In the late 1910s, Raoul Hausmann began experimenting with a new type of art called photomontage. This style of art, influenced by collage of Cubism, consists of fitting different elements of text and photographs together to create a single work of art. Dadaists like Hausmann believed that photomontage was unlike traditional forms of art. He felt that photomontage was more comparable to the work of the common man than to the art techniques advocated by upper class society.
One example of Hausmann’s photomontage is Tatlin at Home. Finished in 1920, Tatlin at Home presents a situation in which the human mind is controlled by rational, unemotional thought. Hausmann believed the source of the war that ravaged Europe was a result of a society that made decisions that were influenced too much by emotion.
The work’s central subject is the Russian Constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin. Tatlin was a painter and architect of the Constructivist movement. Constructivism was devoted to using art for practical, social purposes. Hausmann was attempting to use his art to send a message to society about the dangers of their irrationality. Therefore, Tatlin, a non-traditional artist, was an excellent subject for Hausmann’s photomontage. One of Tatlin’s most well known works was a model for a large tower. The tower was intended to be used as an office building. Tatlin did not waste his talents on art that had no valuable use. Hausmann chose Tatlin because the Constructivist artist understood the importance of having purpose.
Tatlin’s thought process is used as an example for the rest of society. In the piece, a strange mechanism replaces Tatlin’s brain. The large machine juts from his head. Next to Tatlin, on a wooden stand, is what appears to be part of a human body. The two objects seem to have switched places. Where the human brain should be, a machine now sits; the organic structure of the human body separate from the rest of the body. The machine represents “mechanical thought.” Hausmann portrays Tatlin’s methods of thought as being free from emotion. Emotion is what causes the human to make poor decisions. He is specifically disillusioned with the decision to start war. If the people would think with exact non-biased calculation, they would see the consequences of going to war. In a perfect world, the people would think rationally and there would be peace as a result.
The unusual aspect of Tatlin at Home is that although Hausmann is promoting rational thought, he is doing it in an irrational manner. This is the essence of the Dada movement. The entire photomontage is supposed to be Tatlin in his home. Yet, the back wall is made of the bottom half of a large ship. On the left wall there is a map; by the map there is a man standing and holding his empty pockets. The human body is transparent and is on a stand like some sort of decoration. None of the characteristics of the work are immediately revealing in their meaning. Nothing seems to make sense. Everything about it is irrational. This is how Hausmann differentiated his art from other styles of modern art.
Tatlin at Home expresses Raoul Hausmann’s wish for a peaceful society. Such a society can only exist if people realize that emotional decisions can have consequences. Making rational, carefully thought out decisions has much more desirable results.