Hans-Christian Dany, 2.98
THE ETERNAL YOUTH OF AN AFFRONTED MASTER PLAN
Copenhagen. We find ourselves in a room belonging to Anna, who has been
raised by Situationist parents. At a children's birthday party, Anna discredited
herself with the sentence, "All of you are stupid, Situationism is
great." The parents do not care that Anna was laughed at for wearing
a T-shirt painted with psychogeographies. Their daughter is not allowed
to say "Situationism", only anti-Situationists talk like that.
Using a camera the size of a fingernail, Anna transmits her experience of
being grounded to the Internet. Children all over the world may see how
she has to play with a Guy Debord doll for days on end. The battery-driven
Barbie-sized doll chatters something like: "We are locked in. We are
separated. The years pass and we have changed nothing." "Idiot,"
Anna kicks the figure with badly dressed hair into a corner; offended, it
continues to rant: "I always allowed the vague impression to be conveyed
that I commanded great intellectual and even artistic powers, but that I
withheld them from my times." Anna hisses, "That was the trick
you used to lure my parents into your madness..." In despair she switches
that part to Latin, the rubber dwarf persists in chattering, "In gium
imus nocte et consumimur igni." At the same time, her drunken father
is rolling on the floor of a reasonably priced bar. Drinks that have slid
out of their glasses mark out amorphous forms. Perhaps he is modifying puddles
into a map again, which the family will have to use to wander through the
Black Forest during the summer holidays. Anna throttles the replica and
knows exactly which of the original's verses are now being sung in the bar
to the tune of "Greek Wine": "...yet another morning in the
same streets, the fatigue of so many nights spent in similar ways. It is
a stroll that has lasted a long time. It really would have been hard to
have drunken more." Anna is ashamed of her parents for singing songs
In Scandinavia, the fate of this Situ-child is an exception to the rule.
In 1995 the Swedish secret services registered only eleven parents left
in the " North Section " raising their children according to Situationist
principles. Nevertheless, the biography of Anna Sjölander, put together
from a psychologist's tapes, quickly became a beststeller. In this biography,
the Situationist's network is represented as being roughly as influential
as the Church of Scientology and was even behind the murder of Olaf Palme,
for instance. Thus the Situationist strategy of using secondary literature
to build myths was successful once again.
Despite well-founded skepticism, it is said that the Situationists really
did exist, although if you observe the apparently posed group portraits
of the S.I., this is hard to imagine. The photos convey the impression of
a fiction using all the available stereotypes to disguise its non-existence.
However, it was more likely a case of cleverly transforming the given into
a luxurious myth. The consensus of art history today is that a handful of
friends scattered throughout Europe founded the "Situationist International"
in 1957. The group called attention to themselves with their magazine of
the same name - alternating between peremptoriness and encryption -, unpleasant
films, thin books, course painting and elaborate scandals. The young men
and women spent most of their time engaging in the obscure ritual of throwing
out their few members, one after the other. We still see these kinds of
dramatizing techniques today with boy groups like "Take That":
it still works. In 1972 the last members, Sanguinetti, Martin and Debord,
disbanded the S.I.
It may be that the S.I. was a form of organization by and for publicly pompous
figures, bluffers and ambitious do-nothings, who simply allowed themselves
this freedom. Arrogant Twits or simply Nice People, who wanted to implement
the Revolution, in order to avoid remaining poor. Since it is a question
of art, it does not really matter, whether the constantly invoked amusement
actually took place, or whether a bunch of wet blankets staged the devotionals
of a more entertaining life. Assuredly, some of the people in the S.I. were
better at presenting themselves than others. This was augmented by reception
problems. What remained insistently permanent of the 15 official S.I. years
is that it is a fragment and, especially, that it assumes a representational
function for something that remains invisible.
Texts about the S.I., such as this one, regularly push Debord into the center
of a stage that was supposed to remain empty. On the one hand, with the
books and films, for which he claims authorship, Debord provides plenty
of material; on the other hand, the ambivalent feelings that his personality
elicits make him attractive. The braggart at the verge of the abyss seems
to have sensed this and sometimes even to have provoked it. For the permanently
anonymous rank and file, he noted the sympathetic statement: "The names
of the shipwrecked are only written in water." The Parisian seems to
have simply lost the elegance of anonymity and of the collective. Rather
than engaging in speculations about the lack of revolutionary virtue in
Debord's case, it could be more interesting to address the question of the
political, aesthetic topicality of the Situationist legacy a quarter of
a century after its dissolution.
What describes the S.I. again and again are forms of poetic politics; although
this expression may sound nauseating at first, something very close to it
may actually contain exactly what the combinatory attempts of art and politics
in the nineties have been determinedly missing. Operating with secrets,
which this would require, has been looked down upon, man and woman have
upheld their transparency, aimed to be communicable. People talked themselves
into gray holes, in which there was about as much molecular activity as
in frozen condensed milk. The S.I. was more interested in spilling liquids,
whether openly or behind masks.
Although the term potlatch may seem jaded today, the question of abundance
that might be lavishly spent without ulterior motives becomes more acute
at a time when state-ordered frugality is the order of the day. Yet there
are always the questions of style blocking the way to a renewed topicality.
Men like Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm and, with some reservations, Asger Jorn,
who make a point of being wild with a paint brush and drink themselves under
the table, are primarily an expression of poor taste today. No one is really
interested in their kidney-shaped table mustiness now, except perhaps museums.
Most recent attempts to relaunch generally retro-like surfaces as neo-informal
are more reminiscent of Caspar the friendly ghost. It is a mirage, scurrying
past, of a happy world in which there were still real artists, unmistakable
and especially sensitive, painting pictures. This kind of sentimentality
even has a certain appeal, but its charm trips regularly over the bones
of the fathers that have been dragged along. Nomads' oases strangely mirroring
the middle-class phantasm of the artist and leaving one for a moment with
the feeling of having wandered by mistake into a novel from German Romanticism.
As far as Debord is concerned, things are more complicated. The author of
"The Society of the Spectacle" wrote in a rather convoluted, old-fashioned
French, because he was of the opinion that this would be easier to translate
in the future and, of course, the world revolution was the whole point.
This tendency to quasi-classicist sentence structure led to unusual readings
of the text. Recipients wax enthusiastic about the beauty of symmetrical
sentences where there are none, or discover Clausewitz' operational plans
in the grammar. Between shiny book covers there is much that may be easily
read as a lamentation on the disappearance of well-written literature altogether.
What is new becomes a return of eternal sameness. Things washed ashore by
modern life are grudgingly given notice. Reading Debord is balm to cultural
pessimists and the ruffled sensitivity of those suffering from modernity.
The way the hipsters despised the world in the sixties only comes across
today as a bad mood. The texts maneuver on stilts, and in between these
stilts there is indifference; although the indifference makes use of the
wrong things, in this useless stretch, or rather in that which opens up
below it, one finds what it is that continues to make these texts so fascinating.
Unlike his self-proclaimed successor Jean Baudrillard, Debord's ambiguous
cultural pessimism does not make the mistake of falling into a tellurian
blue funk at the loss of the real. Springing lightly stretched in a straight
line between two stilts, the rejection of the capitalized world and the
mechanisms that keep it going remains strictly material and permanently
interested in disposing of it. The precision, with which Debord presaged
the culture-industrial cementation of the spectacle through the radical
criticism of it, is impressive. Yet deriving vanishing opportunities for
agency from an omnipresence of the spectacle or the culture industry seems
problematic. In light of the partitions, segmentations and other changes
in cultural production, particularly in recent years, this no longer seems
adequate. The situation that Debord describes now seems to have been passed
up by capitalism's formational attempts, accelerated by crises, yet his
description provides a toolbox for new attempts at description.
Among the heirs of Situationism, a small community that has been squabbling
for years about whom the Situationists "belong to" and how to
properly deal with what has been left, there are naturally those who oppose
a Situationist exhibition in a museum. Certainly, it is not a question of
arcane knowledge, nor has it been at least since Greil Marcus' thoroughly
entertaining, although not really informative book, "Lipstick Traces".
There has even been an increasing number of Debord titles sold in recent
years, even though the majority of readers admits giving up reading them
fairly quickly. Roberto Ohrt's well-researched standard work "Phantom
der Avantgarde" has also been reprinted recently, but unfortunately
not yet translated into English. Clearly there is an interest, then, and
it ranges from hobby bohemians through interested art lovers, all the way
to a serious reinvention of the term of subversion, which has apparently
become fashionable again.
Ohrt, a scholar from Hamburg and co-founder of the Akademie Isotrop, set
up a large portion of the Situationists in the Viennese "Zwanziger
Haus" earlier this year. As in his book, he bases the exhibition on
the premise that there is an undisclosed history of the Situationists that
goes back over twenty years, and that, first of all, this history must be
brought to light. In addition, the Situationists' self-description as children
of mother Dada, whom they love, and father Surrealism, whom they despise,
would speak in favor of integrating them into art history. The Situationist
material that Ohrt has staged centers around the question of the relationship
between art and propaganda. Thus, not only are Asgar Jorn's textless dripographies
shown in conjunction with the collaborative work "Memoires", but
also Debord's treatment or politicization of them. Although this procedure
may seem somewhat formal, it seems to make sense in the perspectives that
it opens. The economic context of the painting part of the S.I. is revealed
by hanging the pictures in windows, so that their journeys through the art
market recorded on the back may be read. The material is conjoined with
representations from its time. Analogies are drawn from the silver covers
of the S.I. magazine to the brochures, with which industry presented itself
at that period. There are monitors behind the vitrines showing three films
from 1959, which revolve around young people hanging around attractively.
In a small space, Ohrt develops a complex network of references, which in
turn leaves space for the primary material, yet which also simultaneously
develops a subtext running in different directions. In terms of art history,
the emphasis on the survey and separation of the material into different
levels especially reveals a line to Marcel Duchamp. In sociopolitical terms,
the temporal reference, from which the S.I. operated, becomes clear. Ohrt's
intention does not seem to be a defusing historicization, but rather to
uncover what is important in the context of a particular time, and what
the remainder could be.
What this exhibition clearly shows is that the S.I. contradicted a bipolarity
of "the isms of contents" and formal means and often moved determinedly
in the labyrinth of their intertwinings, but also frequently got lost in
it. This approach, and perhaps even especially the aberration, going astray
qua sign as a possible form, might still prove productive today in the reinventions
of the amalgam of political and artistic techniques that are due.
Erschien auf Deutsch in springerin, Wien, auf englisch, unveröffentlicht.
Übersetzung: Aileen Derieg.