Cut Ups

The use of the cut up technique originated in during Dadaism and questioned the role of the author by removing their voice from the production of a piece of work. The growing interest in chance and an alternative approach to the generation of art follow an art that was entering into a time of ‘post production’ whereby the originality and authorship of the artist was beginning to be made redundant.

William Burroughs

This year’s body of work has meant that I am returning to the work of William Burroughs, who I looked at last year, and his use of the ‘cut up’ technique. This Dadaist technique was popularised by Burroughs after the 1950’s and involves intervening with a piece of text and cutting it up and then reassembling. Though known predominately as a writer, Burroughs scripted a number of Dada films using this technique. The use of film in this process also highlights the influence that ‘mechanical reproduction’ has had on the way that we address artistic practice. At this point, Benjamin’s ‘Art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ essay may be referred to, in particular, this address of the loss of originality following mechanical processes that remove the image from the original source and allow it to move into new contexts.

Through the use of this technique, material is able to find itself juxtaposed alongside that which it would not creatively or logically find itself near. This creates an ambiguity that allows for an open interpretation. It also removes context and therefore changes the way we relate to the information.

Hans Richter

Richter is another Dada artist whose work disrupted the rythmic flow of film making by engaging film with a process relating more closely to collage. I am interested in this disrupted narrative in his video pieces, and in particular this cut up/collaging approach to film making.


I am beginning to recognise just how much of my work is rooted in the approach to making adopted by the Dada artists. The art of Dada very much takes chance and randomness as the means of expression, creating texts through the use of instructions and chance encounters with words. In her overview of internet art, Rachel Greene comments that net-art is very much rooted in Dada, and identifies that such instructions are passed into net-art in the form of code and algorithms.

I recognise this in my approach to the automated poetry, and also the ‘google scripts’ in which I have used a set of instructions in order to create text pieces. The element of randomness is replaced by algorithms that dictate the search results that appear. The poem generator tool that I have used to create the automated poems, use a readymade tool but also allow me to further engage in this process of text generation through a series of instructions and prompts. Similarly, the development of my video pieces follow a similar set of instructions.

Contemporary Cut Ups


Cassetteboy’s video’s are popularised by social media, and although his videos are intended as parody, are quite contrived and do involve some level of directed narrative, I’ve included his videos in this post to highlight how the use of the cut-up technique is continuously engaged within a contemporary context.


Negativland is an experimental music group who engage with the cut up technique. Again, perhaps not one of my strongest point of contextualization, but their work is a clear example of how the cut up technique can be used to disrupt and subvert an intended narrative – emphasising the vulnerability of content within an age of mechanical reproduction, especially a contemporary digital age.


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