Berlinische Galerie, Museum für moderne und zeitgenössische Kunst, Berlin, 2022
August Sander’s portrait Untitled (Raoul Hausmann as a Dancer) from 1929 presents an entirely different view of the artist.
Artists Wear Fashion
Fashion and art are mirrors of social changes and individual needs. In the collection of the Berlinische Galerie, this theme is present in surprising and diverse ways. In the era of modernism, artists’ clothing was not limited to painters’ smocks. In Berlin in 1929, the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann posed in front of August Sander’s camera in his self-designed ‘Oxford trousers’.
With her textile objects and installations, Alexandra Hopf interprets historical sources, such as the Constructivist uniform clothing designed after the Russian Revolution by artists such as Varvara Stepanova, Vladimir Tatlin, and Alexander Rodchenko. For the exhibition, the artist realises Raoul Hausmann’s ‘Oxford trousers’ as a textile object. This resulted in a study of this garment, its creation, and its use. Alexandra Hopf developed an installation from this, which restages the garment by means of colour, movement, light, and sound.
Patent Trousers (Spotting Raoul), 2020/21
A photograph by August Sander from 1929 depicts the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann posing in front of the camera in white Oxford trousers. The cotton twill trousers fall with a very wide flare. They are a model that was considered subversive and therefore highly fashionable amongst Oxford students at that time. There are various versions of the trousers`origin.
The most probable is that they were worn by students between rowing regattas as warming pull-over trousers, and that their deliberate nonchalance was intended to provoke those who upheld the university’s established dress code. In the following decades, too, the wide-cut ‘Oxford bags’ offered liberation for the wearer. As trousers of the so-called ‘zoot suit’, they were worn by African Americans and Latinos in America in the 1930s and 1940s as a sign of self-determination. In ‘Northern Soul’, a club and music movement of the 1960s and 1970s from the north of England that referred to Black soul music and showed solidarity with the Black Power Movement, the wide trousers, in which the wearers moved acrobatically during dance marathons that often lasted for days, once again became a cult clothing item. The fashion-savvy Hausmann wore the Oxford trousers especially when he performed. For him, fashion was a form of artistic expression.
But August Sander’s portrait Untitled (Raoul Hausmann as a Dancer) from 1929 presents an entirely different view of the artist. Barefoot, with a naked torso and an ironically expressive pose, he satirises the masculine understanding of roles with which he otherwise presented himself in self-designed innovative clothing in various fashion magazines or in private photographs.
Hausmann also remained fluid in his choice of media. As one of the most experimental of the Dadaists, he put all his energy into inventing a mediator between optics and acoustics, a so-called ‘optophone’,1 which would use photo sensors to transform light into sound and vice versa. He also expanded the concept of collage cross-medially by seeking to unite sound, light and movement.
He even developed various patents from his synaesthetic approaches. Patent Trousers (Spotting Raoul) picks up on the synaesthetic nature of Hausmann’s work and translates his photographic portrait into three-dimensional space using both analogue and digital means. When movement is detected in a darkened room, sensors trigger a sequence of rotation, sound and modulated UV light. The brightness of the UV spotlights follows the rhythm of the sound, and the rotation its duration. When viewed in bright light, the reconstruction of the trousers on a revolving base allows spots to become visible, which – after a turn and a change of light – prove to be invisible in the dark.
The missing optical information of one eye is compensated for by the other eye. The science of the 1920s recognised the blank spot not only as a component of perception, but virtually as its precondition, while psychology interpreted the ‘blind spot’2 as something repressed, a reverse side of consciousness. The trousers are made of a new fabric, screen-printed with a pattern of photochromatic paint. The pattern is comprised of blue spots created during a painting process. Due to the peculiarity of the photochromatic pigment, however, the pattern becomes visible only under UV light. Sound, light, colour and rotation speed are coordinated in such a way that the rotating object body repeatedly assumes the initial pose as depicted in the historical photograph by Sander.
While the lower body with the trousers rotates 360 degrees on the platform, the spots can be perceived from all perspectives. When the light goes out, the spots disappear.
1 The idea for optophony did not, however, come from Raoul Hausmann himself. As early as the 1910s, the Irish physicist and chemist Edmund Edward Fournier d’Albe (1868 – 1933) succeeded in developing a reading device for blind and visually impaired people.
2 The term ‘blind spot’ originally comes from ophthalmology and social psychology. In this context, therefore, it is not to be understood as an ableist image. See <https://diversityarts- culture.berlin/woerterbuch/ableismus