The situationists? Ever heard of before? Me neither. All of us know what a situation is, though tricky to define exactly, but what on earth is the situationism? Well, I attempted to find out through uncovering the concepts of détournement and recuperation which describe a transformation the art world has undergone over the past 50 years.
A self-discovered group of critics was opposing all the established means used to achieve the ends. Regardless of their superiority, situationists struggled to deliver a clear message and a precise definition of their ideology – sometimes described as the separation of theory from practice (Matthews, 2005).
“The situationists introduced two new concepts; the détournement […] and the recuperation.”
The situationists introduced two new concepts. The détournement, which describes the interruption of meaning to challenge dominant culture, and the recuperation, a movement that absorbs “the ideals, leaders, icons and goals” and makes it a part of the current culture (Warlaumont, 2000, p.138). Culture, in this context, stands for a group of shared meanings which people can relate to, oppose to or use in their favour (e.g. through advertising).
A versatile example is the Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) which started as a détournement and turned into a recuperation. Originally, Duchamp’s work was considered a symbol of change (new meaning of an old object). Consequently, the cultural scene has accepted the original purpose of the Fountain – to challenge the stereotypes rooted within our society – and made it a symbol of one of the primary functions of modern art. The amusement of modern art comes no longer from the number of hours spent working on a canvas but from the new purposes embodies by the modern artworks.
“Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) started as a détournement and has turned into a recuperation.”
Situationists are rebels. They create a revolution by applying new meanings to old concepts. Situationism is not dead. However, it is harder to spot it ever since the society has become used to to the acts of outrage. Situationists keep challenging the way we perceive art today.
Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE Publications
Matthews, J. D. (2005) An Introduction to the Situationists [Online]. Poole: The Anarchist Library. Availble at: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/jan-d-matthews-an-introduction-to-the-situationists (Accessed 21/4/2017)
Warlaumont, H. (2000) Advertising in the 60s: Turncoats, Traditionalists, and Waste Makers in America’s Turbulent Decade. USA: Praeger