Tag Archives: detournement

Tuters, M. and Varnelis, K. (2006). Beyond locative media: Giving shape to the Internet of things. _Leonardo_, 39(4):357-363.

Kazys Varnelis, PhD, History of Architecture and Urbanism, Cornell University, is the Director of the Network Architecture Lab in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. With Robert Sumrell, he runs the non-profit architectural collective AUDC.

This essay is a defense of locative media. It’s been criticized for its quick deference to commercial interests and its Cartesian representation. However, even if founded, these critiques bespeak another nostalgia, one for an autonomous art, unfettered from mass communication technologies.

“There’s something peculiar, even comical, in how the movement is, on the one hand ‘the Next Big Thing’ to some, a capitalist apocalypse to others.”

Ben Russell’s 1999 Headmap Manifesto, “the ur-text for locative media,” asserts:

“location aware, networked, mobile devices make possible invisible notes attached to spaces, places, people and things;” “Real space can be marked and demarcated invisibly;” “Geography gets interesting;” laypeople now have “the ability to shape and organize the real world and the real space” (as cited on 1).

Tuters and Varnelis add Situationism is widely agreed to be a precursor to the locative media movement. Indeed, Situationism was largely based on code, “a series of programmatic texts that advocated intervening in the city with only minor modifications.”

As an art practice, locative media appears to be bound to discourses of human subject-centered representation, foregrounding the human experience in space — tracing — and time — annotative.  The former is a phenomenological tracing of an actor’s movements, and the former, a virtual tagging of the world. Both are situationist, but the annotative actions aim to alter the world by adding to it, a la detournement.

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Russell, A., Itō, M., Richmond, T., Tuters, M. (2008). Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation. In _Networked Publics_, K. Varnelis, ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Adrienne Russell, PhD, Journalism and Mass Communication from Indiana University, Bloomington, is Associate Professor, Emergent Digital Practices and Co-Director, Institute for Digital Humanities at the University of Dever. Her primary research focus is networked journalism and the changes that have occurred in journalism culture since the mid-90s.

Todd Richmond, PhD, Chemistry from Caltech, is a project director at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. He works in a series of areas, including: counter-IED training systems involving video narrative, immersive environments and geo-specific multiplayer gaming scenarios; interactive education including serious games and simulations; visualization, messaging, and media as agents of change; viral media and building learning communities.

Marc Tuters is a researcher in new media and is known for having developed the discourse on locative media. He has a graduate degree in Media Studies and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. (See other entry for Ito’s bio.)

The authors contend, owing to the low-cost and easy distribution of information, things that were once artifacts (e.g. home movies, snapshots, scrapbooks) are now part of popular culture. The top-down relationship of mass media producer to consumer is gone.

There are four domains that have thrived in the networked public culture:

  1. “amateur and non-market production,
  2. networked collectives for producing and sharing culture,
  3. niche and special-interest groups, and
  4. aesthetics of parody, remix, and appropriation” (43).

Convergence culture is about technology and the affected industries, but much  more importantly, it’s “a matter of norms, common culture, and the artistry of everyday life” (72). We engage in culture jamming to interrupt the flow of hegemonic cultural products’ intended messages. We poach in acts of appropriation, of détournement. No surprise, then: “The future of the networked public culture is contested” (70).

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Wark, M. K. (2011). _The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International_. New York: Verso.

Ken Wark, PhD in Communication, Murdoch University, is Professor, Culture and Media at the Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts. His research interests include: media theory, new media, critical theory, cinema, music, and visual art. Other books include A Hacker Manifesto (2004), Dispositions (2002), and Speed Factory (2000).

Per this review, Wark’s book is a call to consider the Situationist International’s inventory of forms of praxis: dérive, détournement, the gift, and potlatch. Together these uphold individuation and collective belonging in opposition to the synchronizing, flattening spectacle.

Wark pithily bemoans high theory’s inwardly vertiginous obsession with the few “famous fathers” of yore and select “new demigods” (1). High theory, he claims, evolves as a response to disappointment; hence the productive time following May 1968. However, today “[we] are bored with this planet” (1). Boredom invites an altogether divergent low theory, one “dedicated to the practice that is critique and the critique that is practice” (3). The SI, Wark avers, explored such a critical practice, only too much has been made of the Situationists’ perceived dysfunctions and far too much emphasis placed on select “great men” (3). Were we to conceive of the SI as an experiment in social form and acknowledge Debord’s scrupulous decision to dissolve the collective before it was crushed “beneath the weight of its own incoherence” (121), we might more readily recognize the enduring value in the Situationists’ inventory of forms of praxis: dérive, détournement, the gift, and potlatch.

Wark’s book is best apprehended in terms of stages, chronological and conceptual, that catalog the contributors to Situationism – be they from within, the periphery, or even exile. The first portion details the SI’s forebear collective, the Letterist International, the misfit tribe of bohemian Saint-Germain, who together devised the critical praxis of negative action, making visible that which is impossible “within the limits of actually existing capitalism” (30). Then and there George Bataille, Michèle Bernstein, Ivan Chtcheglov, Guy Debord, Gil Wolman, and others conceived the dérive, psychogeography, and détournement with an ambition no less than to invent a wholly new civilization, leaving the 20th century behind them in distant memory.

Wark begins the middle of the book with the formation of the SI from other collectives in 1957, and this section pertains to formative theories within the Situationists’ active years. The portions on Asger Jorn’s and Henri Lefebvre’s respective provisions, as well as the chapter, “A Provisional Micro-Society,” are the section’s and book’s most successful, underscoring the SI’s emphasis on play, romance, even the collective’s own contradictions. Painter and theorist Jorn, a heavily modified and eventual ex-Marxist, proffers artistic materialism, noting art is not embedded in Marx’s superstructure but within our infrastructure; it is playful, social. As an alternative to Althusserian Marxism, Jorn proposes games and an “ontology of nature as flux, difference, and cooperation” (53).

Lefebvre never was a Situationist, but he and Debord shared an impassioned, if brief, intellectual encounter, during which they explored five concepts of interest, constituted by and constitutive of the Situationist project: “the everyday, totality, moment, spectacle, and the total semantic field” (96). For Lefebvre, the total semantic field’s three registers – signals, signs, and symbols – communicate deeply a notion rooted in romantic theory and reified in bohemia. Here and with these tools we can reverse fates and alienate the spectacle within society, itself “the concrete manufacture of alienation” (Debord, 1983, 32). Wark asserts a primary stratagem of the SI was taking up a romantic investigation of the total semantic field to a point, then reversing and establishing a new classicism in the wreckage. Such is just one lesson of the SI’s peculiar provisional micro-society: contradictions can prove creatively generative. It could and did not last, but Debord defended his paradoxical doctrine of no doctrine. Never doctrine, but “‘perspectives…a solidarity around these perspectives’” (as cited on 65). Founded on such ambiguity and fueled by a gift economy of donation for reputation, Wark recognizes the SI could not sustain. Games are not meant to endure.

However, Wark assures us this game has valuable lessons, thus the final portion of the book is a deliberate nod to the feasibility of Situationist practice as enacted by Alexander Trocchi and Constant Nieuwenhuys in the years subsequent to the SI. Trocchi’s project sigma attempts to bypass the cultural industry and arguably traces the beginnings of blogging. Constant’s New Babylon is noteworthy because his intent is that the transformation of the built form will, in fact, emerge from a transformation in social relations.

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Sack, W. (2011). Aesthetics of Information Visualization. In _Context Providers_, M. Lovejoy, C. Paul, and V. Vesna, eds. Bristol and Chicago: intellect.

Walter Sack, software designer and media theorist, explores online public space and discourse theories and designs. He is Chair of the Digital Arts & New Media MFA Program and Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of Santa Cruz. He has an S.M. and PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory.

Here Sack takes issue with Lev Manovich’s (2002) characterization of digital visualization as “antisublime,” privileging user-friendliness and utilitarianism over aesthetic beauty. However, Sack says, there already are examples of the sublime (e.g. John Simon’s “Every Icon” [1997]) and the uncanny (e.g. Alex Galloway’s packet sniffer “Carnivore” [2002]), and proposes we regard information visualization’s artistic contributions not in terms of visual, but conceptual arts. This is a particularly salient approach, if we take conceptual art’s history of reiterating industrial and bureaucratic modes to engage with and critique them.

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Debord, G. (1983). _Society of the Spectacle_. Detroit: Black and Red.

Co-founder of the Letterist International and later the Situationist International (SI), which played a considerable part in the Paris Uprising of 1968, Marxist philosopher and artist Debord articulates a bleak and totalizing view of modernity in 221 theses.

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (#1).

The spectacle for Debord is the overwhelming and distracting power not of images, “but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (#4). Whether it is concentrated, as in the totalitarian regime revolving around a sole figure/state, or is the diffuse antipode, as in the market economy-embedded society where acts of liberty are performed through purchase power, “the spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable, inaccessible” (#12). Not only is the spectacle inaccessible, it is enduring. Since revolutionaries generally operate within the logics of the spectacle, efforts to overthrow it are doomed. Complicating matters further, Debord insists a successful revolution is “a unitary critique of society” (#121). This critique is manifest action, exemplified by the SI’s favored activities, the dérive (“drift”) and détournement.

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