The Situationists originated from the avente-garde and came to prominence in France in 1968. Their work was influenced by Dada, Surrealism and Lettrism. They aimed to transform art and culture making it part of everyday life. One of the prominent Situationists, Guy Debord suggested that art of the future would be the creation of situations. The Situationists wanted the imagination to be all powerful and for everyone to be involved in making all forms of art. Creativity they believed had been subdued and that people fell into categories of those that produced art and the spectators wanting everyone to be producers. There is something profoundly interesting looking at this image blow, anaglyph glasses on head back and drinking in the spectacle in front of you. I think it’s just the depiction of people in the most passive state. Student protests in the 1960’s were influenced by the Situationists who occupied offices and theatres, demonstrated and wrote graffiti on walls in cites in France in the form of slogans.

 

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From 1957-1962 the Situationists movement made up originally of European anarchist artists, film makers and writers, post war bohemians with Marxist components. The group were concerned at the increasing commercialisation of the art world, commodification of goods and the lethargy of urban life. I think what is really interesting here is that the Situationists seam to be an indirect rebellion to Edward Bernays. Bernays used Psychoanalysis applied to the consumer to manipulate the masses feelings and relationship to products.

They believed that people felt that in order to be satisfied in life we needed to own the commodities we desire (Debord, 1983, 44). They argued that life had been reduced to a spectacle as we moved through the labour of life to pay for our commodities within a consumerist society. We could question whether this can this be extended to politics? If you vote for a particular party are you voting for a way of life? What if that way of life is pitched to you in the way of an advertisement?

The Situationists lived both the theory and the practice of their beliefs. They believed that ‘alienation in society was the result of the domination of the individual by the mass media and consumerism’, they were interested in the construction of moments of life, the making of situations. By constructing these situations they aimed to transform society and were able to disrupt the culture in order to get people to think and then act. Their aim was to be the catalyst in the revolutionary process to influence people to change their thinking.

Within my own work I aim to create the situation of passing by a bus shelter or the bombardment we get daily from advertising light boxes to recreate the everyday urban environment by bring what has become part of our everyday life into the gallery space. I want to raise discussion regarding the slogans used by the politicians to allow people to come to their own conclusions rather than pushing an agenda.

The Situationists took the form of a moment in time or a longer experience purporting that life had become a ‘spectacle’.  Guy Debord’s, ‘Society of the Spectacle’ (1967) presented his theory which influenced the student rebellion in France. The students posted graffiti slogans on the walls in Paris:

‘Free the Passions’, ‘Never Work’, ‘Live without Dead Time’

The Situationists were involved in producing journal articles, writing books, making films, creating satirical comic strips and in posting political messages; they were renegades who wanted to influence and change the world. They used techniques such as ‘the drift’ which was the pull of people into cities into the streets, it was the exploring and discovery of utopia, getting people to recognise what they hated and what you loved. Another theme of the Situationists was ‘detournement’ which was the decontextualizing of existing work, suggesting that everything that needed to be said was already there it simply needed putting together to allow people to see the world in a different way. This is interesting as my current work is in re-appropriating of language and putting it into a different context to create discussion regarding why these slogans are being used. We are constantly bombarded by meaningless slogans by political parties aiming to capture our vote, based on PR these slogans have become meaningless and it has become difficult to differentiate between the main different political parties based on their tag lines which are supposed to be based on their beliefs, however they encapsulate nothing. In post Thatcherite days the main parties had found a middle ground politics in an aim to capture the voters, but this means that they have also lost their outward individual identity. For instance both main political parties have used the slogan ‘One Nation’ which fails to distinguish and communicate between their individual beliefs.

Guy Debord and Asger Jorn collaborated on a work called ‘Memoirs’ a book that was made up of fragments of books, satire, magazine, photographs all re-appropriated for the book. The lived experience was transformed into spectacle, desire into consumption. Thorough the use of images from the mass media the Situationists captured lived experience of capitalist culture and urban life in order to transform and capture everyday life and aimed at the subversion of the society of the spectacle. The slogans politicians use are a spectacle, an aspiration however they do not mean anything they are simply empty signifiers to appeal to the masses.

The Situationists believed that they could influence and change the society they lived in and this desire for change influenced other European groups in their search for something different and new, such as the music of the Sex Pistols who emerged monumentally for the youth of that time. The Situationists strived to influence the fragmentation and transformation of everyday life by getting people to move away from the desire for possessions to the need for human contact and just being with each other. The Situationists ideal that the pseudo needs of society would be replaced by a desire for the simple pleasures in life such as time to enjoy life has not influenced the masses they had hoped for and the consumerist society has not only continued despite their protest but escalated.

 

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AuthorOliver Perry