Considered a technique, and not an art, typography has often been neglected in the study of the avant-gardes of the beginning of the 20th century. The graphic work done for the publications, tracts, and Dada magazines was however essential, in that it ensured the movement a characteristic and strong visual signature, illustrating both the sprit of its subversive nature and the texts themselves: "Every page should explode, either because of its deep seriousness, or because of its vortex, vertigo, newness, timelessness, crushing humor, enthusiasm of its principles, or the way it is printed." [Tristan Tzara, 'Manifeste Dada ', in Oeuvres complètes T. I / texte établi par Henri Béhar (Flammarion : Paris 1975) 362].
Certain members of Dada, from Tzara to Hausmann, were so interested in typography and so upset the conventional graphics of publications, that at times it has been spoken of a 'typographical revolution'.
It should be recalled that all the innovations were accomplished with complete respect for typographical technique, certainly pushed to its limits, and perhaps diverted from its normal use, but not overshot. There was no invention of new characters – for that, it will be necessary to wait for the experiments of the Constructivists, were undertaken in much more depth – nor transgression of the rules of alignment – note that the famous pages composed by Tzara, Une nuit d’échecs gras and Le Coeur à Barbe, as visually disconcerting as they appear, in fact maintain a solid structure. In fact, the primacy of innovation in this field belongs to the Italian and Russian Futurists. In 1913, the Marinetti Manifesto on 'words in freedom' is particularly noteworthy, expressing in virulent terms of which the Dadaists were certainly aware: "I undertake a typographical revolution directed especially against the idiotic and nauseous conception of old-fashioned books of verses [...] Better still: my revolution is directed against what is called typographical harmony of the page [...] I intend to redouble the expressive force of words." [Filippo Marinetti, Les mots en liberté futuristes (L'Age d'Homme : Lausanne 1987].
Jean Brun, 'Typography', translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 942-945. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 68-70 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].
top: design for 'Mouvement Dada' by Francis Picabia.
Fernand Baudin, a.o.
Dada et la typographie / Fernand Baudin, François Caradec, François Sullerot. Cahiers de l'Association internationale pour l'étude de Dada et du surréalisme 3 (Lettres modernes : Paris 1969).
'La typographie dans les tracts et revues dadas', [online]; available at <http://perso.univ-lyon2.fr/~edbreuil/Dada/memoire/eb/memoireeb.html> [accessed 14 February 2011].
'Typography', in Laurent Le Bon (dir.), Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 942-945. The translation in the introduction on this site was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 68-70.