The Situationist International (1957–1972)
An Bauhaus imaginiste
Heinz Stahlhut, May 14, 2007
René Riesel, Daniel Cohn-Bendit_Sorbonne, 1968_Centraal Museum Utrecht_Paris_France
René Riesel, Daniel Cohn-Bendit_Sorbonne, 1968_Centraal Museum Utrecht_Paris_France

The program of the Situationist International thus advocated the use of artistic means not to produce art or as a criticism of politics but rather to produce reality. That could not be achieved by an art that had long since become part of the consumer society. Its potential for negation had to be directed at itself, and art had to be eliminated along with everything else that made up the “society of the spectacle.”

One consequence of this strict rejection of any production of art was the exclusion of all the members -such as Asger Jorn, Constant, and the members of the German group SPUR - who did not wish to abandon artistic practice but “merely” wanted to revolutionize art. While in the decades that followed Asger Jorn expanded his activities beyond painting to include the research and documentation of traditional Scandinavian art, travel, and the study of science, economic theories, and philosophy, among other things, Constant developed his depictions of the tabula rasa of bombed cities into three-dimensional constructions as proposals for a city of the future. Beginning in 1960 he used the name New Babylon for the whole project - inspired by Leonid Trauberg and Grigori Kozintsev’s 1929 film about the Paris Commune: Novyy Vavilon.

The SI, by contrast, beginning in the early 1960s, increasingly transformed into an association of political intellectuals. The memory of the artistic avant-garde was still present only when the SI employed its means and methods to achieve its primary goal: the transformation of the everyday.

Michèle Bernstein, Asger Jorn, Colette Caillard, Guy Debord, 1959_Paris_France
Michèle Bernstein, Asger Jorn, Colette Caillard, Guy Debord, 1959_Paris_France

The radical transformation of life that was sought by all the avant-garde movements was supposed to be achieved by means of interventions in the everyday world whose rich variety was the sole guarantee that expropriated life could be regained. In the founding manifesto of the SI - the Rapport sur la construction des situations et sur les conditions de l’organisation et de l’action de la tendance situationniste internationale, authored by Guy Debord in 1957 - this is already stated as the ultimate goal of all the movement’s activities.

For the Situationists, the reality of every human life took concrete form in everyday life. The life that had been lost, because expropriated, in the spectacle could only be regained in lived subjectivity. The Situationists thus assumed that a revolution that did not fundamentally transform the daily reality of every individual would merely produce a new form of rule and expropriation. Their goal was rather to liberate everyday life by constructing situations independent of the established structures and mechanized processes of real life.

This liberation of everyday life from its functional compulsions and its becoming magical again in the free play of ever new situations represented a rejection of every form of “politics” that had existed up to that point, including every emancipatory “politics,” in which an avant-garde knew the “correct” path, which merely had to be taught to the “masses.” The actionist disturbance, radicalization, misappropriation, reevaluation, and playful staging of concrete, everyday situations were intended to yank the consciousness of the people involved from the saturated deep sleep of the “spectacle” and permanently revolutionize it.

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