"Guy Debord Cineaste" is a vault installation in the gallery featuring original documents and publications of the Situationist International from the collection of Thomas Y. Levin, including the complete edition of its magazine Internationale Situationiste (IS), a series of rare Situationist and Lettrist pamphlets, and original lobby cards from Debord's film "In Girum imus Nocte et consumimur igni."
The Situationist International (SI), an international political and artistic movement, emerged in the late 1950s from the confluence of several tendencies which radically redefined the role of art in the twentieth century: the Lettrist International, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, and the London Psychogeographical Association. Building on a critical analysis of Surrealism and Dada, and informed by the insights of COBRA, the Situationists developed their theory and practice through direct artistic and intellectual confrontation with their predecessors and contemporary figures from Lefebvre to Godard. Renewing Marx's critique of capital, the Situationists viewed the banalization of art as a symptom of the totalizing effect of capitalist alienation. They saw their task as artists and revolutionaries to supersede art as a separate and specialized activity, transforming it so as to become the basis of an invigorated practice of a dramatically new type of everyday life. In the wake of May '68, which seemed to offer a brief glimpse of the revolutionary upheaval of the quotidian that the SI had long envisioned, the collective project began to falter. Marked by constant scissions and expulsions, the SI dissolved in 1972.
The artist, cultural theorist and activist Guy Debord was the leading member of the Situationist International and author of the group's most influential text, The Society of the Spectacle (1967). In this seminal tract, Debord develops a critique of "spectacular society" as the moment of the total occupation of social life by the commodity relation. Parallel with his work as the motor of SI activities of all sorts, including the production of the enormously influential collectively-edited magazine Internationale Situationiste (IS), Guy Debord was also a filmmaker. The six films that Debord made between 1952 and 1978 provide a fascinating perspective onto his decidedly critical practice. On the one hand, Debord insisted that the existing cinema had to be destroyed, along with all forms of specialized artistic practice. Yet, on the other hand, Debord and the SI continued to develop strategies for artistic intervention, most notably the militant practice of détournement, a form of plagiaristic citation that recontextualized images and sound from other films and cultural materials of all sorts. The development of Debord's cinematic anti-aesthetic –from its Lettrist beginnings to its post-SI nostalgia—is a useful barometer of the shifting status and tactical understanding of the aesthetic in the history of the SI. Following the dissolution of the Situationist International, Debord's films were projected in a small left-bank Parisian cinema dedicated exclusively to his cinematic work. But when his friend, patron, and publisher Gerard Lebovici was murdered in 1984, Debord withdrew his films from circulation in protest. They remained completely unavailable for the next decade until, only weeks after his suicide in 1994, two of them were shown on French television along with a made-for-TV film that Debord had produced together with Brigitte Cornand. This strategy of withdrawal, followed by dissemination on television and, now for the first time on DVD, must, like the works themselves, be examined as a complex media-theoretical intervention.
"The specialists of cinema have said that my film's revolutionary politics were bad; the left-wing political illusionists have said that it was bad cinema. But when one is both a revolutionary and a filmmaker, it is easy to demonstrate that their shared bitterness stems from the fact that the film in question is a precise critique of society they do not know how to combat; and the first example of a kind of film they do not know how to make."
-- Guy Debord, Refutation of All the Judgments, Pro or Con, Thus Far Rendered on the Film "The Society of the Spectacle" (1975)