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Published: 24 July 2021

By Andy Ross

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Dada, dance and design

Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a trained artist and textile designer, a wood-turner and sculptor, a teacher and a dancer.

An exhibition at Tate Modern (you can see the details here) of the artist's work has just opened. In the show are numerous examples of the drawings, design plans and artefacts that Sophie produced, alongside paintings and sculptures. Some are familiar, Head in MoMA's collection or her paintings, but others are less so. In the exhibition are marionettes from a production of King Stag (another piece, a study for a marionette, is in the Metropolitan Museum collection) and interior designs for an entertainment complex and private clients as well as a diversity of textile-related pieces. 

It must have been an unnerving and yet creative time to be part of the art world in Europe. In response to conflict the Dada movement in Zurich gave impetus to anti-war sentiment and Paris would shortly become the home of Surrealism. Sophie responded through her textile design training, creating pieces that experimented with form and colour. Although largely overlooked until now for this work, her contribution to art and design was unique and enormous. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of the artist's work was performance, dance and costume. Sophie took classes at Rudolf von Laban's dance school and performed in public (on this page you can see a photograph of the artist wearing a mask and dancing either at Cabaret Voltaire or Gallerie Dada). Her costume designs included these Hopi-inspired creations. 

In this period Rudolf von Laban was experimenting with dance notation. Without such a formalisation he felt that dance would not be accepted by the "cultural elite" and the result was described by Rudolf as Schrifttanz (Written Dance) in 1928, now evolved into Kinetography Laban or Labanotation. You can read more about the notation here and try it out for yourself on this website. The parallels between the geometry of Sophie Taeuber-Arp's practice and Rudolf von Laban's dance notation may already be evident but this essay explores in-depth the relationship between the two. It is an illuminating and thought-provoking read about a turbulent, troubled and hugely influential period in the arts. 


Photo credit: Sophie Taeuber-Arp  Embroidery. c. 1920 Wool on canvas 12 5/8 x 15 3/4″ Private collection, on loan to the Fondation Arp, Clamart, France