arp, enak's tears (terrestrial forms), 1917


The work Enak’s Tears, also known as Terrestrial Forms, is an early Dada work by Hans Arp.  The wood relief sculpture is composed of two cut pieces of wood laid on top of each other.  Before entering into a detailed analysis of this work it is important to note that “Dada Means Nothing.”[1]  This quote, pulled from the Dadaist Manifesto 1918, is a summation of the motives of Dada.  It is not a movement that is attempting to push a new ideology, but rather is focused on the failure of the past and the current disillusionment of man.  Dada is heavily tied to World War I and is very much a reaction to the sense of loss and disconnect that gripped Europe in the years after.[2]  Dadaism instead focused on the extraordinary and absurd, especially the seemingly foolishly abstract, as a means of communicating the way they viewed the world now was.[3]   This piece is an example of an attempt to come to terms with the new fragmented sense of reality.

The back piece, which uses the curvature of its lines to give the since of fluid and melting motion, is painted in three separate cool colors, blue, orange and light red.  These three colors meet along distinct curved lines, but never mix or overlap.  By doing this Arp divides the flowing background into three zones, which due to the irregular shape of the background are not geometrically equal.  Here Arp shows a theme that runs throughout Dada art and that is the idea of the tragedy of the just passed war.  The war was fought over nations attempting to gain land and divide their surroundings, without allowing any mixture.  The flows of the lines in this sculpture show the Dadaist view of the futility of such attempts.

The top piece of the sculpture is composed of wood cut to resemble a line endlessly weaving and coiling upon itself, with a small white circle in the bottom right.  The line, which is an earthy, brown covers more than half of the work as it makes one closed loop; and a second that is prevented from closing by the white circle that rests at its end.  When the alternate name for this sculpture is examined the idea of the brown being the form of the earth work trenches, which World War I was famous for, is seen.  The brown of the sculpture, much like the trenches themselves, wind in and endless loop that seems to move only in a circle before ending in a tear.  The white circle, or tear from the first title, is a symbol of the pain and devastation caused by the war on all its many victims.  The war not only scared the earth with endless trenches it also scared nations as it divided people and distanced them from one another.  The war also divided, more than just nations, the individual psyche of people.  Soldiers returning from combat would be unable to re assimilate, and many were so badly wounded they could be little more than beggars who were ghosts of their former selves.[4]  The tear, along with the cool, deep colors combine to show not only the physical pain of these wounded, but also the national pain at the loss of life and the destruction the old that brought no new utopia.

This work is first and foremost, extremely abstract.  There are no clearly defined shapes, as everything from the flowing shape of the background to the imperfect circle, everything in the sculpture seems to be a melting of shape.  There are no forms that immediately depict images of the war, people, or any type of concrete form that can be easily distinguished.  Even the name “Enak” is an example of abstraction as it is an unclear reference to anything specific, and instead is common German name.  It takes the Dada ideas of nothingness and extreme distortion to create a work of art that attempts to match the disconnected and distorted world around it.  On first glance this sculpture looks like little more than a poorly decorated piece of wood, however it is exactly this sense of nothingness that gives the work its meaning as a Dada social commentary.



















Works Cited

Ball, Hugo. “Dada Fragments.” In Art in Theory, by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 250-251.


Malden : Blackwell Publishing, 2003.


Tzara, Tristan. “Dada Manifesto 1918.” In Art in Theory, by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood,


252-257. Malden : Blackwell Publishing, 2003.


[1] Tristan Tzara. Dada Manifesto 1918. (AiT p 253).

[2] Leading up to the start of the war many in Europe though that a great war would not only unite the world, but bring about a utopian society.  This notion was destroyed amidst the slaughter and seemingly senselessness of the world, which left many in Europe disillusioned.

[3] Hugo Ball. Dada Fragments. 1916. (AiT p 250).

[4] World War I was the first war fought with modern weapons; however the tactics were still antique and led to heavy casualty and severe grotesque injury.  The economy post-war was unable to support these veterans, and the medical community was trying to learn how to manage such severe disfiguration.

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