Thursday, 5 October 2017

‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography' Guy Debord, 1955, Ken Knabb (ed)

A French philosopher and theorist influenced by Marx, Debord founded Situationist International in the mid 50s. 

The Situationist artistic and political movement experimented with the idea of constructing a situation. This was to combat the passivity created by capitalism, which Debord called the Society of the Spectacle (people being seduced into consumerism by capitalism through contemporary mass media.)

Written as a manifesto for the group, this introduces key ideas such as psychogeography; "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. 

It  concentrates on the urban environment.

Debord’s Psychogeographique de Paris. A map of the city of Paris, cut it into pieces and glued together in a different way.  The new map was supposed to show locations which evoked the most emotions from people.
Debord’s idea seems to be that capitalism turns people into robots moving in a fixed, passive, predetermined way (eg home/work/home).

People can explore psychogeography through dérives (– translating as ‘drift) which encourage people to move actively and consciously through the city, moving at random, & finding chance encounters and personal memories.  

The SI were early adopters of graffiti, using public space to convey their message. 


‘Never work’ written all over Paris in the1950s

 'Call in sick' DFace 2008 Hackney

Debord writes about ‘… a general idea of happiness prevalent among the bourgeoisie and maintained by a system of publicity… an idea of happiness whose crisis must be provoked on every occasion by every means’. 
Another prophetic idea by Debord was the idea of détournement' (can be translated as diversion, or in current usage, hijacking) ie changing a pre-existing work of art or literature to subvert its meaning.  Quoting or plagiarizing existing images so that the original is subverted.

Eg  a comic book – familiar and accessible, but subversive in its ideas. 


(Le Retour de la Colonne Durutti  altered comic by André Bertrand that was handed out at a University in  1966 during a student protest 

Cowboy 1: "What's your scene, man?"
Cowboy 2: "Realisation"
Cowboy 1: "Yeah? I guess that means pretty hard work with big books and piles of paper on a big table."
Cowboy 2: "Nope. I drift. Mostly I just drift."


 Jamie Reid's famous cover 1977

Advertisement ‘détournment’ by Dr D, @subvertiser 

Starts Wars - Dr D  2003 

Sold Out/ Clearance sale Aida Wilde -

Screenprint/posters in Hackney Wick by Aida Wilde on the sale of artist studio buildings to make way for investment properties.

The opposite todétournement' is the idea of recuperation, in which subversive works or ideas are taken over by mainstream media. This is a survival technique for capitalism,  as it attempts to absorb resistance.  I will talk about this in the next blog.

The word count didn’t allow for examples of contemporary artists/inheritors of the Situationists but here are some links: 

@specialpatrols Special Patrol Group  

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