Hugo Ball – Karawane

Analysis of piece without knowledge of the context of the piece, as inspired by the essay “Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes and the content lecture.

As someone who is fluent in Swedish and English, as well as dyslexic, language and the use of language to affect people has always fascinated me. Through this latest project I have been experimenting with language, mixing Swedish and English to provide disorientation and confusion, yet a level of understanding to the audience. So when I was introduced to Hugo Ball’s poem, Karawane, my mind was opened to a new way to approach, presentation and performance of language. I found the use of language (or lack of) in this piece, was truly eye opening, as it has introduced me to a whole new art form that I can’t wait to explore. The lack of language in this piece allows the viewer to come up with their own interpretation of this poem.  In addition, the use of typography in this piece to represent the different tones, pitches and ways of expressing different lines in this poem, is very effective on the viewer. This technique allows the viewer to interpret how the typography coincides with this poem’s performance.This piece when performed is reminiscent of people “speaking in tongues” or a child that is learning to speak. Producing a visceral artwork, that transcends language and seems to have strong links to primitivism.  As someone who already has worked with typography and poetry, this will be a fabulous way for me to explore a brand new art form.

Analysis of the piece with context of the piece and the context that the artist provides to the piece.

“The Dadaists invented two major variations on Ball’s sound poetry. The first, bruitist poetry, was similar to that of Italian Futurists in its reliance on onomatopoeia for effect. The second was simultaneous poetry, which involved several people reading poems in different languages and using contrasting tonalities and rhythms at the same time. Tristan Tzara, who replaced Ball as leader of the Zurich Dada group, was the inventor of the simultaneous poem.” From The Art Story

[Before I started the research for this piece I didn’t know what a simultaneous poem was and I now realise that that is the name to describe one of the pieces that I have produced. I didn’t know that there was an official name for this particular art form. ]

This piece is a Dadaist sound poem, that through the use of onomatopoeia, produces a language based on the association of those sounds to real world sounds. Many people have associated the sounds from this piece to the sounds of war, as there are many verses that sound aggressive and violent when performed. This theory is very likely considering this piece was produced in 1916, a year after the start of the First World War.

In his journals supporting this piece he compared this piece to Catholic mass and how it made the same amount of sense as this poem. This also links to my previous comment on it sounding like someone who is “speaking in tongues” as that is also usually associated with religious practice.

This piece’s absurdism was reinforced by the way that Hugo Ball performed this poem. He would dress in this costume:


Which relates to the avante garde and minimalist movements that were also present in Europe at the time. In addition, the minimalism of this costume links to the ‘stripped back’ and simplistic nature of the poem. The costume is also reminds me of dressing up as a robot or a soldier as a child using cardboard to produce body armour and plating, to protect you from the ‘bad guys’. Which makes me wonder whether this is a response to the First World War breaking out, and the artist feeling like he literally needed a suit of armour in order to stay safe. Also in the performance of this piece he would usually start off stage where the audience would only be able to hear him, then through the course of the performance he would slowly reveal himself, revealing the costume to the audience mid-performance, and finishing centre stage. This process of performing the poem means that for the first half of the poem the audience is just listening to the poem; trying to decipher it. Providing no visual cues, causing the audience to produce their own narrative and assumptions about the piece. Then he reveals himself. Which I think is an interesting thing to do halfway through the performance. If it’s mid-performance I wonder if people laughed or where just captivated by the weirdness of his costume. If they did laugh then the costume would have been used as a surprising punchline or as some comical relief from the bizarreness of the whole piece. In addition, would people laugh at him like people laughing at John Cage’s “Water Walk”.

If they didn’t laugh then maybe it’s because he knew that he wouldn’t be laughed at halfway through the piece or because he thought that the costume visually complimented the second half of his performance of the poem. Helping build to the climax of the poem as he steps into centre stage.


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