion during the era of Weimar Republic, oppositionists and government radicals (Grabner). In spite of never being truly accepted by the rest of her society, this woman with a quiet voice managed to speak out loud her feministic message.
Looking at Hannah Hoch’s art for the first time I found it confusing, because couldn’t comprehend the meaning. It was quite obvious that every single piece and structure is a symbol of the era, its ideas and beliefs. However, after having learned about her life and constant endeavors to declare about female’s right, little by little I started to realize what’s what. As an object for research I chose ‘The beautiful girl’ as, to my mind, its theme and message intersects with the modern tendency: a successful, clever, beautiful and free woman has to become one in no time, cause the world is moving faster and faster. I enjoyed working with this artist as her example is inspiring and is worth following.
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