Reviewing Spectacle: The Pasts, Presents and Futures of the Situationist International in Contemporary Performance

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths College
Department Name: Drama


Few texts bear more contemporary relevance than Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (1967), one of the key works of the Situationist International (SI, 1957-72). Debord highlighted the ideology of consumption, which organizes everyday life into a spectacle via packaging and marketing. Half a century later, what can be gained from returning to the SI's critique of spectacle? Our project investigates, theoretically and creatively, how contemporary performance mediates SI concepts in a digitalized, accelerated world.

1: Provide the first theorization of the specifically French contribution to the history of performance, which has generally been theorized as an Anglophone phenomenon.
2. Analyse appropriations of practices developed by the SI to critique the society of the spectacle, by 5 contemporary performance makers.
3. Contextualize SI theory and practice historically in mid-20th-century Paris, where they constituted active political resistance, to ask if their value might have shifted across generations.
4. Ask if performance might enable a future for the SI different from the one it imagined, where art would be subsumed into everyday life, and suppressed. How can the embodied presence of the performer challenge the flatness of screen simulation? How can witnessing the creation of images in performance foster a critical understanding of the production of spectacle?

The project enables collaboration between scholars, Artistic Partners and the heritage sector in France and the UK. 2 symposia at our Partner Institutions (théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers Paris and Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow) address our Aims via papers, and discussions with artists. These will provide material for 2 special issues co-edited by French and UK investigators. Our Artistic Partner, Graeme Miller, will make a performance in response to the Guy Debord archives held at the BNF, creating a contemporary reactivation of the SI's history and a significant impact activity


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/N504592/1 08/03/2016 01/09/2017 £73,946
AH/N504592/2 Transfer AH/N504592/1 02/09/2017 09/01/2018 £29,768
Description This research project has brought together the ideas and practices of the Situationist International (SI) with contemporary performance. In comparison with other areas such as architecture and urban planning, cinema, politics, philosophy and critical theory and visual arts, little until now had been written about the SI's significance in relation to theatre. Our project has provided the first extended and sustained examination of the SI's lasting impact on theatre and performance. We have demonstrated how how performance-makers have both derived inspiration from the SI, and also evolved and broadened performance in ways that the SI could not have anticipated, engaging in site-based performance, installation art, postdramatic theatre, participatory performance, punk and direct action.
Exploitation Route Our two special issue journals, published in France and the UK, provide a methodology with which future scholars can evaluate the impact of the SI's theories and practices on contemporary performance. Through a historical, theoretical and practice-based study of the SI, we have been able to foreground the social and cultural importance of such theatre tand performance.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our team curated two performance festivals at the théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers and théâtre l'Échangeur in a low-income Parisian banlieue; and the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts, which since the mid-twentieth century has welcomed avant-garde performance. These partner institutions hosted in total 14 performance artists that we invited from France, Belgium, Canada, the USA, UK and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the events were attended by around 400 people. In December 2017 the project commissioned three artists inspired by the Situationist International to make short films, to be screened at the Institut Français in London and Bibliothèque Nationale de France (2019). These events have generated lasting international impact in the culture industries by enabling knowledge dissemination with the public, and have positively changed theatre activity by effecting creative exchange and partnerships between UK, French and Belgian artists and theatre institutions (see website for further details of our public engagement activities:
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural