During the early 1970s, Christopher
Gray edited an important collection of writings
he titled Leaving the 20th Century.
Gray's anthology compiled the declarations
and tracts from an obscure circle of late
1950s French dissident artists and intellectuals
who called themselves "Situationists".
Observing the present state of society, it's
easy to conclude the rants of the Situationists
still pertinent... with Gray's book simply
needing its titled updated to Leaving the
21st Century. The Situationists were predicting
in the 50s that capitalism would transform
society into a "commodity spectacle" where
people would be transfixed and depoliticized
by a never ending barrage of manufactured
events and enticing products.
a member of the Situationist movement, Gray
wrote: A new form
of mental illness has swept the planet: banalization.
Everyone is hypnotized by work and by comfort:
by the garbage disposal unit, by the lift,
by the bathroom, by the washing machine.
people everywhere have been allowed to choose
between love and a garbage disposal unit.
Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal
Situationist cohorts proposed battling the
ills of society by creating "situations from
which there would be no turning back" (hence
their name). Situationism never had an explicit
political platform, instead it relied on human
desire and the subconscious to act as triggers
in the quest for liberation. In short, the
Situationists wanted to expose people to creative
acts that would force a reconsideration of
society and its functions, subsequently making
a "return to normal" impossible.
screaming banality observed by the Situationists
more than 40 years ago has now grown so pervasive
that few seem to notice any longer. Collectively
submerged in a whirlpool of useless information,
frivolous distractions, and unneeded products,
people everywhere have been reduced from citizens
to mere consumers. A-historical and self-possessed,
we stare incomprehensibly at the world through
our television screens. We live in a drowning
pool of hyper-materialism. As Situationist
inspired rebels wrote on Parisian walls in
1968, Life is elsewhere.
transformative art the Situationists spoke
of would not necessarily spring from a calculated
political approach launched during times of
great social turmoil. Sometimes artists working
in isolation during socially conservative
times can set greater things in motion, which
is something we need to grasp in our present
expressions of cultural/political dissonance
are forming all around us.
times and places always produce artists that
speak for that particular frame of reference,
and conservatism supplies fertile ground for
new ideas and actions insofar as it provides
something to push against. So rest assured,
the next resurgent cultural tsunami is just
around the corner.
by Mark Vallen © All rights reserved.