Hannah Höch was one of the only women in the Berlin based Dada group. She was also a feminist.
The Dadaist movement was formed during and in negative response to the First World War. Later Dadaists found a post war basis in Berlin and the movement become explicitly political, critiquing modern culture in terms of bourgeois art, politics and religion. Dadaist artworks often employed mundane objects to create sculptures, collages, posters and photo-montages. Such materials, when out of context, as reflected in Höch’s artworks, enhanced ideas of the absurdity of contemporary life.
In ‘The Beautiful Girl’, the artist confronts societal values by reflecting the state of modernity, while (in ironic opposition to the title) conveying the grotesque implications of an ‘automated femininity’. This was a way of highlighting and defying the hegemony of bourgeois, patriarchal culture in order to revolutionise society politically and culturally.
Höch’s work often encompasses and subverts media ideals of women. ‘The Beautiful Girl’ criticises gender roles for women by combining fragmented media photographs of female body parts and machinery to indicate their subordination, dehumanization and fetishizing. Höch’s use of layered contrasting shapes is deliberately hectic and top-heavy to create a sense of disorder. The eye is deliberately drawn to the seated female figure with light bulb head, who presumably is represented as able to be switched on/off at will by an operator. Therefore by reducing images of women to parts of machinery, Höch highlights how they are utilised as (sexualised) objects, within the mechanics of a patriarchal, capitalist machine.
Höch was part of the women’s movement in the 1920s. She had lesbian affairs and was often associated with the idea of the ‘new woman’ whose androgyny in dress and challenging attitude confronted traditional gender roles.
Despite their ‘revolutionary’ credentials male Dadaists were often as sexist as the society they criticised. The avant-garde artist Hans Richter described Höch’s contribution to the Dada movement as the “sandwiches, beer and coffee she managed somehow to conjure up despite the shortage of money.” He also referred to her as a ‘good girl’……
Highlighted by feminist scholars, Höch however has belatedly been recognised as a key figure and pioneer within the Dadaist movement, who also embraced her feminist consciousness.