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Absence and its Costumers

International Situationniste #9 (August 1964)

Translated by Thomas Y. Levin

AS MODERN ART increasingly tends toward a radical reduction of its means, towards silence, the products of this decomposition are required to be increasingly useful, are put on display and are "communicated" everywhere. This is due to the fact that this development in modern art expressed — and opposed — the noncommunication that has effectively established itself everywhere in society. The emptiness of life must now be furnished with the emptiness of culture. This is done using all the possible sales strategies, particularly those that also serve almost everywhere else to pass off half-empty goods. To this end it is necessary to mask the real dialectic of modern art by reducing everything to a satisfying positivity of nothingness that justifies its own existence tautologically by the mere fact that it exists, which is to say that it is granted recognition within the spectacle. Moreover, this self-proclaimed new art, down to its very details, turns out to be unabashedly the art of open plagiarism. The fundamental difference between an inventive modern art and the current generation is that what was previously anti-spectacular is now reiterated in a form both integrated into, and accepted within, the spectacle. This preference for repetition serves to eliminate all historical evaluation: now that neo-dadaism has become the official art of the United States, one goes so far as to repraoch the dadaist Schwitters for recalling his own epoch. Indeed, even the critical form of writing known as détournement is subjected to a number of literary popularizations, with "references at the end of the volume." But the volume of cultural nothingness today guarantees a totally different end.

Long live nothing! You've perhaps heard of this gadget that caused a sensation in the United States last month, and which had the peculiarity of being useless. Well, you will be interested to learn that this extraordinary object — a cubicle box encrusted with electric lightbulbs that can light up in any direction — was such a success that it sold out completely and is impossible to find anymore. And yet the "Nothing Box" cost nearly forty dollars (more than 200 francs).

Elle, 8-2-63.

After each play, and particularly after this year's discovery Oh! les beaux jours, one wondered what new means or words Beckett could possibly still invent in order to materialize the nothingness and approach the silence that fascinates him. Yet the text of Comédie displays the very increase in sobriety that one no longer thought was possible.

Le Monde, 13-6-64.

One should know better: to buy a painting when it is love at first sight is dangerous. For a beginner, it is the worst way to start a collection. A battery of psychological tests has recently proven this: you can only become attached to a painting if it resembles you. In the Culture Boutique that puts these theories into practice, Marie-France Pisier, star of François Reichenbach's next film, was subjected to a barrage of questions posed by a psychologist: "Are you a glutton? Do you wear red? Do you sleep well?" and so on. The test is so convincing that Marie-France, at first attracted to a canvas by Singier, ultimately walked out of the boutique with a Soulages.

Marie-Claire, July 1963.

Mukaï, an important Japanese sculptor. His most famous work: a compressed Renault 4 CV car that now adorns one of Tokyo's train stations.

Elle, 9-8-63.

The organizer of a vaction club proposes the following quite seductive package for the month of January: "Eight days in the mountains for three hundred and fifty francs, everything included." When I first read this advertisement I did not find it very striking, It is the details of the "everything included" that make it extraordinary. The price not only includes air fare, a comfortable chalet, free stay for children under ten, and a kindergarten, but also "an encounter with a celebrity." For starters: Le Clézio.

Alfred Fabre-Luce, Arts, 1-1-64.

In large housing projects the theatrical space takes on a different meaning. It can no longer be a space and a stage constructed exclusively for dramatic performances. Formerly a total art form involving literature, painting, music, and architecture (not to mention lighting techniques), the theater is now considered as a space adaptable to the entire range of cultural presentations of the small town: dramatic art, cinema, television, lectures, dance . . . something like what the architect P. Nelson calls poetically a "leisure garden." This is what is at the root of the tendency, both in France and in the entire world, to build cultural centres.

Le Monde, 12-10-62.

The last four years have witnessed a veritable blossoming of a generation of musician-mathematicians throughout the entire world. Here in France research in this domain is refused substantive government subsidy, and is therefore reduced to the level of industrious craftsmanship more or less supported by the major producers of electronic machines . . .

The fruits of this research include, among others, the compositions Variations triangulaires by Michel Philippot and the Nonetto in forma in triangulo by Pierre Barbaud. The latter was also asked to provide music for the film Les abysses. Without taking the slightest account of the images, he calculated the music on his Gamma 60, transcribed it in traditional notation, handed it over to the musicians, and recorded it. The reviews subsequently applauded the beauty of the score and its considerable contribution to the film's success.

In this manner the Gamma 60 today produces kilometers of harmonic exercises that are neither more ugly nor more beautiful than those produce in the conservatories, but infinitely more perfect in terms of their strict obedience to the rules! One can, by the way, even program the "tics" of past composers...

The imprecision of the stroke of a bow, indeed the instability of the sound emitted by the majority of today's instruments is not ideally suited to "realizing" the implacable logic generated by the machine. It seems that the supplementary use of an acoustic synthesizer is virtually indespensable in order to make the results of this research a true means of acoustic information.

It is clear, however, that "calculated" music has opened up a new era in terms of artistic creation. Our musician-researchers are already envisaging applying the best data provided by the electronic brains simultaneously to both music and the plastic arts. They are already living the (hopefully furtile) marriage of man and machine in the realm of the spirit. They affirm loudly that the machine helps them "to better conceive new structures." Let us here salute, together with Abraham Moles, the advent of the technological age.

France-Observateur, 21-5-64.

An agitated audience at the Théâtre de France the other night for a concert of the "Domaine"...

Next on the program was Karlheinz Stockhausen's Klavierstück X, the performance of which, by the same artist, looked like true forced labor. The soloist, armed with gloves, engaged in hand to hand combat combat with his Steinway for a number of rounds, some of them extremely short — a single chord, played very powerfully — and each separated by numberous and interminable silences, such that this Klavierstück really looked like a boxing match...

And yet behind all this experimentation there is nothing really new. The piano abused by punches? Already seen around 1926-1928 at a concert by the Revue musicale. And Kurt Schwitter's dadaism recalls that there were beautiful scandals provoked by Tristan Tzara around 1920.

Le Monde, 25-3-64.

This American presentation, an annex geographically outside the Biennale, is entirely devoted to the neo-dada protest movement known by the name of "Pop Art"; its appearance is a bit like that of an American festival on the margins of the official show.

Le Monde, 19-6-64.

I have not forgotten that I must discuss Jean-Pierre Faye's Anthologues — a book that, it is true, does not call itself a novel... Nevertheless, what he wants to tell us is a story, even several stories. And I am perfectly willing to accept the fact that he embellishes his text with camouflaged citations from writers of the past, the references to which one only finds at the end of the volume.

Guy Dumur, France-Observateur, 18-6-64.

Urbanism as Will and Representation