Experiencing Dada in Chicago

cubs-goatBy: Laura Winton

On November 5th, the weekend following the Cubs winning the world series, I went to Chicago for a different purpose (although I did also make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field).  The real reason I had gone to Chicago was for the closing weekend of DadaFest, which was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the international literary, art, and performance movement, Dada. For those unfamiliar with Dada, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a movement in art and literature based on deliberate irrationality and negation of traditional artistic values.”  There have been homages, tributes, and festivals all over the country, including Seattle and Santa Fe, and of course New York.

As soon as I heard about DadaFest (on Facebook, where else?), I looked up their website and booked a bus ticket to Chicago on the Megabus.  Something odd happened in the intervening week and a half (besides the Cubs winning the World Series)– the Chicago Dada website disappeared completely.  I was in a slight panic.  Had this been one of those famous Dada hoaxes?  I checked it every day. I asked on the various Surrealist pages that I’m on. Several people said they had gone.  I wrote in response to their posts, but I got no reply.  My nonrefundable bus tickets already purchased. I decided that I would go and take my chances.  After all, Chicago is a great city and I could definitely find something poetry and art-related to do.

I got to Chicago at 5:30 Saturday evening and went straight to 715 Milwaukee Avenue, getting there just in time for the “start” of the exhibit that weekend.  This was the last weekend of DadaFest and as it turned out, there weren’t many people there.  But one person in particular who was there turned out to be quite significant to me. The woman who had greeted me at the door was talking to someone else, whom she addressed as “Penny.”  My brain soon started to go through my virtual rolodex.  I stepped into the next room, saw a woman with long white hair, and said to her “Penny?  Are you Penelope Rosemount?”

Penelope Rosemount and Laura Winton at Chicago's DadaFest

Penelope Rosemount and Laura Winton at Chicago’s DadaFest

Penelope Rosemount is very significant to me.  She is a founding member of the Chicago Surrealists.  She and her late husband Franklin had supposedly received the “transmission” from Andre Breton, Pope of Surrealism himself, when they visited France in the 1960s. She edited a huge anthology that I have and love, Surrealist Women.  The Chicago Surrealists have a publishing arm called Black Swan Press and they published the literary magazine Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion. The woman with the white hair confirmed that she was, in fact, Penelope Rosemount and asked me who I was. I told her my name and she said “Why does that sound familiar?”  I told her that I had reviewed Franklin’s final book, An Open Entrance to the Shut Palace of Wrong Numbers, for Rain Taxi in 2004.

I was invited to sit down and make collages with Penelope – it was still weird to call her Penny, although I did when I asked her about one of her paintings before I left, which I was certain that I had seen before.  It turns out to have been a good thing that I came during the last weekend when there were few other people around.  I didn’t get everyone’s name, so “starstruck” was I to be making Dadaist collages with Penelope Rosemount!  While we were all sharing our collages later on, I also read them a poem that I was wor­­king on for Dr. Knox’s class, a tribute to Tristan Tzara that I just happened to have with me, called Dada is the Most Beautiful:  Nonsense Nonetheless.  I also

Surrealist painting by Penelope Rosemount

Surrealist painting by Penelope Rosemount

happened to have some revolutionary and artistic postcards of my own that I had made, which I left with them.  To be able to not only make Dada collages with them, but to also share some of my poetry and leave some of my postcards with them, as well as to see the exhibit, take pictures, and get a memento of my own, was beyond gratifying for me.

While there were men around, they were mostly engaged in some other activity that I could not discern, but assumed they were trying to buy art or something. Basically it was myself and three other women out in the gallery, talking about art and politics and book fairs.  It seemed an appropriate 100 year corrective to the origins of Dada, which were primarily, but not exclusively, male, a fact which Penny commented on and I had been thinking about as well.

As it turned out, the hostel that I booked was the Wrigleyville Hostel and it was, in fact, two blocks from Wrigley Field, which was a kind of Dadaistic experience in itself.  There were huge crowds outside the stadium all day on Saturday and Sunday, just wanting to be there, writing the names of relatives who did not live to see the Cubs’ World

Surrealist painting featured at DadaFest

Surrealist painting featured at DadaFest

Series win, and of course, buying t-shirts and memorabilia.  I walked around the neighborhood with a huge smile on my face the whole weekend.

However, two days later, the election happened . . .

which has led to a very anarchic, Dadaist experience of life from that weekend on.  Some in a good way, some not.