Updates from Internationale Situationniste #2: "machine-painting" and art vandalism in Italy, Asger Jorn refused entry to America, The Amsterdam Declaration by Debord and Constant.
Activity of the Italian Section
This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!
An exhibition showing the the first rolls of industrial painting produced by Pinot Gallizio, (with the assistance of Giors Melanotte in our Experimental Laboratory in Alba) opened at a Turin gallery on May 30 last year. This exhibition, which almost immediately moved to Milan (July 8), marks in our eyes a decisive turning point in the movement to overcome the old forms of art, and at the same time signals the beginning of their transformation with new vigour. As the slogan of our Italian comrades goes: “Against art-for-art’s-sake, against applied art – the application of art in the construction of ambiances”
In a text published in Turin and subsequently reissued in Milan, Michèle Bernstein presents the theoretical justification for this experiment:
“It is difficult to grasp every one of the benefits of this amazing invention at the same time. In no particular order: no more problems with size – the canvas is cut before the eyes of the satisfied buyer; no more poor periods – the outcomes of industrial painting, due to the mix of chance and mechanical processes, are never ‘uninspired’; no more metaphysical themes – industrial painting does not support them; no more doubtful reproductions of eternal masterpieces; no more gallery openings. And of course, soon, no more painters, even in Italy …
“The progressive domination of nature is the history of the overcoming of certain problems, moved from ‘artistic’ practice – casual, unique – into mass distribution in the public domain, ultimately resulting in the loss of all economic value.
“Faced with such a process, the reaction is always to give currency to old problems: the real Henry II buffet vs. the fake Henry II buffet, the forged canvas that is not signed, the excess numbers of a limited edition of something or other by Salvador Dali, the primacy of the hand-made. Revolutionary creation attempts to define and disseminate new problems and new constructs, and they alone have any value.
“When faced with the profitable tom-foolery which has continuously propagated itself over the last twenty years – the industrialisation of painting appears to be a technical innovation which must be implemented without any further delay. The greatness of Gallizio is that he has boldly pursued his tireless research, and has reached the point where nothing is left of the old pictorial world. No-one can be unaware that the previous steps in trying to overcome and destroy the pictorial object – whether abstraction pushed to its limits (the way opened by Malevich), or painting deliberately subjected to extra-artistic concerns (eg the work of Magritte) – haven’t been able, after all these decades, to leave the current repetitive state of artistic negation, all within the framework imposed by pictorial means themselves: a negation of “the interior”.
“Posing the problem in this way, however, will always result in endless repetitive activity, which cannot provide any of the elements of a solution. Meanwhile, all around us, the world keeps on changing before our eyes.
"At the stage we have now reached, that of experimenting with new collective constructions and new syntheses, there is no time to fight the values of the old world with a neo-Dadaist refusal. It necessitates the unleashing of inflation everywhere – as these values are ideological, artistic, even financial. Gallizio is at the forefront."
In his contribution, Asger Jorn declared at the end of the exhibition:
“It would be wrong to imagine that the industrial painting of Pinot Gallizio can be placed amongst the efforts of Industrial Design. There is no model to reproduce, instead it is the realisation of a unique creation, perfectly useless except in Situationist experiments with ambiances – it is painting to buy ‘by the yard’.
“Social success is measured by the appreciation of effort. It is obvious that this type of assessment is in direct conflict with Gallizio’s intention of devaluing painting.”
Commenting on the unexpected commercial success of industrial painting (“No one came to buy a piece of painting at an economical price, rather the production was sold in entire rolls to collectors who are amongst the most intelligent in Europe and America…”), Jorn emphasised that we should take into account this unexpected, additional economic experience. It is, in fact, the first defensive reaction of the art market which, hesitating to declare that this painting was not part of the real art world, has preferred at this point to simply integrate it into its own values, treating each roll as if it was a single huge painting, subject to the usual criteria of taste and talent.
The Situationists responsible for “Operation Industrial Painting” are now trying to counter this risk by two measures: increasing the price (quickly raised from 10,000 to 40,000 lire-per-meter at the end of August), and the production of longer individual rolls (until June the longest did not reach 70 meters). The use we can make of industrial painting depends, in the immediate present, on the opportunity for implementing a radical break with the presentation of art in galleries, and also in the development of work processes – which must get beyond the artisanal stage, to reach truly industrial efficiency.
On this technical question Giors Melanotte and Glauco Wuerich have completed a well-documented study which emphasises the following:
“It is especially important to answer the questions that arise around the term ‘industrial’. With this word we do not want to link artistic production to the criteria of industrial production (working time, cost of manufacture), or to the intrinsic qualities of the machine, rather we are establishing a quantitative idea of production.
“Lack of space was one of the biggest difficulties we encountered during the execution of the first examples of industrial painting. In a suitable installation for this type of production, it is necessary to have ample premises, very large in the sense of a lot of air and light. For us, without an adequate space, it was necessary to use gas masks to avoid the harmful effects of the solvents’ fumes…
The main difficulty to get over in order to achieve a sufficient quantity of production is actually to get hold of paint that is fast drying.. This is what will give character to industrial painting, it will work well with it. ”
Just as they presented industrial painting to an astounded public and the stupid commentary of the newspapers (who were especially struck by the presence of two cover-girls dressed in industrial-paintings at the opening in Turin), the Italian Situationists found themselves driven to act on another front.
At the end of June, a young Milanese painter, Nunzio Van Guglielmi (who is otherwise completely insignificant), slightly damaged a painting by Raphael (“The Coronation of the Virgin”) in an attempt to attract attention to himself. On the protective glass of the painting he placed a sticker with a handwritten sign reading: “Long live the Italian Revolution! Down with the Clerical Government!” Arrested on the spot, he was immediately (without any possibility of contestation and for that act alone) declared insane and interned in an asylum in Milan.
The Italian section of the Situationist International issued a protest in the tract “Difendete la Libertà Ovunque”, published July 4 by themselves, having had several Italian printers prudently refuse to publish it.
“We certify”, said the leaflet, “that the content of the placard affixed to Raphael’s painting by Guglielmi… expresses the opinion of a large number of Italians, ourselves included.
“We would like to draw attention to the fact that it would be a crime against veritable psychiatric science to interpret this act of hostility towards the Church and the dead cultural values of the museum, with the help of the psychiatric police, as a sufficient proof of madness.
“We emphasise the peril that such a precedent poses to all free men and all cultural and artistic development to come.
“Freedom lies in the destruction of idols.
“Our appeal is addressed to all the artists and intellectuals of Italy, for whom the liberation of Nunzio Van Guglielmi from life-long internment is an immediate question. Guglielmi can only be condemned in terms of the law that foresees the alienation of public goods.”
In a second tract, “Help Van Guglielmi!”, published in French on July 7, Asger Jorn, on behalf of the SI, supported the action undertaken:
“The rationale of Guglielmi lies at the heart of modern art, from Futurism to the present day. No judge, no psychiatrist, no museum director is able to prove otherwise without falsification …”
“The photo of the Raphael which was sent to the world’s press is an official falsification. So little real damage was done to the canvas that it could not possibly be seen when reproduced in a newspaper. The lines which can be seen in the photo, which seem to indicate a massive destruction of the canvas, are actually only the broken glass in front of the picture. In the photo these lines have even been artificially enhanced with black and white to make the incident seem more serious. And somehow the text of the manifesto pasted on the glass has become, through a strange process, totally illegible in the Italian newspapers.”
That very same day was the Milan exhibition’s opening. Our Italian section, reinforced by other situationists who were in Italy (Maurice Wyckaert, of the Belgian section, Jorn), distributed the leaflets in Milan amidst general hostility. A magazine went as far as to publish a reproduction of the Raphael to be compared to a reproduction of a painting by the fools who wanted to destroy it. However on July 19, to the amazement of all, Guglielmi was declared perfectly sane by the director of the asylum in Milan, and released.
The conclusion of this incident is very instructive: Guglielmi (who was fearful) agreed, in order to obtain his pardon, to be photographed kneeling and praying before the Virgin by Raphael – at the same time worshiping both the art and the religion he had previously abused. And the wholly justified position of the Italian section in this affair, from beginning to end perfectly rational, nevertheless helped increase its isolation from the intellectual rabble of Italy – whose nauseating elements (such as the merchant Pistoi, director of the magazine Notizie), after having the fraudulence to turn against the Situationists, had clearly revealed where they had their true camp: with Michel Tapie, that export of French neo-fascism that the priests cannot forget.
From Internationale Situationniste no. 2, December 1958 (pp. 27-30). Translated by Ian Thompson (July 2013), except for quote from ‘Difendete la Libertà Ovunque’ translated by NOT BORED! From here: https://isinenglish.com/2013/07/13/activity-of-the-italian-section/
The Situationists in America
While in London in October, Jorn requested a visa from the U.S. embassy so that he could travel through New York on his way to Mexico. In the past, he had received several invitations from American cultural organisations. However when Jorn was required to swear that he had never been a member of the Communist Party or any related organisation, and that he had never been jailed for any crime, he obviously refused with indignation. With his entry to the United States forbidden, Jorn wrote to the Carnegie Foundation in Pittsburgh, forbidding any official showcase of his artistic work in America – as its creator is considered “undesirable” in that country.
Before leaving France, Jorn had (in his letter of 20 September to the Danish newspaper Politiken) exposed another form of hypocrisy which, posing as mindless praise, aims at the falsification of the recent history of the experimental avant-garde, and his own role in it:
“On September 10, Politiken published an article entitled ‘The Great Asger’. Let me correct certain mistakes. My encounter with Dotremont at the Silkeborg sanatorium in 1951 did not mark the beginning of Cobra (the Internationale of Experimental Artists), nor of our personal friendship. On the contrary, this period actually constitutes an end on two levels: first, the financial failure of of the Cobra experiment had driven each of us to physical exhaustion; further, the deep ideological differences that arose between Cobra’s various members had already led to the definitive end of their collaboration …
“The Cobra movement (which was strongly supported by artistic authorities in Holland and Belgium, but had never received recognition in Denmark) chose to dissolve itself in 1951 (see the notice in issue 10 of the journal Cobra).
"Between 1953 and 1957, I was involved with the Imaginist Bauhaus, primarily in Italy, France and Great Britain. As the movement’s experimentalist posture opposed any practical teaching of the arts, I could not have run the school of ceramics that you refer to.
“My recent book, “Pour la Forme” summarizes the theoretical work I undertook during this time, having moved beyond Cobra’s orientation. This period itself has ended … I am now involved with the research activities of the Situationist International, and I like to hope that such activities will be understood in my own country more quickly and more accurately than the earlier phases of my involvement with modern art. ”
Politiken’s editor replied a few days later with embarrassment, claiming to apologize by suggesting that the incriminating article, written by Dotremont, had suffered from cuts. This response had the audacity to suggest that Dotremont might have honestly believed to be a greater friend of ours than he in fact was, and, giving his current address, scandalously suggested making direct contact with him to clear up the misunderstanding. Meanwhile Politiken deemed it less than appropriate to publish the corrections, which amounted to less than a tenth of the confusionist article. The SI, in a letter signed by Khatib, clearly broke from the dishonest attempt at dialogue:
“Mr. Editor, the part played by the systematic false-witness of Christian Dotremont is in no way diminished because the editor of Politiken carried out various cuts in the assistance of his counter-truths.
“We maintain no ties with Dotremont, who knows perfectly the contempt in which we hold him.
"On the other hand, if Politiken, which took it upon itself to release such a text, now refuses to publish the corrections it requires, we will publish these elsewhere – including, obviously, in the next issue of our journal – making note of how right of reply is treated in your newspaper.”
Translated by Ian Thompson, October 2014. Proofread and Edited by Mehdi el H. From: https://isinenglish.com/2-12-the-situationists-in-america/
The Amsterdam Declaration - Constant & Guy Debord
Amsterdam, 10 November 1958 reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #2 (December 1958)
- The Situationists must take every opportunity to oppose retrograde forces and ideologies, in culture and wherever the question of the meaning of life arises.
- Nobody shall consider their membership in the SI as a simple agreement of principle; the essential activity of all participants must relate to perspectives elaborated in common, to the necessity of disciplined action, in the practical as well as the public sphere.
- The possibility of unitary and collective creativity is already announced in the decomposition of the individual arts. The SI cannot justify any attempt to renovate them.
- The SI's minimum program is the development of complete environments, which must extend to a unitary urbanism, and research into new modes of behavior in relation to these environments.
- Unitary urbanism is defined as the complex, ongoing activity that consciously recreates man's environment according to the most advanced conceptions in every domain.
- The solution to problems of housing, traffic, and recreation can only be envisaged in relation to social, psychological and artistic perspectives that are combined in one synthetic hypothesis at the level of daily life.
- Unitary urbanism, independently of all aesthetic considerations, is the fruit of a new type of collective creativity; the development of this spirit of creation is the prior condition of unitary urbanism.
- The creation of ambiances favorable to this development is the immediate task of today's creators.
- All means are usable, on condition that they serve in a unitary action. The coordination of artistic and scientific means must lead to their total fusion.
- The construction of a situation is the edification of a transient micro-ambiance and of the play of events for a unique moment in the lives of several persons. Within unitary urbanism, it is inseparable from the construction of a general, relatively more lasting ambiance.
- A constructed situation is a means for unitary urbanism, just as unitary urbanism is the indispensable basis for the construction of situations, in both play and seriousness, in a freer society.
Translated by Paul Hammond. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/amsterdam.html