The beginning of war with art. From artist to the artist, comrade and enemy, despot to anarchist, topple present pillars and crumble blocks of the past. Struggles and battles propel the meek to create. A reaction to the action expressed as colour and form. Art without drama is decoration. Ease softens the pen, comfort dulls the brush. All means are to be utilized. All that is justifiable, permissable. Deceptive and manipulated symbols at your peril used … … while the eyes of the world saw only the sermon of a priest.
The story of Surrounded by Lions – a multi-media triptych begins with TRENCH, an experimental film borne in the shadows from those who witness history from the shadows. The event in history occurred in Zurich, Switzerland 1916 at Cabaret Voltaire. It was there that Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco and Hans Arp came together. They did not perform or create in a vacuum. They were surrounded by admirers, hangers on, drunks, expatriates avoiding the carnage of WWI, acolytes and artists who existed just out of the ink of the historian’s pen or who’s work is no longer extant. In all most barely paid attention to DADA.
TRENCH picks up the story of one of those “flies on the wall” during a documentary interview in 1952 at the New York City studio of Alexander Graf. Graf was a Swiss national who, at the age of fourteen, began work at the cabaret. A very large Dutch speaking fly is interviewing him. Graf relates his experience with the back story of the celebrated Cabaret Voltaire and the birth of Dada, his relationship with Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, the story of another of the flies at the cabaret, a German soldier Alphonse Korb, his own journey from Zurich to New York City, and, most poignantly, his experience in New York with Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
The German soldier, Alphonse Korb, had walked from the trenches of the First World War, across the Alps, to the front steps of the cabaret. H. Graf was at that point the main bartender and kept Alphonse safe and hidden within the tavern. This allowed Alphonse time to create as an artist before he returned to France. He left behind for Alexander a diary written from the battles and trenches of the war. It is that diary, with notes from Alexander, that constitute the second part of the triptych.