Hans-Christian Dany, 2.98


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 like that.
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.