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In both undergraduate and graduate school I was pretty fascinated by the Situationists International. Unfortunately, I never found a practical way to incorporate them into a large project or assignment. Even still, I find them aspects of both the Situationists International and the Letterists International interesting, and as a result, their ideologies have snuck into several smaller projects – i.e., these blog posts.

The reason that I became so enthralled with the SI is because of this one particular image that I saw in my Contemporary Art class with Professor Mario Ontiveros at UMass Amherst in the Spring of 2007. The image was Guy Debord’s The Naked City, and it looked like this:

I’m not entirely sure why I was so sucked into this image, but it was probably because of the system or organized chaos. The network of arrows and buildings that do not make sense at first but slowly appear to be suggesting the free movement of an object or a person through space. Simply put,  I appreciate the effort of trying to illustrate how a person interacts with the space around him or her, which is exactly what this image does.

My fascination with The Naked City and the SI led me to explore more about the politics, beliefs, and practices of the SI. I was first led to Guy Debord’s most famous publication, The Society of the Spectacle:

I have to admit that I am pretty much in love with the cover of this publication. The Society of the Spectacle could be considered the manifesto of the Situationists International, who were a group of artists, philosophers, poets, and intellectuals. This publication contains the ideologies of the SI as number bullet points, each one expanding off the last. From here I was led to another of Debord’s publications regarding Psychogeograpy: Theory of the Dérive, which explains the Situationists concept of “public drifting.”

“One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

But the dérive includes both this letting-go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities. In this latter regard, ecological science, despite the narrow social space to which it limits itself, provides psychogeography with abundant data.” – Guy DeBord, 1958

The dérive and psychogeography are, as made apparent by the above passage, closely linked, though not mutually exclusive. I found myself interested in the dérive and psychogeography because I often times find myself gravitating towards certain landmarks or walking on an unmarked path. For example, when walking around a college campus, it is bizarre to see just how much power the sidewalks and marked walkways have over the campus’s inhabitants. I’d say that well over half, probably closer to 75% of the campus community does not veer off the designated path. I find myself to be part of the minority who all of a sudden realizes that they are walking through the middle of a field because, well, “I felt like it.” Going with your instinct and reacting to your surroundings, whether you are conscious of it or not, is an incredibly intriguing concept to me.

Because of my interest in these concepts, I find myself sometimes hyper-aware of the space that I am occupying and how I am interacting with it. One space which, to me, felt like a consciously constructed, sort of forced psychogeographically is the interior of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, aka MoMa. Specifically, MoMa’s 2002 – 2004 renovations by Yoshio Taniguchi. It is four stories high, with a pair of escalators on each floor, one going up and the other going down. Each escalator, however, only goes to one floor above or below, i.e. – you couldn’t go directly from the fourth floor to the second floor without stopping and walking through lobby of the third floor, unless you took the elevator. This forces visitors of the museum to sort of be herded along from floor to floor, and also makes it impossible to miss a floor. The artificially constructed psychogeographic landscape made me feel uncomfortable, as I was limited in the ways I was able to interact with the space.

So, the next time that you are walking through a park, around a university campus, to the bus stop, or around a large building, make a conscious effort to think about the way that you are interacting with the space you are occupying. Is the space constructed for you to interact in a certain way? How does the space make you feel as an inhabitant? These are all questions that will make even the most boring trip to the supermarket a thought provoking and possibly enlightening experience.

I’ve noticed that art that makes commentary on the body/involves the body leaves the most lasting impression on me. I guess this post is about unpacking these images, films, occurrences, etc. and figuring out exactly why and how I have such a visceral response to them.

From previous blog posts, I’ve made it largely apparent that I am fascinated with the idea of the spectacle. In this instance, I will also be using the word “spectacle” as defined by the Situations and Letterists International, both examples here taken from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle:

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“Though separated from what they produce, people nevertheless produce every detail of their world with ever-increasing power. They thus also find themselves increasingly separated from that world. The closer their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from that life.”

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“The fetishism of the commodity — the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things” — attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality.”

I will also be expanding on the notion of spectacle with what it particularly means to me, which is a hybrid between the ideologies of the SI/LI and the dictionary definition of: “something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining; especially : an eye-catching or dramatic public display.” For me, the spectacle, in relation to the body, involves using the body (with or without consent of the person) as something to be viewed or provide pleasure and/or entertainment. The two examples of the body as spectacle that come to my mind are “ethnographic” presentations of people and pornography. Yes, they seem pretty unrelated right now, but bear with me.

The practice of displaying people is centuries old. Particularly after the colonization of Oceania, the Americas, and Africa “indigenous” people were sent back to Europe for display at fairs as “ethnographic displays.” The most well known example of this is the Hottentot Venus, an African woman who was sent to Europe as a “specimen” due to her engorged secondary sexual characteristics and “odd” (not European) aesthetics. A brilliant commentary on this practice is Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez –Peña’s performance piece circa 1997, The Couple in the Cage. This piece, which is one of my favorite performance pieces, shows the injustice and continuance of these practices. We’d like to believe that these practices no longer exist, that humans are not turned into spectacles, but think back to the last time you visited your favorite art or natural history museum. Remember that Ancient Egyptian mummy? Yeah, that is a human body. I know; it’s easy to forget.

Now what do “ethnographic displays” and mummies in museums have to do with pornography? Well, in these adult videos bodies are on display – in this case, not really as specimens, but as objects of pleasure and enjoyment. I guess in some ways it is not THAT much different than the theater or cinema, in which actors and actresses use their bodies and talents to entertain. I think what, in my mind, connects pornography with the display of bodies is the degrading and careless way in which many of its subjects are treated. Discussing pornography also provides an excellent transition to my next topic: the body as commodity.

When discussing the body as commodity, all that I can think of is prostitution and sex slavery. Once again, two very different things, though they are really only differentiated by one, rather important aspect: consent. My first experience unpacking the body as commodity and commentary on prostitution was exploring Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. In Picasso’s fragmented cubist painting, he is making a harsh commentary on the barbarous nature of selling one’s body for money. Particularly commenting on the crude behavior of seemingly sophisticated Parisian life in the early 20th century, which was rampant with prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases, Picasso uses the notion of primitivism to criticize the Western world, rather than the common practice of using primitivism to denigrate non-European (and therefore inferior) cultures. Though the female subjects of Picasso’s painting, as prostitutes, are choosing to be commodities, their bodies are shattered, their faces are ugly; they are far from beautiful or inviting, which was (and still is) the common glamorization of sex for sale.

I’ve had many debates over whether or not prostitution is a symbol of barbarism for a culture, of whether or not prostitution as an economic function of society, as an unsightly byproduct of capitalism somehow justifies its existence. To me, the body used as spectacle, but particularly turned into commodity can only be explained by this quote by Walter Benjamin: “there is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism.” In my mind, prostitution is as disturbing as sex trafficking and it is the physical manifestation of a culture’s barbarity. It is the underbelly of a culture that is in denial of its own primitivism.

Due to the generation gap between our Gen X predecessors and the influx of us Gen Yers entering the working world, there are many misunderstandings about the value and importance of social media sites. My dad, who is in his late 40s, often rolled his eyes at me for using Facebook; calling it “dumb and pointless.” He’s not singing the same tune now that he has reconnected with the majority of his high school graduating class to help plan their belated 30th reunion/collective 50th birthday party. Now he wants to know the ins and outs of Facebook, and he always has a list of questions for me so he can learn how to use all of the site’s features effectively.

I do not think my personal scenario is entirely uncommon, and I think that the older generation needs to find a practical application (other than reading status updates and looking at friend’s photos, which the majority of use recent college grads began using Facebook for) in order to understand the value of social media sites. Though it may take a bit of coercing, convincing an institution or museum to use Facebook and Twitter as PR/Marketing tools will have great, measurable results.

Why do I sound so confident? Well, because I’ve experienced it myself. As an intern at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, I worked in many capacities. I pretty much learned how to use a computer around the same time I learned how to talk, so I am very versatile when it comes to technology. Though I was primarily working as a curatorial intern for the American Painting department, I was asked to help create the Wadsworth’s Facebook “fan page.”

I did a bit of googling and quickly found instructions on how to sign up the museum for a fan page. I had the page created in about five minutes tops. Once created, my next job was to teach the PR/Marketing assistant how to navigate Facebook. In no time she was able to update the page, add photos, create events, post links, etc. She marketed the monthly event, Phoenix Art After Hours, via the new fan page, and attendance increased drastically at the event.

Just by creating a Facebook fan page, WAMA was able to quickly and easily reach a diverse audience. The ability to share content to a large group of people led to increased awareness (but due to the economy in Hartford not necessarily increased attendance) of subsequent functions. They actually had to turn people away from a free showing of the Disney/Pixar movie UP!, Andrew WK came to perform a concert, and the museum has been getting more sponsorship. With almost 3,000 fans in less than a year, events at the museum and arts/cultural events in the Hartford area are getting great publicity. They’ve also created a Twitter account which has 446 followers.

Even though it may seem as if social media isn’t relevant to non-profit, arts organizations, creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter account can, if nothing else, increase awareness and interest in your institution. For this reason, it is important that future or current Generation Y museum employees familiarize themselves with and learn the importance of social media. If we’re lucky, our predecessors will be willing to listen, learn, and adapt and benefit from the new, “hip” world of social media.