DADApunk Cabaret Party to close out RNC week with rebellion, absurdity

In 1916, the laws of art were dissolved behind the doors of Swiss nightclub Cabaret Voltaire when Hugo Ball delivered the Dada Manifesto. With nonsense and surrealism, the anti-movement of Dadaism challenged the conventions of art, World War I-era politics and culture.
 
100 years later, Dadaism’s experimental and rebellious nature, often steeped in off-kilter performance art, continues to inspire creators today to embrace absurdity. Among those artists is Mark Mothersbaugh, the focus of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland’s current exhibit, Myopia.
 
To celebrate that ideological coupling, on Friday, July 22, at 8 p.m., the museum will transform into the Dadapunk Cabaret Party extravaganza. Performances by neo-vaudevillian variety show WizBang will be followed by a dance party with Justin Long, a Chicago DJ and host of the aptly named Hugo Ball dance night. Dada and punk costumes are encouraged, though not required – and the more peculiar, the better.
 
The anything-goes soiree pays tribute to Mothersbaugh and his Dada influences.
 
“He seduces you with humor and color and form; it’s whimsical and disarming,” says MOCA deputy director Megan Lykins Reich. “And a Dadaist event is meant to bring your view of the world right now and gather others to share that [view] in a way that’s non-judgmental," she adds, noting that it's a healthy way to have discussions about more serious things. "It’s a way to break the ice.”

WIZBANG! Theatre's Pinch and Squeal with Satori Circus perform a classic Russian performance art piece. Photo: Bob Perkoski
 
Dada’s boundary-bending nature became a driving force in the emerging DIY punk scene that bred Mothersbaugh’s Devo. The name of the new wave pioneers’ band itself comes from the word “devolution,” a rejection of structure true to Dadaism’s form. Even as their popularity began to grow, they rejected the stylishness that permeated the rock ‘n’ roll scene in favor of offbeat costumes like hazmat suits, garbage bags and construction overalls that radiated Dadaism.
 
“Dadaism was a movement that was anarchic, celebrating disorder and chaos through art,” says Lykins Reich. “In Devo, the band would start very rigidly with music that was very ordered, and as the concerts would go on, it would start to unravel and become loose and open and free and unbound.”
 
And what better time to indulge in the spirit of chaos than as the Republican National Convention comes to a close?
 
WizBang plans to bring the same eccentricity of Dadaism that defines their usual performances, which are filled with mischief and misfits.
 
“It’s giving us this new breath of inspiration to try to infuse some of Mothersbaugh’s mayhem with our own mayhem,” says WizBang co-founder Jason Tilk.
 
Satori Circus, who has roots in the Detroit punk scene, will bring his bag of avant-garde carnival tricks as well. Champion juggler and bearded wonder Will Oltman, who goes by the stage name “Will Juggle,” will perform his gravity-defying balancing acts. And, of course, Tilk and his wife Danielle – better known as Pinch and Squeal – will engage in their ragtag routine of magic, music, gags and other oddities.
 
“WizBang has always been this no-holds-barred, let’s grab onto this, twist it around and present it to an audience in a way that really surprises them kind of thing,” says Tilk.
 
Expect to also hear their take on sound poetry – the performance-based orations that eschew any structure or familiarity that were made popular by Hugo Ball. 
 
“It’s all phonetically put together to sound beautiful like a poem, but really it’s gibberish,” says Tilk. “I see a close relationship with Mark’s music, which has this repetition and then it breaks down and then it layers up again. It almost turns into these poems.”

Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, Orchestrions, installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, 2016. Photo: Jerry Birchfield
 
For a perfect example within the Myopia exhibit – which, along with the entire museum, will be open throughout the Cabaret – look to the Mothersbaugh’s display of handmade oddball instruments, “Orchestrations.”
 
“These very organized instruments play restructured compositions, but they have very open, free, projecting parts to them,” notes Lykins Reich of the quirky sculptures.
 
Mothersbaugh himself has always tiptoed between personal, unorthodox art and applied art. Just as Dadaism has transcended a century, Mothersbaugh’s world has spanned generations, from creating music for PeeWee’s Playhouse to Wes Anderson films.
 
And just like he blurs the lines between intimate creations and commercial soundtracks, such as his collection of 30,000 postcards in the Akron Art Museum counterpart Myopia exhibit, WizBang’s performances will blur the lines between entertainer and consumer. Not only can revelers expect to be pulled on stage, costumed performers will roam through the party long after the curtain is drawn.
 
DEVO Photo: Jules BatesThe immersive experience is part of the museum’s inclusive programming that draws Northeast Ohioans of all ages into Mothersbaugh’s wonderful world. From the kid-friendly Myopiawesome Art Studio programs each Thursday through August 25 to the upcoming Bound Art Book and Zine Fair on August 26 and 27. That event will explore the DIY, alternative scene of self-publishing, which Mothersbaugh was part of with his own My Struggle, Booji Boy, a 300-page, illustrated art book that was equal parts zine and Dadaist-surrealist memoir.
 
“It’s all very accessible, whether you’re a practicing visual artist or not,” says MOCA’s curator of public programs Deidre McPherson of Myopia. “Mark has experimented with so many different things, and he has connection with so many parts of our culture.”
 
From the delivery of the Dada Manifesto in 1916 to the political statements of Devo, Dadapunk partygoers will kick off the movement's next 100 years with abandon.
 
“At its core, the idea of freedom of expression and an alternative approach to creativity is something that will probably never go away,” says Lykins Reich. “In moments of political tension, artists are always the ones that show us how to essentially break out of that mentality and appreciate diversity and what that brings to a culture.”

MOCA is part of Fresh Water's underwriting network.

Read more articles by Nikki Delamotte.

Nikki Delamotte is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Diffuser.FM, The Grammys, Cleveland Magazine, Cleveland Scene and others.