Narratives of Flesh: The Fragmented Male Body in Dada
This article is indebted to the work of Mia Fineman, and specifically her landmark essay Ecce Homo Prostheticus of 1999
In Weimar Germany, the classical ideal of the perfect male form had been shattered by the bombs and artillery of the first world war. The government had imposed a ban on the publication of images showing soldiers and mutilated and maimed, yet the public could see with their own eyes “war cripples” propped up on street corners, abandoned by the state. In the turbulence that followed the war, an entirely new industry was born, prosthetics were not just objects to relieve suffering, they became layered with their own philosophies and ideals, the inorganic and the organic merged together represented a new age of man and the masculine ideal.
The state’s censorship of the truth via the ban on images showcased a stance of denial, the allowance of two prostheses per person created a horror of a situation where the worst off had to choose their most valuable limbs. The prosthetics industry boomed, for those who had the cash, prosthetics were slick, efficient and represented a new age of man. Freud’s belief that all man’s weaknesses in regards to productivity could be solved by technology peppered major essays released by the industry at the time.
One such collection of essays, published in 1919, titled “Artificial Limbs and Work Aids for War Cripples and Accident “contains many of the images one would expect, of fresh amputees and shiny new prostheses. The Freudian narrative of ‘better with technology’ is sang and themes of the Nietschian super-man also ring out, the machine man, the “Homo Prostheticus” becomes a new masculine ideal within the industry.
Within the expected images, the reader is confronted with two small photographs that evoke a line of questioning that traces a different line of narrative, one of the history of art and the historical representation of the male body. Shown front on and in profile, the Spitzy Statue is a modern classical sculpture, which prior to the prosthetic accessories, represented the classical ideals of the perfect man. Youth, strength and fertility. The addition of a chest strap and a prosthetic leg, creates a man that is now an Other to the classical ideal. Perhaps intended to represent the improvement and bettering of the classical form, the almost grotesque abstraction of flesh from the use of prosthetics in these images, connote the darker elements of the age of prosthetics. The stigma attached to male suffering in Weimar Germany was severe in regards to both physical and especially mental injuries. The classical form of the Spitzy statue cannot help but be subverted by the addition of prosthetics, the fig leaf, once a symbol of modesty and decency in the archaic ideal, coupled with the prosthetics, now becomes a symbol of emasculation. The cultural fear of the loss of masculinity via mental and physical injury manifests itself regularly in references to castration.
Figure 1 The “Spitzy Statue,” from Artificial Limbs and Work-Aids for War-Cripples and Accident Victims, featured in Mia Fineman’s ground-breaking essay.
The classical masculine narrative of provider, hunter and saviour was being re-written, and even in texts such as “Artificial Limbs”, one can see the struggle to address the problem of physical weakness, even when supplemented and repaired, belittling the masculine ideal of strength.
Where the prosthetics industry sought to re-define the male as the machine man, new and improved, many state images sought to ignore the wounded and maimed. The still from Ways to Strength and Beauty by Wilhelm Prager, showcases the narrative of young, healthy and fit veterans returning from War in noble circumstances, now performing their duty in the world of work. The Free Body movement also gaining momentum in Germany at this time was seemingly ignorant of the mass mutilation caused by war and the Prosthetic industry’s ideal of the mechanised man.
Neither narrative, the gleaming iron-man or the perfect physical specimen, ring true. But within both, one is able to witness the re-writing of the male narrative in a time of huge societal upheaval, and to also witness the fears over the loss of key pillar stones of masculine identity- recreation, physical and mental strength.
Artists such as Otto Dix, sought to shatter all narratives, to abandon the classical ideal, attack the modern archetype of the German Man, proliferated by the state and the Free Body movement and to make grotesque the machine man of the prosthetics industry.
In Dix’s most famous work The Card Players of 1920, three veterans, representing from left to right, British, French and German forces sit at a small table playing cards, seemingly unaware of their own grotesqueness.
The new ideal of the mechanised man is parodied as the veterans adapt their malformed bodies to new purposes, that aren’t more efficient, they are more grotesque and unsettling. The British soldier holds his deck of his cards with his foot and what appears to be his spinal cord, doubles up as a handy telephone perched on the table. The idea of the organic and inorganic seamlessly blending in this new prosthetic man is lampooned and exaggerated by Dix. The veteran is deemed useful, because he now is an electronic mode of communication, not a basic human being. This facet of the picture relates to the prosthetic industry designing prosthetics to aid workers, to close the distance between their tools and labour as they are now the tools of their labour.
The German soldier is the smallest of the trio, an obvious subversion of the pride Dix should feel in his nation and highlighting the failure of the German state in the provision of prosthetics and after war care. The sheer scale of the German soldier also mocks the idea of the strong and healthy body proliferated by the Free Body movement and showcases what really is left of Germany’s war heroes. Dix actively lampoons the narrative of the strong German soldier in the contrast of the Iron Cross medal, a medal for bravery and prowess in battle with the broken and badly put together state of the soldier in the Card Players.
Figure 2 Otto Dix, The Skat Players, Card Playing War Invalids, (1920) Oil and collage on canvas, 110 × 87 cm, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
The narrative of castration anxiety seen in the Spitzy statue is repeated in the German soldier’s prosthetics, he is crudely cut in half, but inserted into his stomach are a tiny pair of genitals. Dix shatters the idea of repairing the broken masculinity with modern technology. The archaic classical ideal of men as providers is showcased to be present in Weimar Germany, so strong an idea, that even soldiers so poorly put together, are provided with prosthetic means of reproduction.
George Grosz, another prominent Dadaist, was also fascinated with mutilation and the changing narrative of the male body in the face of the world war. In his autobiography, he recounts an exaggerated conversation about an unfortunate soldier who had lost his genitals due to a bomb blast, “No more fun with the girls for him,” said the medical orderly. The sergeant was of a different opinion. “Don’t believe it, my boy,” he said. “They’ll bloody well give him a brand new custom-built cock made of bloody wood.”
The idea that the soldier will feel no sexual pleasure, but the girls can still have fun with him, shatters the notion of the male body as active. In this instance, the male body is passive, and the female body, still intact in terms of the classical ideal, is active. The French and British soldiers both are partially blind, the British soldier particularly, may be fully blind as we can only see his profile. The theme of blindness links with the idea of castration, as blindness causes passivity, the once strong soldier now needs assistance from his peers. The active ideal of the male body is subverted, showcased in the reliance on machine in Dix’s work, and the themes of blindness and castration, creating a new, passive male entity.
The ban on mutilated images was lifted in 1920. Perhaps the government recognised that public opinion on the war couldn’t become more sour by seeing images that had already been faced with in their personal lives. Dix showcases the flaws in nationalist, classical and technological narratives. By exaggerating the forms and figures of the maimed veterans, he showcases how the classical ideal of the male body is redundant, but also the new ideal proposed by the state, of a strong, healthy young man, who has performed his duty in battle and now performs his duty in work, is a myth. Dix also creates grotesque images that confront the bubbling Free Body movement in Germany at this time, the movement celebrated the natural body, but the prosthetic body, the body maimed by metal, was ubiquitous and seemed to have no place in the celebration.
Dix’s comments on the male body narrative in his pictures question the ideal physicality of Man, confronting classical ideals, state myths and utopian movements. However, Dix’s questioning of the narrative of the male as a strong minded entity is less obvious, ‘Male Hysteria’ was a topic that questioned the masculine perhaps more than representations of physicality. Yet, Dix as a veteran himself, was perhaps reluctant to discuss this narrative as in a society of stigma, it belittled the credit, sympathy and support due to the veteran.
In the Card Players of 1920, Dix provides a cutting caricature to contribute to the narrative of the male body, by shattering the myths spread by its biggest story tellers. The male body is emasculated, castrated, blinded and metamorphoses into a machine, it is not celebrated or championed.
The male narrative is transformed into a grotesque and tragic tale, with a lampooning of all physical ideals of the male body. A new passive, pieced together male entity is formed, Dix showcases a masculine identity that is to be run away from, far from ideals often narrated in art.
George Grosz, A small yes and a big no, trans. Arnold J. Pomeras (London: Alli- son & Busby, 1982) 88.
 George Grosz, A small yes and a big no, trans. Arnold J. Pomeras (London: Alli- son & Busby, 1982) 88.
To what extent can it be argued that Pop Art offered a successful critical commentary on mass culture?
Pop Art as a term is problematic in itself, Lawrence Alloway credited with coining the term in his essay The Development of British Pop, explained that the term changed meaning, ‘what I meant by it then is not what it means now. I used the term, and also ‘Pop Culture’, to refer to the products of the mass media, not to works of art that draw upon popular culture.’ Robert Indiana describes Pop as ‘love, for it accepts everything. Pop is dropping the bomb. It’s the American dream, optimistic, generous and naïve.’ Tate defines Pop Art as ‘an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain’. In 1957 Pop artist Richard Hamilton listed the ‘characteristics of pop art’, I believe his list defines both the meaning of Pop Art and of mass culture ‘Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth)… Big business’.
Mass culture more specifically can be defined as ‘Cultural products that are both mass- produced and for mass audiences. Examples include mass-media entertainments—films, television programmes, popular books, newspapers, magazines, popular music, leisure goods, household items, clothing, and mechanically-reproduced art.’ Mass culture also incorporates mass politics, the politics of big political parties with wide stretching views and influence, political influence is spread through mass media and, particularly in America mass politics is intertwined with big business. Thus American culture, the culture perpetuated by the mass media is riled against in political protests by Pop Artists.
In this essay I will examine International Pop as ‘Pop Art was never just a celebration of western consumer culture, but was often a subversive international language of protest.’  International Pop Art showcases the themes of Western Pop but in a more direct response to the fallout of WWII, the conflict in Vietnam and the rise of Communism. Specifically European artists working throughout the decade of the 1960s, as they ‘were far more political than their American or British counterparts. While Peter Blake basked in warm nostalgia and Andy Warhol anatomised bland celebrity, European artists attacked American militarism.’ European artists attacked mass culture, the themes of western and American culture that were swamping indigenous culture. European Pop Art critiques mass culture through images of war, the body, and advertising.
The critique of war is a major theme in European Pop Artists work- Rancillac’s A Silhouette slimmed to the Waist juxtaposes war with the consumption of the female body. It is part of a series from 1966, in which Rancillac decided to illustrate all key events of that year because he “realised that political events had an impact on me (the Vietnam War)”. He juxtaposes, an image from Paris Match of ‘South Vietnamese soldiers drowning a Viet Cong prisoner to the waist and an advertisement for women’s underwear that defined the waist.’
Fig.1. Bernard Rancillac. (Enfin silhouettes) affinées jusqu’à la taille, 1966. Multimedia. Grenoble: Musée de Grenoble. Purchased from the artist in 1980.
A Silhouette Slimmed to the Waist can be hung either way, in order to emphasise either the advertisement for ‘female underwear or the horrors of the Vietnam War.’ Rancillac explained the didactic quality of the piece ‘the viewer is forced to choose a visual and hence political orientation. Comfort here, torture over there.’ Every exhibitor of the work has to decide whether to place more importance on the horror of war, or ideals of beauty and the fashion of commercial culture.
By making the canvas ambiguous in its hierarchy of forms, Rancillac is referencing the ubiquitous images of both the female body as a product in catalogues, and war as a product in newspapers and news shows, and how images lose power if they are repeated. Warhol played with this idea in America, but Rancillac draws attention to the real danger of repetition of images in the mass media.
The title is a visual pun, as the piece shows a soldier plunging a Vietcong prisoner headfirst into a large water barrel, he pushes his boot down on his captive’s back, gripping his twisted leg, the soldier submerges the man to the waist. While above/ below are five women in corsets, with labels akin to those found in commercial catalogues, advertising the slimming quality. The piece draws attention to the fetishization of the Vietnam war, with American soldiers and American culture being triumphed throughout the campaign as moral, just and heroic. Through placing war alongside the female body, Rancillac points out how both are fetishized.
There are also themes of mortality in this piece, as the bodies of the soldiers are in danger, and the bodies of the women are in their ‘prime’ physicality, with perhaps hints of the obsession with the female body and the idea of the ultimate demise of the flesh. Rancillac’s imagery in this piece is directly from ‘pictures from the media covering these events.’
The placing of consumer goods next to a scene from war showcases that both the female body and the terror of war have become consumable. This may be a reference to the use of art and the female body in the propaganda of both the U.S.A and Vietnam forces throughout the conflict. The exaggerated pink of the female body suggests the figures are western in ethnicity, perhaps a point against western mass advertising, as America could be seen to be attempting to re-write indigenous beauty ideals to conform with the western view.
Fig.2. Vietnamese Government propaganda poster, “Colonialists, international traitors, think carefully before you take Vietnam,” 1960. 38cm x 27.2cm
Fig.3. Evelyne Axell, Valentine 1966. Oil paint, zip-fastener and helmet on canvas, unconfirmed: 1330 x 830 mm. London: Tate Collection, acquired 2016.
Belgian Pop Artist Evelyne Axell plays with body politics in her work, reclaiming the female body from the male gaze of the mass media. She often exhibited under her gender ambiguous last name alone, critiquing mass culture as she plays with the audience’s assertion that ‘the artist’ is always male. In her piece, Valentine she references Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman and also the first civilian to go in to space.  Axell places a helmet and zip on the canvas, the zipper is an allusion to the eroticized act of undressing, the viewer is invited to ‘peek’ at the skin beneath. The reference to Tereshkova is key, as the astronaut’s achievement was belittled by descriptions of her physicality in the mass media; her looks and her body superseded her act of discovery. Axell recognized the inequality inherent in the mass media, that women are celebrated not for their achievements but for their body, and what makes them unique is their rarity in certain fields, rather than their own personality traits or talents. In this piece, the critique of mass culture is a critique of a male-dominated culture, and a male-dominated art industry. To highlight further the juxtaposition between men and women in the media, Axell staged a reverse striptease, where a model began naked, only wearing a helmet and proceeded to put on clothes, highlighting very obviously the blindness in which mass culture views women, mostly ignoring everything internal and focusing on the external flesh.
Fig.4. Gerhard Richter, Folding Dryer, 1962. Oil on canvas, 99.3 cm x 78.6 cm. Stuttgart: Froehlich Collection.
Fig.5. Roy Lichtenstein, Kitchen Range (Kitchen Stove), 1961-62. Oil on canvas, 173.0 x 173.0 cm. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1978.
Gerhard Richter’s work Folding Dryer is based on a newspaper advert for a clothes dryer, Richter recalled that the first piece of Pop Art he ever encountered was a reproduction of Lichtenstein’s Kitchen Stove. Richter responded to the piece ‘because it was anti-painterly. It was directed against peinture’. Richter’s piece is completed in oil paint, but like Lichtenstein, it is the subject matter that is the protest. The woman’s face is smudged and resembles a mask, creating an anonymity that is unsettling and perhaps representative of the mass consumer, hidden as an individual and only defined by capitalist society through their purchases. Richter is thus creating an art that is against the past conventions and hierarchies of art, inspired by American Pop Artists. He is also riling against the mass perception of what is ‘good’ art and what is not, challenging the mass audience to insert this piece, a recreation of a newspaper advert, into the timeline of art history. The motif of the clothes dryer is significant, Richter said he ‘didn’t find the clothes-dryer ironic; there was something tragic about it, because it represented life in low-cost housing with nowhere to hang the washing. It was my own clothes-dryer, which I rediscovered in a newspaper – objectivized, as it were.’ Richter goes further than to criticize the mass perceptions of art in this work, he critiques mass culture and consumerism by using a motif that is tragic as it represents shortage of space, a loss of well-being and quality of life. Richter, an Eastern German artist, living in West Germany at the time of this piece, witnessed the cultural shifts that were promoted via the NATO alliance and the Americanization of West Germany. The clothes dryer represents the failings of a capitalist society, modelled on the American system, to ensure equality and opportunity for its inhabitants, as it is a statement of lost space, of space as a consumer good, not as a human right.
To conclude, European Pop Art is filled with the ‘subversive international language of protest.’ Artists such as Rancillac question the priorities of mass culture, he ‘copies and pastes’ motifs from consumer catalogues, and juxtaposes the frivolous imagery with the harshness of war. Female artists such as Axell sought to highlight the discrepancies between the mass media’s representation of women and men, and highlight the ridiculousness, with humor. Such as in Valentine the viewer is invited to ‘peek’ beyond the exposed zipper at the naked body beneath. Richter in his art work, Folding Dryer directly references the mass media in copying from an advert, he re-appropriates images to showcase his discomfort at the loss of wellbeing being objectified and celebrated, catalogues are full of objects that are congratulated when really they are the product of the loss of space and the capitalism system commodifying the simplest of presumed rights. I believe European Pop Art is successful in its critique of mass media and culture, it highlights difficult questions and plays with the presumed nature of art by the masses, and also the everyday motifs seen in society. Subversive, playful and nuanced, the examples I have cited utilize the resources of mass media, by incorporating stories from mass media (Valentine), distorting popular images (Affinées jusqu’à la taille) and copying adverts and consumer based images (Folding Dryer), within a new context.
 Lawrence Alloway, “The Development of British Pop,” in Pop Art, ed. Lucy R. Lippard (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004), p. 27.
 Klaus Honnef, “Robert Indiana- The Big Eight,” in Pop Art, ed. Uta Grosenick (London: Taschen, 2004), p. 45.
 “Glossary of terms: Pop Art”, Tate online, accessed February 20, 2016.
 “Pop Art: Characteristics and Critical Response”, Tate online, accessed February 20, 2016.
 “Overview: Mass Culture,” Oxford Reference Online, accessed February 20, 2016.
 Edward P. Morgan, “Roots of the Sixties: Contradictions between Capitalism and Democracy in Post-war America,” in What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010), p. 22.
 Ibid, p. 26.
 “International Pop,” Tate Online, accessed February 20, 2016.
 Darsie Alexander, Bartholomew Ryan, International Pop (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2015), p. 23.
 “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”, BBC Online, last updated 17 September 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.
 See Figure 1.
 “Artist Interview: Bernard Rancillac”, Tate Online, last updated September 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.
 Liam Considine, Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire, Tate Papers No.24 (Autumn 2015): 25, accessed March 2, 2016.
 Elsa Coustou for Tate, September 2015, in “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”.
 Considine, Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire.
 “Colour me Beautiful: Pop Art at 50”, The Economist Online, last updated September 12, 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.
 Elsa Coustou for Tate, September 2015, in “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”.
 Caroline Page, “Introduction” in US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion (London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1996), p. 12.
 Morgan, “An Awakening Democratic Dialectic: From Action to Empowerment in the 1960s”, p. 42.
 “Artist Interview: Bernard Rancillac.”
 Coustou, “Bernard Rancillac.”
 “Introduction” in US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion, p. 3.
 See Figure 2.
 Page, “The Body”, p.43.
 Liesbeth Decan, Axellereation: Evelyne Axell 1964-1972 (Tielt: Lannoo International Publishing, 2012), p. 7.
 Elsa Coustou, “Evelyne Axell”, Tate Online, September 2015, accessed February 19, 2016.
 See Figure 3.
 “Think you know Pop Art?”, Tate Online, last updated 11 September 2015, accessed February 19, 2016.
 Coustou, “Evelyne Axell”
 “Think you know Pop Art?”
 “You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us”, Tate Online, last updated May 13, 2013, accessed February 29, 2016.
 “Gerhard Richter: Folding Dryer”, Gerhard Richter Official website, last updated January 2016, accessed February 29, 2016.
 “Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990” in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007 (Thames & Hudson, London, 2009), p. 253.
 “Gerhard Richter: Folding Dryer”
 “Preface” in an Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990 in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, (Thames & Hudson, London, 2009), p. 3.
 “International Pop”
Alexander, Darsie, and Ryan, Bartholomew. International Pop. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.
Alloway, Lawrence. “The Development of British Pop.” In Pop Art, edited by Lucy R. Lippard, 27-68. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Decan, Liesbeth. Axellereation: Evelyne Axell 1964-1972. Tielt: Lannoo International Publishing, 2012.
Honnef, Klaus. “Robert Indiana- The Big Eight.” In Pop Art, edited by Uta Grosenick, 45. London: Taschen, 2004.
Morgan, Edward P. What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010.
Lippard, Lucy R. “Introduction.” In Pop Art, edited by Lucy R. Lippard, 11. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004.
Page, Caroline. US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion. London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1996
Considine, Liam. “Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire.” Tate Papers No.24 (Autumn 2015): 25, accessed March 2, 2016. ISSN 1753-9854
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Tate Online. “Pop Art: Characteristics and Critical Response.” Accessed February 20, 2016.
Tate Online. “Think you know Pop Art?” Last updated September 11, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/think-you-know-pop-art
Tate Online. “You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us.” Last updated May 13, 2013. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/you-can-kiss- lichtenstein-you-cant-kiss-us-0
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Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990 in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007. Thames & Hudson, London, 2009.