3 Selection process of content
Fifteen people have been chosen to mediate the manyfold connections between the Netherlands, Flandres and the International Situationist movement. In theory it could easily have been twice or three times more people, but as the chosen way of representation was to make personal visit now, a whole list of candidates fell out: Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999); Anton Alberts (1927-1999); Arthur Lehning (1899-2000); Charles Karsten (1904-1979); Constant Nieuwenhuis (1920-2005); Gerard van de Berg (1909-1997); Har Oudejans (1928-1992) member of the Situationist, exluded in 1960 ; Livinus van der Bundt (1909-1979); Marcel Mariën (1920-1993); Maria Hunnink (1924-1988); Olivier Boelen (1940-1977); Peter Schat (1935-2003); Rob Stolk (1946-2001); Rob van Gennep (1937-1994); Willem Sandberg (1897-1984). The installation is conceived as a part of an exhibition (exhibition "IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI", on the lost paradise of the Situationist International, a collaborative project of the Centraal Museum Utrecht and the Tinguely Museum Basel) in which the core Situationists members and their activities and works are well represented, our choice was to show a less visible and less known part of this history, to shift the focus from the Situationist activities proper to the reception of their ideas, seen in the Dutch/Flemish social context. A loose description was coined of people and their roles to be represented: predecessors, participants, followers, expelled, inspired and critics. Lists of possible candidates and important events were made, publications, catalogues and archives were searched and the content of the lists were checked in conversations and correspondence with a varied group of respondents, apart from the selected persons, the respondents were: Rudolf de Jong, Irene van de Weetering, Kees Vollemans, Nico van Apeldoorn, Hans Derks, Geert Lovink, Jeffrey Shaw, Caroline Nevejan, Co Seegers. In the end the list had over one hundred names (a PDF of a short version of this list can be downloaded here...).
Next there were considerations of variety of content and the usual limitations of time and money that steered the selection process. The limitation of space is less relevant, as the digital storage and presentation methods that are used, allow a massive amount of information in a limited space. The first idea for the installation came three months before the actual opening in December 2006, and when the actual production process began only one and a half month were left before the opening. It was clear from the beginning that the full content could not be ready in one and a half month, the choice was made to have some content ready for the opening and add new materials in the weeks after. Still the amount of content has it's natural limits: enough to show before the show is over.
The rest of the selection process was determined by mostly practical considerations: a few people that did not want to be represented in this context, and the matching game of personal agendas. The time squeeze has limited the making of personal contacts and search for archival materials in Flanders. Good candidates would have been: Julien Weverbergh (publisher of the radical literary magazine 'Bok' (1963-1964), Ivo Michiels (who published his 'Journal Brut' reflecting on a stay in the avant-garde 'hide out' of Albisola Mare in 1958), and Herman Claeys (animator of the Brussels Provo movement and the later meeting point for drifters café 'De Dolle Mol'). Another Flemish string of relations that - sadly - could not be part of the production are council communist/post-situationist groups like the 'Buro voor de dekolonisatie van het dagelijkse leven' (Bureau for the decolonization of daily life) from Gent, that published Situationist inspired comics, among others by the Dutch artist 'Willem; (Holthrop) who had started his career taking part in the Dutch Provo movement, but later moved to Paris. A visit of a few days to the Amsab-Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis in Gent would have helped to further detail this part of the story, but, alas, there was not enough time to do that. Some examples of these comics from Gent are shown in the scroll of Steef Davidson, as a part of his collection of Situationist inspired comics.
This way of indirect representations of people - linked in one way or another to the Situationist movement - is used several times in the installation. The selected people are not only representing their personal involvement but are also act like "spiders" in a network of associations and contacts. In the following description this aspect is detailed...
4 Background of the personal stories and information networks
a growing text with a the horizon a time-line set to the 26th of January 2007
Fifteen people, fifteen personal associations and involvements with the Situationist movement. Relations varying from direct to indirect, some expressed in material and practical actions, others at a more theoretical or reflective level; several of the chosen people had relations at multiple levels. There are those who have been members of the movement itself during some time (Jacqueline de Jong, Tony Verlaan), others knew about it at an early stage and have communicated and commented Situationist ideas (Simon Vinkenoog, Steef Davidson). Some of the fifteen people represented had personal contacts with specific Situationists or programs, like with Constant Nieuwenhuys and his interpretation of 'Urbanisme Unitaire' and designs for 'New Babylon' (Nic Tummers, Roel van Duijn); or with the 'Sigma movement' as developed by Alexander Trocchi (Simon Vinkenoog, Tjebbe van Tijen, Theo Botschuijver). There are people whose constructions, graphic productions, 'events' or performances were influenced by some of the Situationist ideas (Iris de Leeuw, Cor Gout, Theo Botschuijver, Tjebbe van Tijen), and people whose fusion of political and artistic actions ran somehow parallel (Robert-Jasper Grootveld, Hans Mol). Last there are people who distributed, translated and traded Situationist text and graphics (Jan Ceuleers) and someone who both studied the movement and its ideas and published Dutch language anthologies of Lettrist and Situationist texts (René Sanders).
simultaneous and independent developments
Relations with the Situationist movement are more than just a 'one way' affair. The example of Robert-Jasper Grootveld proves this. His early actions and happenings in Amsterdam against the mechanisms in society that produced what he called the "addicted consumer of tomorrow", in the form of the 'anti-smoke temple' ceremonials and the happenings around the 'Lieverdje' a small bronze statute of a young Amsterdam rascal boy(donated by a Tobacco firm) at the Amsterdam Spui square, preceded the Amsterdam Provo movement. Without him knowing about the Situationists, their idea of the system of 'detournement' can be recognized in his actions between 1961-1964: creative twisting of language (the title of Vance Packhard's book on scientifically manipulated consumers "Hidden persuaders" became the title of his primitively duplicated happening announcements: 'Hipperzweter', something like 'a hipster who is sweating') and disruption of advertisement campaigns (by painting big 'K' letters on tobacco advertisements, 'K' standing for Kanker/Cancer, for which he has been imprisoned several times). Constant Nieuwenhuys mentions Grootveld's 'anti-smoke temple' seances of the early sixties as an example of the kind of creative "non-utilitarian" activities in which post-industrial man living in 'New Babylon' would engage.
love hate relationship with Provo
The relationship with the short lived Dutch Provo movement (1965-1967) and the Situationists has been a 'love-hate' one. "The Provos are an expression of the last reformism produced by modern capitalism" can be read in the Situationist pamphlet "On the poverty of student life", published in Strasbourg, november 1966. (1> The idea, launched by Provo, that the proletariat had lost it's revolutionary practice and consciousness because of its consumerism ('klootjesvolk'/Literal meaning is "people with tiny testicles"), conflicted with the Situationist ideological development of that time that went exactly the opposite way: they supported the self-organization of the 'working class' in 'workers councils' - formed as a part of their struggle for life - claiming that this would be the deciding revolutionary element to overcome the actual suppressive social system.
This ideological difference on the role of the 'working class' between Situationists and Provo found its practical expression when in June 1967 building workers violently revolted in Amsterdam and most Provo leaders choose not to side directly with the uproar; some Provo leaders launched an appeal for non-violence and demonstratively left the city.
The uproar started as a conflict about non-payment of an extra bonus. The subsequent unfavorable reporting on this incident by the right wing daily newspaper 'De Telegraaf' lead to an attack of the newspaper's headquarter by the enraged building workers, that developed in a full scale street battle in which one building worker died (either by hands of the police or from an induced heart attack).
In October 1967 the Situationists write once more about Provo, now in their magazine and mention (again) the Amsterdam building workers uproar in an article entitled "Révolte et récupération en Hollande" (Revolt and recuperation in Holland). Once again the Provo leadership is criticized, but the "radical base" of the Provos, young people that also joined the building workers in their street battle, is exempted from this criticism, their activities are presented as a "spontaneous expression of a revolt appearing in the European youth" against "capitalist abundance and for a fusion of art and daily life." (2>
Dutch council-communists ideas as an influence on the Situationists
It is interesting to note that the theoretical notion of 'workers councils' had its roots in the Dutch antibureaucratic labour movement and its theoreticians Herman Gorter (1864-1927) and Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960). Some of their writings had - through translations in French - been noticed by the circle around the French magazine 'Socialisme Ou Barbarie' in which Guy Debord took also part during the early sixties (René Sanders, represented in the installation, has studied the influence on Debord of the idea of workers councils, Tony Verlaan a Dutch member of the Situationist movement from the end of the sixties had some ill fated attempts in the early seventies to associate with older Dutch 'council-socialists', like Cajo Brendel from the group 'Daad en Gedachte' (Deed and Thought)). On the side there was also a potential influence that did not materialize
dubious Provo leaders and artistic careerists
Back once more to the Situationist vision of the Provo movement ... as mentioned before it distinguishes between two opposing forces: on the one hand "careerists" from "the world of decomposed art" and a "small clique of dubious leaders" who have concocted a provotarian ideology based on "mystified ideas" about 'play', and, on the other, "theoryless masses", "young rebels that have nothing to offer but the violence of their revolt". (3> One of those "dubious leaders" meant - though not mentioned by name -was certainly Roel van Duijn, who was publicly seen as provo-leader and theorist. It was Roel van Duijn who sought contact with an ex-Situationist, Constant Nieuwenhuys ("a dreg from the world of decomposed art" in 'situ terms') at the beginning of the Provo movement. This led to publication of an article on 'New Babylon' in the magazine of Provo and later Constant even functioned as a candidate (number 13) on the voting list of the newly formed Provo party for the 1966 municipal elections of the city of Amsterdam in which Provo won one seat. In a special election issue of the Provo magazine Constant publishes an article "New Urbanism" that draws on several thesises of the Situationist 'Urbanisme Unitaire' program, which he helped formulating at the end of the fifties, when still a member of the Situationist movement. (4>
squatters and the creation of new cultural zones
One of the references in Constant's article is about "acculturation zones", degrading parts of inner cities with a varied population that have a strong subversive social and cultural potential, but are looked upon badly by planning authorities that try to surpress and erase them. Constant points here to the writings of the French social-geographer Chombart de Lauwe and his study on Paris, a publication from the fifties that was well known for its inspiring use of diagrams and experimental maps that visualize the changing function and perception of urban structures. (5> The famous 'psycho-geographic' map of Paris by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn showing the inner city as an archipelago of separated sociocultural islands connected by red arrows, has been directly inspired by this study of Chombart de Lauwe. (6> Constant notes the potential of such inner city areas for the forming of a new culture and sees the revolt of the young against "fossilized standards of the past" and their conquering of the street for their own free expression - like happenings - as a leveller that will create new 'social spaces' and "new ways of life". As always one may ask whether it was the theory that inspired later actions or rather the other way around. Urban renewal plans for non-high class neighborhoods of Dutch inner cities had already caused the exodus of part of its population and left streets with half derelict houses and buildings that attracted homeless young people occupying them. Eventually, individual squatting developed into collective undertakings, creating spaces for both living and working, developing into a kind of new 'cultural zones'. These zones would transform into centers of resistance against urban plans, both on the level of inner city renewal and suburban developments. Several former members of the Provo movement (that auto-disolved in the early summer of 1967) became involved in this combined squatter and neighbourhood movement, with the Amsterdam Nieuwmarktbuurt as one example (Steef Davidson, Theo Botschuijver and Tjebbe van Tijen are related to this). The Amsterdam Nieuwmarktbuurt was also (7>
After the end of the Provo movement Constant had no direct relation anymore with the new Dutch social movements of the early seventies engaging in direct actions against alienating and exploitive urban plans. When Roel van Duijn - three years after the disolution of Provo - innitiated the ecological oriented 'Kabouter-beweging' and later party (Dwarf movement/party) in early 1970, Constant reacted with horror, because of the "mystic elements" he tasted in the Kabouter proclamations that were a mix of Kropotkin's anarchism, the ecological anarchism of the American activist and writer Murray Bookchin and worst of all Rudolf Steiner's spiritual anthroposophy. This went straight against the materialistic marxist views of Constant. Van Duijn remembers some sort of manifesto distributed by Constant against him and the Kabouter movement, fastened to trees in the city of Amsterdam (no copies of this "manifesto" have yet been found in any of the archival collections used in our research).
critical reception of Situationist ideas
From the end of the sixties the ideas of the Situationist were more widely known (an important source has been the special 1966 issue of the Dutch literary magazine Randstad on political and art manifestos edited by Simon Vinkenoog). English translations of Situationist texts that started to circulate through the exchange system of new cultural underground papers (Underground Press Syndicate) also widened the spread of Situationist and associated ideas.
The reception of Situationist ideas was certainly not uncritical. In 1976 Steef Davidson writes about it in his pamphlet "Vrijheid van drukpers wat let je!" (Freedom of (printing) press; what about it!) a history of radical posters and a manual for printing them, under the heading "Over de misère in het situationistiese miljeu' (about the misery in situationist circles). He qualifies them as "a small group of politically engaged artists that are conferencing for years and trying to fix the human vibrato in hermetic political thesises." The Situationist critique on Provo is not forgotten and is critically summarized by Davidson in the following short paragraph: "During the Provo events they also come to the Netherlands to see to it that everything occurs according to the book, within a week they have seen enough, they produce a voluminous critique, and, once again depart to engage themselves in 'the real struggle'. Three years later only 2 Situationists are left and the rest of the members have been banished, repudiated or made suspect." Davidson also comments on the growing number of 'post-situationist' groups "they excel in boredom and intellectual 'droogneukerij' (dry-fucking) (8>
a Situationist political commissar
One of the later Situationist members from the Netherlands, mentioned before, is Tony Verlaan who has been delegated by Debord and Vaneighem to set up a North American Situationist section at the end of the sixties. At the same time he also travels widely in Europe and makes regular visits to the Netherlands where he acts as a kind of self appointed political commissar, judging the purity of the Dutch social movements, and irregularly sending his reports to the French Situationist center, all the while using the hospitality of the same people he was criticizing. In this way he has been staying with people related to the 'Ontbijt op Bed' group from Maastricht, as well with people around the late Amsterdam Provo movement and squatter groups; that is also how I met him in 1969. Verlaan may have collaborated on the writing of the both famous and infamous pamphlet "De la misère dans le milieu étuduante" published at first in Strasbourg in 1967; with its criticism on the Provo movement, quoted before. He certainly must have caught in Strasbourg the Situationist "virus" of grotesque polemics, though in his writing it often does not get beyond personal scolding, and insinuations. Like his rendering of his visit in January 1970 to the home of Cajo Brendel in Amersfoort, in a letter that is apparently addressed to Debord and his associates in Paris. Verlaan's mission was to speak about republishing of some of Anton Pannekoek's writings by the Situationists; he fails to achieve anything and ends up suggesting that Brendel tried to monopolize the publishing rights of Pannekoek: "He possesses the complete archives of Pannekoek of which he actually makes a smart usage for his own glory." (9> A statement that is wrong because the relevant archives of Pannekoek for socialist history were at that time already at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam. (10> Verlaan had direct contact with this institute as he refers in this letter to a meeting with Arthur Lehning and the librarian of the IISH Maria Hunnink. In that passage of the letter is another twisted fact where Verlaan writes that lady Hunnink insisted that she or the Institute had nothing to do with "that infamous catalogue". This is a reference to an exhibition and well documented catalogue on the 1968 May/June movement in Paris (Parijs mei/juni 1968) organized by the International Institute of Social History itself in the Museum Fodor in Amsterdam in the beginning of 1969. The Paris circle of the Situationists had learnt about this publication and as usual - with initiatives that were not theirs - dismissed its content (whereby we do not know if the non-Dutch speaking Parisians really saw the publication and how they could have judged its content). It would go too far to further detail the confusion perpetrated by Verlaan in those years, but however uninspiring it is an undeniable part of the Dutch connection to the International Situationist movement and Verlaan himself has - for reasons yet unknown to us - chosen to make a part of his activities public by donating in 1971 a big pack of mostly correspondence to the aforementioned Institute in Amsterdam, after which he has totally eclipsed from sight till this very day. (11>
Maria Hunnink (1924-1988) would have been a serious candidate to be represented in the installation on the Dutch connection with the Situationist, and also her good friend Arthur Lehning (1899-2000) is known to have had some contacts with French members of the movement and - as we learned already - het also met Tony Verlaan a few times. The Dutch translation of Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" (De Spektakelmaatschappij; 1976), has been realized with Maria Hunnink as one of the mediators. One of its translators is Jaap Kloosterman, since 1993 director of the International Institute of Social History, in the early seventies working in the IISH department of the Bakunin Archives. In the same Bakunin department was working Els Daele, who later translated and published (Uitgeverij De Lantaarn) some post-Situationist texts in small editions, like "Voorwoord bij de vierde Italiaanse editie van 'La Société du Spectale" (preface to the fourth edition of 'The Society of the Spectacle') by Guy Debord, in which we can read about Debord's (dis)appreciation of the different translations of his central work on the society of the spectacle: "Translations of this book, which was published in Paris towards the end of 1967, have already appeared in about ten or so countries, and, more often than not, several have been produced in the same language by competing publishers, and nearly always they are bad. The first translations everywhere were unfaithful and incorrect, with the exception of Portugal and possibly Denmark. The translations published in Dutch and German are good in their second versions ...". (12>
In 1973 Debord sends, for translation purposes, a hand-annotated copy of his favorite French edition of the 'Spectacle' (Champs Libre; 197) to Maria Hunink of the International Institute of Social History, roughly indicating the literary sources for the 'détournements' (turnabout, a reuse of elements. giving them another meaning) of classic texts he had made in his book, from Marx and Hegel to Virgile and Machiavelli. It is at that time, to be precize in 1972, that René Sanders, then a philosophy and social-geography student, discovers a French edition of the 'Society of the Spectacle' () and while reading starts wondering about the language Debord is using (sentences that give a déja vue feeling, familiar and different at the same time). He starts to wonder what the sources of all those ideas could be. With fellow students and friends a reading and debating circle is formed. They start to discover for themselves some of the 'turnabout' sources (without having access to the annotated edition send to Maria Hunink). Nevertheless on their own they can trace the origins of several texts and in this process they start also to to realize that the 'turnabout-technique', the 'détournement', is not really a Situationist invention, but a political and artistic rhetoric device that has a much longer history. The work of one of the proponents of the détournement, the French writer Isodore Ducasse, better known under his pen-name 'Come de Lautréamont', comes into view, who was twisting one hundred years earlier the maximes of Pascal and Vauvenargues and some texts of Shakespaere. (13> Lautréamont was also one of the favorite authors of the early French Surrealist movement. From the Surrealists it is only one jump, hopping over the Lettrists, to arrive at the Situationists.
The reading and debating circle folds after two years and Sanders takes another fifteen years to study the Situationist movement and its ideological roots, before he publishes his thesis on the subject in 1987: "Beweging tegen de schijn, de situationisten, een avant-garde" (Movement against semblance, the situationists an avantgarde). In the 'personal story scroll' of Sanders - as part of the installation - pictures of Debord's annotated copy of the Spectacle send to Maria Hunink appear together with margins notes of Sanders in the earlier mentioned Dutch translation; this to elucidate Sanders study in which he puts the technique of the 'détournement' in an historical perspective. Sanders mentions other examples of twisting of meaning, ranging from propaganda methods of twentieth century totalitarian regimes to the scientific manipulation methods of modern advertisement as reveiled by Vance Packard in his aforementioned book "The hidden persuaders" from 1956. Already in the first issue of the magazine 'International Situationniste', published in 1958, another example of manipulation is given, the book of Serge Tchakhotine "Le viol des foules par la propagande politique" (the rape of the masses by political propaganda), a text first published in 1939. (14>
Sanders personal involvement with the Dutch anarchist movement and some of its periodicals, sharpen his view of the role of socialist ideologies within the Situationist movement. he details that goes beyond the usual shallow or missing political analysis that can be found in a lot of secondary literature on the Situationist and related movements written from the perspective of art historians. (15>
It's history is still unwritten, the abundant secondary literature on the Situationist movement is mostly by authors who do not read Dutch,
<1) Now commonly known in English as "On the poverty of student life", the original very long title is: "De la misère en milieu étudiant, considéréee sous ses aspects économique, politique, pswychologique, sexuel et notamment intellectuel et de quelques moyens pou y remédier.", published under the name of "union Nationale des Etudiants de France, Association Fédérative Générale des Etudiants de Strasbourg" ; English on-line version at:http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/poverty.htm
<2) "Révolte et récuperation en Holland" in 'Internationale Sutuationniste' no.11 octobre 1967. The full paragraph from which my citations are picked is chopping down the status as a "revolutionary artist: of Constant Nieuwenhuys and what is seen as his opportunism to link up with the Provo movement. The denial in this editorial of 'Internationale Situationiste' of the Situationists never having had any contact with the dispised inetllectuals that make up the leadership of the Provo movement is not true, and the claim of contacts with what is called "elements of the radical base" (of Provo) is doubtful, if only for reasons of language especially French; also the great devide between "leaders" and "radical base" which fits so well the Situationist ideological scheme, was hardly a reality in the short period of the Provo movment which was in fact most of all a spontaneous meeting and mixing of social classes, an important phenomenon that the Situationist failed to notice:
"En fait, le rapport entre l'I.S. et les provos était ailleurs, sur deux plans distincts. En tant qu'expression spontanée d'une révolte qui apparaissait dans la jeunesse européenne, les provos se plaçaient normalement sur le terrain défini par la critique situationniste (contre l'abon- et de la vie quotidienne, etc.). En tant qu'ils et de la vie quotidienne, etc.). En tant qu'ils tombaient sous la coupe d'une direction, composée de « philosophes » et d'artistes suspects, ils rencontraient là des gens qui connaissaient quelque peu les thèses de l'I.S. Mais cette connaissance dissimulée était aussi la simple falsification récupérée de quelques fragments. Il suffit de noter la présence dans la hiérarchie provo de l'ex-situationniste Constant, avec qui nous avons rompu dès 1960. Ses tendances technocratiques s'opposaient alors à toute perspective d'une révolution « inexistante ' (cf. I.S. 3). Dès que le mouvement provo vint à la mode, Constant se retrouva révolutionnaire, et y glissa sous le nom « urbanisme anarchiste » les éternelles maquettes de « son » urbanisme unitaire, exposé au même instant à la Biennale de Venise sous ce dernier titre, qui y fait meilleur effet : Constant était là officiellement présenté par la Hollande, comme son artiste. La déroute des provos était déjà inscrite dans leur soumission à une hiérarchie, et à l'idéologie idiote que celle-ci s'était mise en devoir de composer à la va-vite pour tenir sa fonction. L'I.S. n'a ' jamais eu de contact qu'avec des éléments de la base radicale qui se distinguaient du mouvement officialisé ; et a toujours préconisé son éclatement urgent."
* Chombart de Lauwe "" a similar approach to the potential of acculturation zones in inner cities and critique of urban renewal policies can be found in the work of the Canadian urbanist, activbist and writer Jane Jacobs in her book from 1961 "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"; this book has had much more direct influence on the Dutch urban activists of the sixties and seventies than the Situationist oriented texts.
* The full text can be found at: http://www.notbored.org/debord-preface.html
* For a hilareous example of the differences in attitudes between the art and the political approach Dutch readers can check the interview by Siebe Thisse with René Sanders for the radical squatters paper 'Ravage' in 1999; http://www.ravagedigitaal.org/archief_1999/8899ar05.htm. For non-Dutch readers just a short passage where Sanders speaks about Roberto Ohrt an art historian who has also written a thesis on the Situationists, almost in the same period ("Phantom avantgarde: eine Geschichte der Situationistisc hen Internationale un der modernen Kunst"; 1988/Pantom avntgarde: a hististory of the SI and modern art): "Ohrt was a curious figure, he thought that he as a 'post-situationist' was a part of the situationist movement. He thought he could become a member retrospectively. He has written his book as if he was a situationist. (...) I realy wanted to document the situationist critique, but did not have the illusion to be a situationist or post-situ myself."