Situationist International (SI) was an avant-garde movement largely instigated by Guy Debord, a French theorist and filmmaker who co-founded the group in 1957 and organized its members, publications, and ideas until the movement's dissolution in 1968. Deriving much of the group's direction from Sartre's belief in freedom of choice and responsibility, Debord named SI after the philosopher's definition of "situation" as the existential framework in which individuals, rather than being passive tolerators of the world, have an active role to play in their understanding of it.
The movement was heavily influenced by the desire of the Dadaists and Surrealists to extend their artistic concerns into attacks on broader social and cultural issues, and saw itself as overtly and politically engaged in a struggle against a society that had become, in Debord's words, an "accumulation of spectacles." Drawing on Marxist theory, the SI reasoned that if modernity is a spectacle and its spectators are seduced by the glamourous mediation of their own lives through images, signs, and commodities, then modern individuals are fundamentally characterized by personal alienation--a feature fundamental to class reproduction and economic expansion--instead of basing their sense of self on a direct understanding of space and society as they did in the past.
Based on the profound belief that human beings can overcome this state of passive consumption, the SI developed guerrilla tactics of engaging with and subverting previously one-directional forms of media and societal experience. Using these tactics, notably "dérive" and "détournement," the city was to become an arena for creating situations that would break the constraints that prevent the development of meaningful ventures in life and culture. The desired outcome of these urban reevaluations was the elaboration of new urban psychogeographical outlines with which to discredit authority, so as to discover what Debord described as a “human journey through authentic life.”
This movement arguably foreshadowed much of the theoretical claims behind today's street art.
Watch a clip from "Can Dialectics Break Bricks?", an example of détournement in which René Viénet overdubs a martial arts movie with Marxist rhetoric:(read less)
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