The Situationist International (1957–1972)
An Bauhaus imaginiste
Heinz Stahlhut, May 14, 2007
King Mob Echo, 1968_Serge Veignant_Londres_UK
King Mob Echo, 1968_Serge Veignant_Londres_UK

The declared goal of the secret faction within the Lettrist movement that was founded by Guy Debord and Gil Wolman in 1952 - the immediate precursor to the SI - was to channel the anarchic, chaotic actions of the individualist Lettrists and lend them political significance. The group, which saw itself as an alternative to bureaucratic socialism, refused any completed works or labour altogether; it proclaimed a terrorist concept of freedom and denounced all morality.

Analogously, Debord pushed the Lettrist decomposition to its aesthetic absolute in the medium of film by countering the “spectacle” of modern society with a provocative monotony. The outraged reactions of the viewers, who were thrown back on themselves and the possibility of becoming active themselves, provided the real soundtrack of Debord’s films.

Jean-Louis Brau, 1950_Serge Veignant_Paris_France
Jean-Louis Brau, 1950_Serge Veignant_Paris_France

All of these sources fed into the founding of the Situationist International in 1957, at an international meeting of the proponents of various neo-avant-garde movements. It united groups from different countries, all of which were interested in changing the social reality by means of aesthetic concepts and a corresponding practice. In addition to representatives of the LI, there were members of CoBrA and Italy’s “Mouvement international pour un Bauhaus imaginiste”. It was primarily Debord and Jorn who were behind this merger of various avant-garde revolutionaries.

One integral component of their theoretical work was presenting elements of social criticism and subversive theory with both radical, revolutionary seriousness and covert wit and self-mockery, which transgressed every normative boundary of established political discourse and profoundly confused the establishment. The deliberate violation of all the rules of the game valid in the business of cultural until that time soon acquired a character of political subversion and fundamentally influenced events in Strasbourg in 1966 and the revolts of 1968.


In its critique, the SI under Debord worked from the concept of the “spectacle” and no longer criticized primarily the alienating effect of work but rather the colonization of free time and the totalitarian mediatising of life. Consequently, it promoted the idea of eliminating art as such in order to guide it to “free life.” The SI saw art as part of the “spectacle” that degraded human beings into passive consumers, thus merely demonstrating to them the happiness and adventure of life, and thereby abandoning them to the boredom of everyday life. The subsequent elimination of art they called for meant primarily the elimination of every form of representation. Only thus could the promise of happiness inherent in art be realized in everyday life. The revolutionary potential of the forms for coming to terms with reality that the avant-garde had developed since the First World War would finally be liberated.

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