Mayor says it’s time for nonsense

Highberger's proclamation will celebrate Dadaism

Lawrence residents, pay heed to what your mayor has to say – “zimzim urallala zimzim urallala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam.”

No, really.

Mayor Boog Highberger wants to awaken Lawrence to the wacky world of Dadaism, an early 20th century art movement that embraced chance, randomness and nonsense. On Tuesday, Highberger will proclaim International Dadaism Month at the city’s weekly commission meeting.

As part of the proclamation, Highberger will utter the “zimzim” phrase, from a poem by Dada founder Hugo Ball, the late German author and poet. The words have no meaning, which Highberger said is the point.

“I just think it is good to acknowledge that there is a place for chance and nonsense in every healthy lifestyle,” Highberger said.

Confused yet?

Dadaism – more frequently called Dada – was an international art movement started during World War I in Zurich, Switzerland. Most scholars generally agree that the movement – with its art that often featured random shapes and images and its poetry that made use of nonsensical phrases – was started to express the confusion felt by many as World War I raged, leaving carnage in its wake.

Mayor Boog Highberger will proclaim International Dadaism Month at the city's weekly commission meeting Tuesday.

‘Lawrence is the place’

In Dada spirit, Highberger did not select a specific month to celebrate Dada. Instead he’s proclaiming International Dada month as Feb. 4, April 1, March 28, July 15, Aug. 2, Aug. 7, Aug. 16, Aug. 26, Sept. 18, Sept. 22, Oct. 1, Oct. 17 and Oct. 26. Highberger selected the dates by rolling dice and pulling numbers from a hat.

John Pultz, an associate professor of art history at Kansas University, said the idea of a government celebrating Dada is an interesting one.

“If any place in Kansas is going to do it, Lawrence would be the place to do it,” Pultz said.

At first, Pultz said he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea of a proclamation, but then upon further reflection he said today’s world might need a dose of Dada.

“I could almost see a reason to do this to bring some levity into all the polarization that is going on in our world today,” Pultz said, mentioning the sharply divided opinions on the war in Iraq and the debate over evolution. “It is almost like it is kind of an unhappy time.”

So, did Pultz hit on Highberger’s motivation? Not exactly.

“I wish I was that profound,” Highberger said.

The mayor also said he wasn’t trying to make a political statement about the war in Iraq, though he is interested in the parallels between today’s times and Dada’s birth in World War I.

Highberger said his motivation isn’t quite as complicated.

“It might just be a prank,” Highberger said.

No laughing matter?

He said the proclamation would inject a little fun into a year-end meeting that otherwise is full of routine business items. And he said he thought several of his friends in the International Mail Art Network would get a kick out of it.

“I guess I’m just trying to be faithful to my roots,” said Highberger, who dabbles in “postage stamp” art, which features paintings in the shape and size of postage stamps.

He added that Dada might be useful in promoting the value of an open and active mind.

“A lot of Dada events leave the interpretation open to the observer, and it seems like there is some of that going on here,” Highberger said.

Not everyone is sure what’s going on, though. Reaction to Highberger’s proclamation on Friday afternoon drew a mix of reactions from people on Massachusetts Street.

“It sounds like a waste of time to me,” said Joe Hutchens, a Lawrence construction worker who said the issue would provide another reason for other Kansas communities to laugh at Lawrence. “It seems like the City Commission would have something better to do than that.”

Some people, though, took a live-and-let-live approach.

“I think it is probably higher education,” said Michael Levy, a rural Lawrence resident. “My daughter is an English major, and I think she would probably say something like, ‘This is expanding our mind.'”