The Situationist International (1957-1972)

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Whilst Dada was largely concerned with the structures of exploitation within culture, the S.I. turned its attention more explicitly to society at large; its battleground was the everyday - the lives we lead day-in, day-out – and, like Dada, it was concerned with how our experience of the world is unjustifiably curtailed by capitalist ideology.

If Dada sought to drag art from the bourgeois confines of the gallery to the democracy of the street, to liberate creativity from the clutch of the ‘artist’ and return it to the masses, the S.I. ran with the idea, seeking to fuse art, and the creativity of the artistic act, with the flow of our everyday lives. The S.I. suggested that art should not necessarily be confined to galleries, where we must go to it; that it can also be intertwined with our everyday experience, as a fundamental aspect of a fulfilled existence.

The Situationists were dissatisfied with the kind of unimaginative and conventional experiences that were sanctioned by society, and saw opportunities to construct an everyday reality that provided greater possibilities for imagination and play. They came up with a number of initiatives that were designed to realize their ideas about creative living, important amongst which was the concept of the situation, which they advocated as a method of grasping and owning experience.

“We must thus envisage a sort of situationist-oriented psychoanalysis in which […] each of the participants in this adventure would discover desires for specific ambiences in order to fulfill them. Each person must seek what he loves, what attracts him. [...] Through this method one can tabulate elements out of which situations can be constructed, along with projects to dynamize these elements.”6

The situation was intended as a unification of life and art. If before the two had been separate - with art as a peripheral experience, little related to the functionalities of everyday life - the situation was intended to reunite them, restoring creativity to the everyday.

Other initiatives included Psychogeography, which was primarily oriented towards seeing and realizing the potential for creativity and play within urban environments. It included, amongst other things, the concept of the dérive; “[...] to dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. It was very much a matter of using an environment for one’s own ends [...]”7

Linked to the idea of Psychogeography was Unitary Urbanism, which addressed the way that our environments are constructed and the potential they leave for possibilities of movement, imagination and play. Unitary Urbanism analysed the effect of architecture on our experience, with specific regard to the psychological implications of buildings and environments. It sought to merge functional considerations with the potential for play and imagination, in an effort to create environments that would facilitate the overarching Situationist project, that of creative living.

In giving names to the kinds of whimsical and ephemeral urges and ideas that we all probably experience from time to time, the Situationists sanctioned a broader range of movement for the individual within society; the importance of giving these ideas weight, be it though theoretical discourse or visible action, was that they became less easy to dismiss – they were no longer relegated to the realms of simple whimsy or fancy, or condemned to lurk in the shadowy recesses of the mind. Through elevating ideas about play and imagination to the level of serious discourse, they aimed to bring validity to these oft-overlooked aspects of experience.


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