Once Again, on Decomposition
Internationale Situationniste #6 (August 1961)
Translated by John Shepley
HOW GOES cultural production? All our calculations are confirmed when one compares the phenomena of the last twelve months with the analysis of decomposition published a few years ago by the S.I (c.f. "Absence and Its Costumers," in Internationale Situationniste 2, December 1958). In Mexico, last year, Max Aub writes a thick book on the life of an imaginary cubist painter, Campalans, while demonstrating how well-founded his praises are with the help of paintings whose importance is immediately established. In Munich, in January, a group of painters inspired by Max Strack arranges simultaneously for the biography, as sentimental as could be wished, and the exhibition of the complete oeuvre of Bolus Krim, a young Abstract Expressionist painter prematurely deceased and just as imaginary. Television and the press, including almost all the German weeklies, express their enthusiasm for so representative a genius, until the hoax is proclaimed, leading some to call for legal proceedings against the tricksters. "I though I had seen everything," the dance critic for
Paris-Presse writes in November 1960, concerning Bout de la Nuit by the German Harry Kramer, "ballets without subject and ballets without costumes, others without sets, finally others without music, and even ballets simultaneously devoid of all these elements. Well, I was wrong. Last night the unheard-of, the unexpected, the unimaginable: a ballet without choreography. I mean it: without the slightest attempt at choreography, a motionless ballet." And the Evening Standard, of September 28 of the same year, reveals to the world one Jerry Brown, painter from Toronto, who means to demonstrate in both theory and practice "that in reality there is no difference between art and excrement." In Paris, this spring, a new gallery, founded on this Torontological aesthetic, exhibits the rubbish assembled by nine "new realist" artists, determined to redo Dada, but at "40° above," and who have nevertheless made the mistake of being too legibly introduced and justified by a sententious critic several degrees below, since he has found nothing better than to have them "consider the World as a Painting," calling even more upon sociology "to aid consciousness and chance," in order stupidly to rediscover "emotion, sentiment, and finally, once more, poetry." Indeed. Niki de Saint-Phalle fortunately goes further, with her target-paintings painted with a carbine. In the courtyard of the Louvre, a Russian disciple of Gallizio executes, last January, a roll of painting seventy meters long, capable of being sold by the piece. But he spices things up by taking lessons from Mathieu, since he does it in only twenty-five minutes and with his feet.
Antonioni, whose recent mode has been confirmed, explains in October 1960 in the journal
Cinéma 60: "In recent years, we have examined and studied the emotions as much as possible, to the point of exhaustion. That is all we've been able to do. . . But we have not been able to find anything new, nor even glimpse a solution to this problem. . . First of all, I'd say that one starts with a negative fact: the exhaustion of current techniques and means."
Do they look for other cultural means, new forms of participation? Since March, special posters have been put up along the platforms of the New York subway for the sole purpose of being spray-painted by vandals. Moreover, the electronic gang, at least after this summer, will offer us, for the "Forme et Lumière" spectacle in Liège, a spatio-dynamic tower fifty-two meters high by the usual Nicolas Schoeffer, who this time will have at his disposal seventy "light brewers" to project abstract frescoes in color on a giant screen 1,500 square meters in size, with musical accompaniment. Will this splendid effort be integrated, as he hopes, "with the life of the city"? To find out, we will have to wait for the next strike movement in Belgium, since the last time the workers has a chance to express themselves in Liège, on January 6, the Schoeffer Tower did not yet exist, and they had to vent their fury on the headquarters of the newspaper La Meuse.
Tinguely, more inspired, has unveiled, in full operation in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a machine skillfully programmed to destroy itself. But it has been left to an American, Richard Grosser, to perfect, already several years ago, the prototype of a "useless machine," rigorously designed to serve no purpose whatsoever. "Built of aluminium, small in size, it includes neon lighting that goes on and off by chance." Grosser has sold more than five hundred of them, including one, it is said, to John Foster Dulles.
The truth is that even when they exhibit a certain sense of humor, all these inventors get quite excited, with an air of discovering the destruction of art, the reduction of a whole culture to onomatopoeia and silence like an unknown phenomenon, a new idea, and which was only waiting for them to come along. They all dig up corpses to kill them again, in a cultural no-man's-land beyond which they can imagine nothing. Yet they are precisely the artists of today, though without seeing how. They truly express our time of obsolete ideas solemnly proclaimed to be new, this time of planned incoherence, of isolation and deafness assured by the means of mass communication, of higher forms of illiteracy taught in the university, of scientifically guaranteed lies, and of overwhelming technical power at the disposal of ruling mental incompetence. The incomprehensible history that they incomprehensibly translate is indeed this planetary spectacle, as ludicrous as it is bloody, and whose program, in a crowded six months, has included: Kennedy hurling his cops into Cuba to find out whether the armed populace would spontaneously take their side; French shock troops embarking on a putsch and collapsing under the blow of a televised speech; de Gaulle resorting to gunboat diplomacy to reopen an African port to European influence; and Khrushchev coolly announcing that in another nineteen years communism will have essentially been achieved.
All this old stuff is of a piece, and all these mockeries cannot be overcome by a return to this or that form of "seriousness" or noble harmony of the past. This society is on its way to becoming, at all levels, more and more painfully ridiculous, until the time comes for its complete revolutionary reconstruction.