Letter to Hannah Höch

Hannah Höch, self-portrait, c.1930

Dear Hannah Höch,

Today in HA 262 we considered your practice of photomontage in the early 1920s and 30s. I am writing to let you know the impact your work has had on contemporary culture. Photomontage – let’s break it down, a photo of course, meaning the material you used: photographic fragments from mass media, newspaper clippings, trade journals, fashion and popular magazines, and then montage, meaning how you cut up and engineered photographs into new ways of seeing your world, technology and social structures. Hannah, you challenged the status quo message of Wiemar Germany and Nazi-controlled media with your ironic and discomforting photomontages. If people can’t read that now its because we have lost the immediate context of faces and names who no doubt were as notorious in your era as the governator is in ours.

Hannah Höch, Dada Panorama, 1919, Photomontage with Gouache and watercolor

media/source material in Hannah Höch's Dada Panorama

You recognized mass produced material for what it was, raw data and then you manipulated the photographic space and distorted the realism of the photographic form. Today this process and play with media is called “a mash-up” – a cut and paste of parts of a text, image, audio, video or animation is remixed and recombined into a new work; a.k.a assemblage, appropriation, pastiche, intertextuality, sample, found art and tent city. New builds on old.

Hannah Höch, Tamer, 1930, photomontage with collage

Here is a short list of artists your montage methods have influenced, starting with your contemporaries: Meret Oppenheim, Tristan Tzara, Man Ray, Max Ernst and Walter Benjamin…then William Burroughs, Joseph Cornell, Pauline Oliveros, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Martha Rosler in the 50s & 60s; Dara Birnbaum, Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman in the 80s. In the new millennium sculpture installation artist Brian Jungen reworks materials, Nike shoes and refuse bins but without concealing the objects’ original meaning. Sound installation artist Janet Cardiff records walks on city streets that are re-walked by a listener wearing headphones. Graffiti artists Bansky, Swoon and Shepard Fairey have cut out the art gallery and paste images directly in the street. All of us have vast networks of file exchange that take copy, remix, reuse culture to a pervasive level; .mp3, .wma, .oog, .wav, .mov, .jpeg files can be endlessly mapped on top of one another, reconfigured and replayed.

Hannah Höch, When Fragrances Bloom, 1962, photomontage on cardboard

media/source material for Hannah Höch's photomontage When Fragrances Bloom

Hannah you realized that media is thought and thoughts are media. Your time, 1889-1978, was your context but your work has a reference status in the future. I am glad you kept pace with all those manly men in the DADA group.

Thank you,

“And our faces, my heart, brief as photos” [1]

[1] Berger, John. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. First Vintage International Edition, 1991. New York. Copyright 1984. John Berger. p.5

READ: The Photomontages of Hannah Höch. Makela and Boswell.Walker Art Center. 1997 and Women Seeing Women. Introduction by Naomi Rosenblum.W.W. Norton&co. 2001

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