Politics of Play: Situationism, Détournement, and Anti-Art

  • Christie Ko


In addition to contributing crucially to the philosophy that fuelled the student revolts of France in 1968, the Situationist International (SI) sought to undermine the use of spectacle as a commercialised tool of capitalism. Blending their interpretations of Marxism with that of the historical avant-garde, the situationists went to war with the institutions of art and academia. In 1956, Guy Debord proclaimed that “every reasonably aware person of our time is aware of the obvious fact that art can no longer be justified as a superior activity” (Debord, A User’s Guide to Détournement 1). What was their method of attack on this world of bastardized, commercialized spectacle? Quite simply, it was play. Although subversion through theatre and play is hardly a novel idea, the situationists employed play in ways that had never been taken to such extremes. They propagated play without spectacle, or even play as anti-spectacle and anti-art. The term itself, ‘situationism’ refers to the anti-art they created; or, in other words, the un-commodified, anti-spectacular human situations, through which, as Sartre claimed, one could gain freedom (Plant 20). Through these situations, the SI was determined to subvert the institutional uses of language and art using what they termed détournement, or “the use of old material for new ends,” (Puchner 224). What this amounts to is play in a unique form: play is used to undermine the very institution of language, and therefore both social order and authoritative control. As a result, the SI’s influences extended beyond their specific time and place by instigating a re-evaluation of the very relationship between art and politics; a re-evaluation still in process today.
How to Cite
Ko, Christie. 2008. “Politics of Play: Situationism, Détournement, and Anti-Art”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, August. https://forumjournal.org/article/view/599.