- The Situationist International (SI) was founded in 1957 at Cosio d'Arroscia in Northern Italy, mainly out of the union of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (MIBI, consisting of Asger Jorn, Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio, Piero Simondo and others) and the Lettrist International (LI, its journal Potlatch), a splinter group led by Guy Debord. MIBI itself resulted from splits in the postwar CoBrA group wich Jorn had helped found. The SI was soon joined by another key CoBrA artist, Constant.
- In its first phase until 1962, the SI developed a number of ideas that had originated in the LI, of which the most significant were those of urbanisme unitaire, psychogeography, play as free and creative activity, derive, and detournement. The SI expounded its position in its journal, Internationale Situationniste, brought out books, and embarked on a number of artistic activities. Artists were to break down the division between individual art forms and to create situations, constructed encounters and creatively lived moments in specific urban settings, instances of a critically transformed everyday life. They were to produce settings for situations and experimental models of possible modes of transformation of the city, as well as to agitate and polemicize against the sterility and oppression of the actual environment and ruling economic and political system.
- During this period a number of prominent painters and artists from many European countries joined the group, and became involved in the activities and publications of the SI. With members from Algeria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Sweden, the SI became a genuinely international movement, held together organizationally by annual conferences (1957-Cosio d'Arroscio, Italy; 1958-Paris, France; 1959-Munich, Germany; 1960-London, England; 1961-Göteborg, Sweden; 1962-Antwerp, Belgium) and by the journal which was published once or twice a year in Paris by an editorial committee that changed over time and represented the different national sections.
- The same period saw also a series of internal disagreements inside the organization. The disagreements resulted in a number of expulsions (to start with the Italian participants Simondo, Verrone and Olmo in 1958), and a split in 1962, when a rival Second Situationist International was set up by Jörgen Nash (brother of Asger Jorn). The Second SI was joined by others from the Dutch, German, and Scandinavian sections. In broad terms, this can be characterized as a split between artists and political theorists. The main issue at stake was the insistence of the theoretical group around Guy Debord in Paris that art could not be recognized as a separate activity with its own legitimate specificity, but must be dissolved into a unitary revolutionary praxis. After the split the SI was reformed and centralized around a main office in Paris. Up to 1967, the journal continued to appear annually, but only one more conference was held (1966-Paris, France).
Based on Peter Wollen, 'The Situationist International', in: New Left Review nr. 174 (1989) 67-93. Also: Peter Wollen, 'Bitter Victory: The Art and Politics of the Situationist International', On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time : the Situationist International 1957-1972 (Cambridge etc. 1989) 20-61. Reprinted in Peter Wollen, Raiding the Icebox : Reflections on twentieth-century culture (Verso : London, 1993)
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