:: Tuesday, May 24, 2005 ::
ARTISTS AND MAPPING:Situationism and Locative Media
BY:: Ana Boa-Ventura
The Situationists were no different from the Dadaists and the Surrealists in their desire to suppress art. Art and culture should be part of everyday life, and it is an interesting component of recent art, that the Situationist International is often associated with emerging locative media, ubiquitous computing and urban life.
The post-war movement Lettrist International, along with Asger Jorn and his International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB), were precursors of the SI. Jorn, a close friend and collaborator with SI leader Guy Debord, is considered one of the most notable Situationist artists. He was a painter and co-author of many seminal SI images and books with Debord. Early in the genesis of the movement, the Situationists directed their critique to aspects of capitalist society besides its culture. The Lettrist International sought to change the urban landscape by merging poetry and music. Similar concern with the city was present in the London Psychogeographical Society, and it was initially thought that they merged with the two other groups to form the SI, but others disagree to say that the LPS was invented to lay claim the 'international(ist)' nature of the SI.
Wherever the credit lies however, a key practice common to all artists in this movement was the concept of 'detournement' (literally: diversion, or 'detour'). Ideas and objects deflected from the accepted norm through being turned around. The movement dealt with modern culture 'detourning' everything from the innocent family scenes of the 50s and 60s postcards with titles and speech bubbles declaring them anything but innocent, to advertising and entire films. Their new unanticipated context gives the originals humor and makes one laugh or see differently.
The SI's roots in urbanism and architecture are founded in Lettrist Ivan Chtcheglov's essay 'Formulary For A New Urbanism'. In it, he dreams of a city where 'the principle activity of the inhabitants will be the continuous 'derive'.(French: derivation) The concept of 'unitary urbanism' formed by the SI describes their experiments with attaining Chtcheglov’s new city; one that allow its inhabitants to fulfill their desires. In this theory, the 'derive' (drift) was one of the practices that the Situationists used, alongside with detourned collages of maps, and art installations. It consisted of literally drifting without direction or destination through the city, capturing its different sounds and images. Associated with this 'technique' was the concept of 'psychogeography.' The SI tracked their urban environments and how they affected the psyche in varied ephemeral documentations.
The beginning of the end for the SI was also the period that made them most popular and well known to the world: May 68. In 1966 a Strasbourg student union approached the SI with a proposal for a 'critique of student life'. Eventually published as 'On Poverty and Student Life', the document was given away during the ceremony marking the beginning of a new academic year. The court case (that led to the official closedown of the student union) gave the SI international publicity and the document instigated other students' unions to revolt. Later the SI participated in the famous Sorbonne occupations and riots which lead to a nationwide general strike paralyzing business and affecting millions. Charles de Gaulle threatened civil war and, ultimately, the May '68 revolt was a failure. But it was never forgotten. The movement had spread to many other student communities around the world and touched a nerve. However, supporters of Debord left the movment and by 1972, Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti were the only active members of the SI. In fact their last SI act was rather telling; they wrote 'The Veritable Split In The International,' a book on the history of the SI and a narrative of its failings and victories.
Following is a recent blog entry on a project about High Wycombe ( U.K.) and the remapping of an area earmarked for town centre re-development, with direct references to both 'psychogeography' and 'derive':
'This blog is to track the development of a project by brother and sister team Cathy & John Rogers to remap the area of High Wycombe earmarked for town centre re-development (formerly Project Phoenix). The remapping is to be undertaken in collaboration with community groups in High Wycombe by staging a psychogeograpical event, a walk, a 'derive' within the boundary of the re-development area'
If there is one point of agreement for the Situationists and the artists and practitioners of 'locative media' it is that if we are to make sense of the world, we need new maps.
A very complete list of readings:
Some fundamental books:
The Realization and Suppression of the Situationist International
by Simon Ford
An annotated bibliography containing over 600 references.
Guy Debord and the Situationist International
edited by Tom McDonough
MIT Press/ October Books
Leaving the 20th Century:
The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International
Translated and edited by Christopher Gray
Back in print, a classic on the SI.
Source: Paris Match,The Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt during the May 68 Events shows the scene at the factory as the marchers arrived. The workers are on the roof of the building, the students below in the street.
Surveillance Camera Players:their roots in the Situationist Internationale and urban agitprop activism are clear.