Situationist International

Situationist International

We are asked to look online at the Situationist movement with a suggestion to start at the     Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University centre for Digital Discourse and Culture

The situationists  appeared after previous movements failed before it with twists on the same ideal.

The forerunning Dada and Surrealist movements failed to gain enough momentum to break away from their links to preconceptions on beauty and art, or to finish the thought and create the pictures.

The Situationists, as a group formed in Paris in 1957. In their anti-authoritarian Marxist views believing that art should be created as a collective thing by all the people, that there was a place for cultural practise every day. However all the people were stuck in outmoded beliefs and therefore needed guidance from artists who were themselves free of the shackles of the past and worked for no overlord ideals of art and beauty.  The artwork in this time is different, its not trying to be beautiful, however it is quite forceful Asger Jorn’s oil painting, Letter to my Son (1956-7) is a large representation of childlike drawing which up until this point would not have graced a gallery, it has impact as a covered wall thats nearly 1.5x2m in size in faces. None of which appear to be smiling.

Essentially, on top of getting a skill and performing as part of a society, the surrealists  (who had families and skills that paid the bills, as writers, ceramistists etc) shunned social order and rebelled. In inciting everyone else to do so, they represented a problem. Their ideals were a key part in civil unrest in Paris in 1968 and they slowly disbanded over the next 4 years. The movement could not have enough energy to move on if the body of the people behind the head of it where not as free in time or as affluent.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote

“In conferring upon photography a guarantee of realism, society is merely confirming itself in the tautological certainty that an image of the real which is true to its representation of objectivity is really objective.”

I think this is more of a question really. Bourdieu answers it later on in the essay by saying that society has decided a photo has been taken independent of emotion and social impact, he did not believe that society is itself objective. Its always squewed in one way or another be it matriarchal or patriarchal, a religious society and/or a well educated bunch, society has ideals it aims to live up to and a plan. therefore the importance of a subject will have a greater effect on the photos taken as they would be the ones viewed over other ‘irrelevant’ content.

Do I agree with it?

He may have a point here. The photos with the most likes speak to the most people, or society, does this not then propagate more pictures of the same content? same visual appearance?

Not content with that, photoshop has made a mockery of the sentence by allowing the ‘real’ photo to be as manipulated as the ideas in a painting.

References html [Accessed 13th November 2016]

Asger, J(c.1950)Letter to my son [Oil painting on canvas] Tate. Available from: [Accessed 13th November 2016]


Part 2 Project 2 Barbarous Taste

We are asked to read an essay by Pierre Bourdieu from the course reader called ‘The social Definition of photography’.

Whether or not you are totally convinced by the argument, do you see ways in which his arguments could be applied to some of the more contemporary forms of visual artistic expression – performance, video and instillation art for example?

The essay has several points;-

  • Photography as a new medium was automatically used to create images in the same style as paintings had been done for hundreds of years,
  • It is seen as the authentic reproducer of nature and the natural because it copies it so well and is unemotional. The last paragraph in this section was difficult to unravel, I asked someone with a masters in English to translate and their notes turned it into a question which helped clarify it for me, so I think its is the unemotional factual depiction of the real really unemotional and factual? which it can’t be because someone has decided to create the record at that time and they have a purpose in making that recording. There is always an agenda whether it is perceived or not.
  • Its inability to create beyond a single depth hasn’t led to another way of constructing an image.
  • Because it is so easy to take a picture that a ‘peasant’ could do it it has a lesser value than if an artist had created it.
  • Each picture is a construct of a socially pre-defined  situation with the individuals in it positioned in a pose that does not break away from the way pictures like this are always taken (although I’d argue this is is incorrect, the pose is a thing that changes with the generations, thus the duck faced selfie is now the accepted norm but must have been new at some point) also, doesn’t this contradict the use of photography to take images of the natural as naturally as it can? The act of posing as the essay states, is deeply un-natural.
  • The pose is then discussed as a means to convey the subject to the viewer, served up in an uncomfortable face on way that makes you self-conscious of how you look, obviously I am a peasant, because I hate having my photo taken and am body conscious (thanks for that Bourdieu).
  • This leads to the wrongful representation of society, if the hierarchy of a positioning within a group photo is defined by society, this area has merits, a family shot is taken with the parents in a position of overriding importance, either guarding their children or seated in the most important spot, while this may convey the relationships within the family, it doesn’t state the strengths of all the individuals within that unit.
  • Not all photos are relevant to everyone, which is true, we pick and choose which images catch our eye as they stream past on Facebook, it is also what allows us to admit that not all pieces in a gallery are appealing. But could it be they have been chosen incorrectly based on universal likes versus personal more limited likes? In which case is the curator wrong for including it or merely trying to open our eyes to something else?
  • Taking photos for aesthetic purposes devalues them, the argument is a bit hazy here, but I think its to do with the purpose of photos really being to increase the value of the object/people in the photo, so by creating a photo purely because its a nice picture means it doesn’t fit into a category, it has no story explaining itself, its disconnected.
  • photos values are based on  societies views on the value of the subject, the photo is reviewed by a different hierarchy within these groups, so society is deciding what photos we take.
  • He ends by saying that having grouped photos by class, can they not then show the sociology of the group that produced them, isn’t that a direct depiction of the culture? So you can get a true indication of society from photos, because society dictated what was acceptable to put in a picture?


I can see his point, the value of something that hasn’t taken a huge amount of energy that was completed with a medium that -as automated as it is- means even less effort by the creator, could be conceived as less than if the artist had studied a medium for years and the picture/sculpture took years to create. Having said that, the modern artist could potentially have still spent a grand amount of time learning how to pose the viewer, complete the idea in the plot and production values to give the piece its emotive effect/value.

Bourdieu’s attitude seems (like Benjamin, possibly a bit scared of the unknown future) a touch elitist and also ignorant of the fact that with modern installation art and the likes, by using the media as art to question what we see, maybe it is being used in away that isn’t traditional and conforming to the socially acceptable way of representing the world, my viewing of British art at Southampton gallery included a piece by Lawrence Abu Hamdan (A convention of tiny movements, 2015) that showed how we don’t need microphones because household items can be made into them, with a crisp packet being the most acoustically similar to how we hear through modern microphones. The piece as a wall sized poster picture of a supermarket next to a chair with a box of tissues on it that you could sit at and listen to a voice from, made its point about modern technology and a potential layer of paranoia, really well.

However, as a created piece, it didn’t consist of much. The picture was a black and white image of the shelves in an elevated view so several rows of shelves were visible. Some of the items on the shelves were in colour, the information written in a note on the adjacent wall stated that the coloured items where what had been found to have listening qualities so far and explained the message clearly.

The table and chairs didn’t seem to be bespoke and the electronics involved also didn’t strike me as expensive or complex, in fact most of the premiss of the piece was from information the artist had arrived at through an engineer.

But I still got something out of it, either as a knowledge that we far from understand everything, and that we will arrive at a point where if someone wants to find out about something, the chances are there will be an inconspicuous way for them to achieve it, which gave me a sense of discomfort as much as it intrigued me with its findings. So I’m not about to devalue it because it probably didn’t take him 6 months of morning till night work to complete.

Subscribing it as a socially accepted image as an installation piece is incongruous to the knowledge that it was constructed to go into a gallery, not on a wall in a private abode, and as John Berger wrote at the start of ways of seeing, most people who go to galleries are of a higher education level, which is I believe still  mostly a class based attainment, so the peasants are not seeing the easy art anyway. The argument doesn’t fit the art.

Is it devalued because it is a social construct and not an objective item? One of the other students on the visit to the gallery pointed out that the background of the artists who’s work is shown in British art show 8 had an impact on the mediums used, and content of images,Lawrence Abu Hamdan, in this instance is from Beirut, his work as a result of this is not a floaty landscape or a comfortable piece about recycling.

Also, if I reach a point where my art sells, does it mean I have a better grasp of what is a universally acceptable image so that a gallery will pick it to show? or individual personal one that speaks loudest to someone so they want it on their wall and are prepared to pay?


Bourdieu, P(1965)The social definition of photography. In: Visual culture reader, Jessica Evans, Stuart Hall. London. Visual culture reader. pp. 162-180

Hamdan, LA(2016)A convention of tiny movements, 2015. [Audio, tissue box and print] British art show 8. Southampton gallery