We would like to welcome you all here today and of course especially welcome our speakers that for the next two days will be discussing the history and legacy of the Situationist movement in Scandinavia. The aim of this conference is to contribute to the mapping of the situationists’ projects in plural by shedding some light on the diverse activities that the Situationists in Scandinavia were engaged in during the 1960’s. I’ll make a short introduction to the seminar and end by giving some practical information.
But first a few sentences as a kind of introduction. For someone interested in artistic and political questions it is difficult not to get attracted to the Situationist International and its extreme thesis whose clarity and critical architecture are seducing. The situationists were involved in a thoroughgoing critique of modern consumer society and the groups tried in each their own ways to develop an insurrectional program based on the everyday life people lived. For years the situationist project was mainly an inspiration for people connected to the political underground. After 1989 where the first large scale museum exhibition about the Situationist International was shown at Centre Pompidou and ICA in London and especially after the death of Guy Debord in 1994 the scattered activities of the Situationist International became the object of much attention. Since the beginning of the 90’s the situationists have been a steady reference. Within contemporary art several concepts invented or used by the situationists, terms like détournement and derive, have become household term and many contemporary artists incorporate references to the Situationist International as a part of the widespread revival of strategies and forms associated with the art of the 60’s.
But the interest in the situationist project has mainly been focused on the French or continental wing of the project. Even though the Situationist International has gained still further attention during the last fifteen years, large areas of the movement's activities still remain in the shadows. Especially the actions and proposals of the Scandinavian sections remain little known. Both the art works and activities of J. V. Martin, who headed the Scandinavian section of the First Situationist International, and the diverse practices of the people involved in the Second Situationist International around Drakabygget, await a critical art historical reception. In contrast to the continental currents within the Situationist movement, there have been relatively few sustained efforts to analyse the Scandinavian currents within both the First and the Second Situationist International and to understand the significance of its activities in historical terms. Within the art historical reception, Guy Debord and the French section have been the exclusive objects of attention. This threatens to homogenize the very diverse and contradictory material that the Situationist movement produced. The privileging of the French section of the Situationist movement has tended to reduce the activities of the Scandinavian sections to a juvenile and silly version of the real Situationist organisation based in Paris.
Because of this situation, art historians have been hesitant to approach the Scandinavian material. This situation is problematic especially as it tends uncritically to reproduce the French section’s dismissal of alternative versions of Situationism and as it tends to cast shadows over the shared philosophical material of the different Situationist movements: namely the paradoxical avant-gardist concept of art where art contains a potential in so far as art is negated and transcended by a creative revolutionary lifestyle. Both the French and the Scandinavian section of the Situationist International glorified art as a uniquely special activity that had to be set free outside the confined frame of the institution of art. But the two fractions understood this idea in two different ways. For the French section art was an alienated activity that had to be superseded by an all-inclusive revolutionary activity – class war – while for the Scandinavian situationists it was necessary to use art in a transformation of society here and now. The complicated discussion inside the group in the years 1960 and 1961 about the role of art testifies to the importance of the question of art for the situationists. Was art a redeeming power, was it possible critically to dominate the different artistic medias or should art be abandoned altogether?
Right from the beginning when the Situationist international was founded in 1957 the movement was characterised by conflict between different positions inside the movement. We can choose to view this dynamic as a problematic side effect of personal rivalry, but perhaps these conflicts was actually a quality of the movement. In the early years the international was home for a wide variety of cultural practises; iconoclast filmmakers, expressionist painters and lettrist poets. In this minefield of different perspectives and desires we should not look for a Situationist doctrine, because there is none, we should look for the dialectic between the different positions.
When dealing with the different Situationist movements in their historical contexts one is struck with the hostility the groups were met with, cutting across all the differences between the Situationists groups was the repressive response of the state. It is necessary to stress this aspect, especially in the current political situation where it has become ever more visible how hostile for instance the Danish society is to every form of bohemian and youth culture, indeed to every aberration from the norms of a neo-liberal post-Fordist society. Following the events two weeks ago where the Danish police raided the Youth House situated at Jagtvej 69 and where the police arrested more than 600 people this hostility seems to have reached a provisional height. The campaign against alternative life forms comes at a time of the ‘war on terrorism’, an apparently near-endless ‘war’ reminiscent of the Cold War. The political atmosphere that has been generated by this war has made it easy to pass repressive legislations, undertake operations like the one against the Youth House and to demonize migrants as potential terrorists.
With this seminar we hope to be able to open a discussion of the Situationist project in all it perspectives. By inviting speakers from different social and cultural fields it is not our ambition to reduce the Situationist project to art history or political philosophy only. We want to view and review the plural activities and ideas of the Situationist movement as a toolbox for people, artists and activist, working today. But this toolbox is not easy to use, and this is an important aspect as far as we are concerned. The tools and methods always need to be criticised in relation to the social and political environment they are being used within. And if we look closer on this toolbox and consider what this toolbox is made for then to cut things short it must be a toolbox for ‘art and revolution’.
Conflicts around these two terms, art and revolution, was the main source of conflict within the Situationist movement and was the background for most of the splits and exclusions that haunted the movement; especially the split involving the dutch/german/scandinavian artists around Drakabygget in 1962 happened due to different understanding of the role of art in the revolutionary struggle in society.
So it is our ambition to include the dialectics and antagonism of the Situationist movement into the seminar. The only way we can talk about situationist project is by having a critical relationship to the movement and not attempt to find a receipy that will offer closure.
Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Jakob Jakobsen, March 14, 2007