The political concerns that animated Zurich Dada came to the forefront in Berlin, reflecting the catastrophic circumstances of wartime Germany. Richard Huelsenbeck, who had been active with the Cabaret Voltaire, returned to Berlin in 1917, bringing early Dada ideas with him. Along with the artists George Grosz, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, and several others, Huelsenbeck helped found “Club Dada.” Nowhere are the politics of “Club Dada” more explicit than in John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter’s Prussian Archangel assemblage, which depicts a pig-headed military officer that the artists suspended from the ceiling. The giant puppet< is wrapped with a poster that reads “I come from Heaven, from Heaven on high” – the refrain from a well-known German Christmas carol. The sign dangling below further mocks the military: “In order to understand this work of art completely, one should drill daily for twelve hours with a heavily packed knapsack in full marching order in the Tempelhof Field [a military training ground in Berlin].” When the Prussian Archangel was exhibited in 1920 during the First International Dada Fair, authorities charged the artists with defaming the German army. In the end, Schlichter and Heartfield were acquitted.
Arguably the most lasting artistic contribution of the Berlin dadaists was their radical development of photomontage—a variation of collage in which the pasted pieces are photo�graphs mostly culled from the newly ubiquitous illustrated press. The aggressive cutting of the photographic materials echoed the violence that outraged the dadaists. At the same time, the presence of mass-media images signaled the industrial age whose tanks, machine guns, and poison gas enabled the carnage of the war. Photomontage thus offered an ironic approach: the dadaists appropriated the newspapers and journals of the corrupt mass media and used them as the basis of their caustic social critiques. Hannah Höch produced some of the most provocative examples of the technique. In Heads of State, for instance, Höch presents the viewer with photographic images of the German President Ebert and the defense minister in their bathing suits, baring the politicians to ridicule and suggesting that their policies are as unfit as their figures.
Club Dada also depicted mechanized bodies to demonstrate a consciousness of the dehumanizing effects of the industrial age. During an era of industrialized warfare, the destructive capability of machinery was palpable and visible as wounded veterans became fixtures on the home front. In Grosz’ A Victim of Society, montage fragments of machine parts disfigure an unfinished oil portrait of the German president. Creating an unlikely link between the defaced president and the mutilated bodies of soldiers, the artist turned a proponent of the war into a victim of his own mechanized aggressions.