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THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 5 (pages 26-30)
FROM THE "FIRST WORLD CONGRESS OF LIBERATED ARTISTS" TO THE FOUNDATION OF THE SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL
The "First World Congress Of Liberated Artists" took place in the town hall at Alba from 2nd to 8th September 1956. Organised by Gallizio and Jorn, the congress was attended by the Italians Simondo, Baj, Sottsass Jr, and Verrone; by the ex-COBRA musician Jacques Calonne from Belgium; the Dutchman Constant; and by Gil J. Wolman representing the (mainly French) Lettriste International. The Czechs Pravoslav Rada and Jan Kotik arrived too late to participate in discussions but put their names to a final resolution. The Turinese sculptors Sandro Cherchi and Franco Garelli were present as observers. Christian Dotremont, nominated chairperson for the congress, was to unable to attend due to illness. In issue 27 of "Potlatch", the LI offered the following as an assessment of this fact:
"Christian Dotremont, who had been announced as a member of the Belgian delegation in spite of the fact that he has for some time been a collaborator in, the "Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Francaise", refrained from appearing at the Congress, where his presence would have been unacceptable to the majority of the participants."
Whether or not Dotremont's illness was diplomatic, reports such as this demonstrate the fundamental dishonesty of the LI as an organisation.
"...the Congress affirmed its break with the Nuclearists by issuing the following statement: 'Confronted with his conduct in certain previous affairs, Baj withdrew from the Congress. He did not make off with the cash-box' ."
Differences between Baj and Jorn had surfaced at the end of the previous year. In a letter to Jorn dated December '55, Baj had complained that the names International Movement For An Imaginist Bauhaus and "Eristica" 'simply don't catch on!' According to Baj, the names were too long and 'mysteriosophic' to interest journalists. He contrasted this to the Nuclear Art manifestoes which were 'snapped up'. Upon his exclusion from the congress, Baj resigned from the IMIB.
The discussions at the congress concluded with 'a substantial accord' and a signed resolution declaring the "necessity of an integral construction of the environment by a unitary urbanism that must utilize all arts and modem techniques"; the "inevitable outrnodedness of any renovation of an art within its traditional limits"; the "recognition of an essential interdependence between unitary urbanism and a future style of life" which must be situated "in the perspective of a greater real freedom and a greater domination of nature"; and "unity of action among the signers on the basis of this to programme". This was the first time that the term 'unitary urbanism', which he the LI had coined during the summer, was used publicly.
A retrospective exhibition of "Futurist Ceramics 1925-33" was organised to run simultaneously with the congress. Jorn and Gallizio had established friendships with a number of old futurists, in particular Farfa (born Trieste 1881). While the futurist exhibition, like the congress, was held in the town hall, a second exhibition of work from the Experimental Laboratory was held in a local cinema. The participants in this show were Constant, Gallizio, Garelli, Jorn, Kotik, Rada, Simondo and Wolman.
Constant had spent the early fifties in London, studying the city. When he returned to Amsterdam, he abandoned painting for architecture and investigations into the problem of space. This, combined with his social commitment, gave the LI much to envy and admire in both him and his work After the congress, Constant stayed on in Alba, where he worked on plans for the first mobile architecture of unitary urbanism. This would be for the use of gypsies who camped on a plot of land owned by Gallizio. It was to use a system of dividing walls placed under a single roof so that it could be continually modified to suit the needs of its inhabitants. The model Constant made of the encampment was a blueprint for a new urban civilisation based on common property, mobility, and the continual variability of unitary environments.
While Constant was working on plans for the Gypsy encampment, Gallizio was developing his 'Industrial Painting'. With the aid of his son, Giors Melanotte, Gallizio was making canvases 70 to 90 metres long, which were stored on rollers - and were to be sold by the metre in streets, markets, and department stores. Gallizio claimed that his painting could be used to dress in, sit on, and might even be employed in the construction of mobile architecture.
The IMIB held an exhibition entitled "Demonstrate In Favour Of Unitary Urbanism" at the Turin Cultural Union from 10 to 15 December 1956. The artists shown were Cherchi, Constant, Guy Debord, Jacques Fillon, Gallizio, Garelli, Jorn, Walter Olmo and Simondo
In a letter dated January 1st 1957, signed by Bernstein, Constant, Dahou, Debord, Fillon, Gallizio, Jorn, Ralph Rumney, Simondo, Verrone and Wolman, the IMIB accused the Milan Triennial of having left their proposal for an experimental pavilion to gather dust. Its chief result was the resignation of Ettore Sottsass Jr, who found its tone unnecessarily insulting. On the 13 January '57, Wolman and Fillon were excluded from the Lettriste International, and thus also from the IMIB, because of their 'feeble minds'. The headline in Potlatch 28 that announces this describes them as being 'pensioned off'. In February Walter Korun, with the aid of Guy Debord, organised a psychogeographical exhibition in the Taptoe Gallery, Brussels. The previous year Korun had held the first post-COBRA exhibition of COBRA work in the same gallery.
In May , 57 Debord published his "Report On The Construction Of Situations And On The International Situationist Tendency's Conditions Of Organisation And Action". This text was the preparatory document for the unification conference of the IMIB and LI. In it Debord lays out, from his own perspective, the theses that he, Jorn, Constant, Gallizio and many others had been developing over the years:
"What is termed culture reflects, but also prefigures, the possibilities of the organization of life in a given society. Our era is fundamentally characterised by the lagging of revolutionary political action behind the development of modem possibilities of production which call for a superior organisation of the world."
Debord views a revolutionary programme in culture as being necessarily linked to revolutionary politics. Here he sees a 'notable progression from futurism through dadaism and surrealism to the movements formed after 1945'. Dada had 'delivered a mortal blow to the traditional conceptions of culture', while surrealism provided 'an effective means of struggle against the confusionist mechanisms of the bourgeoisie':
"The surrealist programme, asserting the sovereignty of desire and surprise, proposing a new use of life, is much richer in constructive possibilities than is generally thought... But the devolution of its original proponents into spiritualism... obliges us to search for the negation of the development of surrealist theory in the very origin of this theory... The error is... the idea of the infinite richness of the unconscious imagination... its belief that the unconscious was the finally discovered force of life, and its having revised the history of ideas accordingly and stopped it there... the discovery of the role of the unconscious was a surprise, an innovation, not a law of future surprises and innovations. Freud had also ended up discovering this when he wrote, "Everything conscious wears out. What is unconscious remains unaltered. But once it is set loose, does it not fall into ruins in its turn?"
Thus, rather than rejecting surrealism as a degeneration from the dadaist refusal of serious culture, Debord declares that it is necessary to take up the original surrealist programme and carry it through to its logical conclusion. He then goes on to link the decline of surrealism to the decline of the first workers' movement, saying that this, combined with a lack of theoretical renewal, caused it to decay. According to Debord, the COBRA group understood the necessity for an organised international of artists but lacked the 'intellectual rigour' of Lettrisme - and particularly the Lettriste International. He then places the LI and its allies in a vanguard position, stating that:
"As for the productions of peoples who are still subject to cultural colonialism (often caused by political oppression), even though they may be progressive in their own countries, they play a reactionary role in advanced cultural centres."
The text betrays the influence of Isou on Debord during the latter's formative period in the Lettriste Movement:
"It must be understood once and for all that something that is only a personal expression within a framework created by others cannot be termed a creation. Creation is not the arrangement of objects and forms, it is the invention of new laws on that arrangement."
Debord implies, rather than states as Isou would, that he intends to be the person of 'genius' who produces these new laws of creation. The new (anti) aesthetic terrain that Debord has 'discovered' is 'the creation of situations, that is to say the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality'. Debord will use a variety of arts and techniques 'as means contributing to an integral composition of the milieu'. It will 'include the creation of new forms and the detournement of previous forms of architecture, urbanism, poetry and cinema'. Debord will invent 'games of an essentially new type', with a 'radical negation of the element of competition and separation from everyday life'.
According to Debord:
"The construction of situations begins on the ruins of the modem spectacle. It is easy to see to what extent the very principle of the spectacle - non-intervention - is linked to the alienation of the old world. Conversely, the most pertinent revolutionary experiments in culture have sought to break the spectator's psychological identification with the hero so as to draw him into activity by provoking his capacities to revolutionise his own life."
Here, again, we find that Debord conceives of himself, and 'his followers', as a vanguard. He insultingly assumes that the masses require him and his cronies to 'provoke' them into changing the terms of their own existence. Debord sees but one danger to the realisation of his plans - sectarianism:
".....we have to eliminate the sectarianism among us that opposes unity of action with possible allies for specific goals and prevents our infiltration of parallel organisations."
The unification conference of the IMIB and the LI took place on the outskirts of the Italian mountain village of Cosio d' Arroscia, in a bar owned by relatives of Sirnondo. Ralph Rumney (born Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1934) supposedly represented a third avant-garde group - the London Psychogeographical Association (LPA). The name was invented during the course of the conference to 'increase' the internationalism of the event. Rumney had lived in Italy since the early fifties. As he'd moved around European art circles, he'd come into contact with various lettristes, nuc1ear artists, members of the IMIB, and future nouveaux realistes.
Apart from Rumney, those present were Bernstein and Debord from the LI and Gallizio, Jorn, Olmo, Simondo and Verrone from the IMIB. The conference lasted about a week, and for much of it the participants were in a state of semi-drunkenness. Among the things discussed was a plan by Rumney to dye the Venice Lagoon a bright colour. This had two apparently quite different purposes: to see how the population reacted, and as a means of studying the flows and stagnations of the water.
The actual 'unification' of the IMIB, LI and non-existent LPA, took place on 28th July 1957. After a vote of five in favour of unification, two against and one abstention, a fusion of groups and the founding of the SI was proclaimed.
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