Tag Archives: Guy Debord

Situationalism Up Against the Wall

The Museum of a World Forgotten presents “Where Popular Stopped Being Pop”. The museum is actually some frames pasted up on Sutherland Lane, off La Trobe Street. The cook standing at the back door of the restaurant sends his assistant across the lane to pick up one of the A4 pages documenting the exhibition. He doesn’t look at the documentation for very long – it is all art student bullshit.

The Museum of a World Forgotten, Sutherland Lane

“9. In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.” (Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle, Debord’s emphasis.)

There is so much that is false in this urban intervention: the paintings are false, the exhibition is false and the documentation is false.

Some of the paintings are dross landscapes, obviously found in some opportunity shop; the others are prints of classic ‘Australian paintings’. The paintings images of a ‘real Australia’ detoured to an urban laneway; landscape painting is always emphasized in a history of Australian art. When did this type of landscape cease being popular? There are a couple of shows on Channel 31 that will teach you how to paint more like them.

The documentation for “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is actually the first five entries from Guy Debord’s book, Society of the Spectacle. The documentation’s layout of the pictures does not represent the actual layout of paintings; the numbers are also false. The only thing that is true about “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is that it is an intentional situationalist action.

I have often commented about street art and situationalism because there are some obvious connections. There are many other aspects of the Debord in street art including the graffiti slogans on the streets of Paris. In talking about street art we need to discuss Debord and the Situationists further: the detourement of images, psychogeography and the flâneur exploration of the city. But it is also sad that a philosophy developed in the 1960s in France when, post Stalinism, the revolution needed to reinvent itself is being repeated in Melbourne endlessly by sophisticated art students (like reciting verses from the Bible).

Ace Wagstaff writes about some of these connections in his article: “Duchamp, Nietzsche and the Spectacle of the Live Creative Act”. Wagstaff writes about the public enjoying the spectacle of a legal graffiti performance at the NGV.

Meanwhile is the ‘true’ revolution starting in the Melbourne’s city square?


Psychogeography of the Yarra River

“Urbanism is the modern fulfilment of the uninterrupted task which safeguards class power: the preservation of the atomisation of workers who had been dangerously brought together by urban conditions of production.” Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967)

The Yarra River divides Melbourne more than just geographically. It is the polluted, poisonous brown snake that divides the northwest of the city from the southeast. It is a psychological division of the city. The Yarra River is the major psychogeographic feature of Melbourne.

Psychogeography’ is a portmanteau neologism by the Lettrists, a proposal for a study of the relationship between psychology and geography. In reality it was an excuse for the avant-garde of Paris to drunkenly wander the streets and for Stewart Home and other British Neoists to write magico-nonsense (Mind Invaders, ed. Steward Home, Serpent’s Tail, 1997). But if we take Debord seriously then the psychogeography Melbourne appears to divide and restrict the movement of its inhabitants, with a spoked network of railway tracks, tram tracks and roads. Whether this “safeguards class power” as Debord argues or merely the result of stupid and short-sighted governments is a matter for political debate.

For more on the psychogeography of Melbourne see Mapping Melbourne and Simon Seller’s “Urban Wasteland: A Pyschogeographical tour of Melbourne”.

The Yarra River was called Birrarrung meaning “Place of Mists and Shadows” by the Wurundjeri tribe, the local aboriginal people. In 1803 when NSW Surveyor-General Charles Grimes named it “Freshwater River”. In 1835 it was renamed “Yarra Yarra” by John Helder Wedge of the Port Phillip Association, in the mistaken belief that this was the Aboriginal name for the river. The name was subsequently condensed to the Yarra River.

The Yarra is not a wide river and there are many bridges; for a visitor of the city the river may not seem like a major boundary but it is to Melbourne’s inhabitants. People living south of the river rarely go further across than the CBD or MCG. And people living north of the river rarely go south of the river. I could go into generalizations about the affluent southeast and the working class northwest of the city or how the radial spread of the city train-lines, tramlines and roads to explain this division.

The river has become a tourist attraction. In a copy of London’s Southbank, the south bank of the Yarra was made into an arts precinct, later extended with a restaurant and casino area. Princess Bridge has become a prime location to photograph the city at sunrise or sunset. The south bank of the river was the first to be improved, although this had always had parks and boatsheds. A riverside walk and sculptures have been added to the north bank of the Yarra it remains dominated by the railway lines and Flinders St. station until the construction of Federation Square and Birrarung Marr park.

I live in the north and I rarely travel south of the river, except to go to the NGV or other venues in Southbank. I am sorry that I haven’t written more about the galleries and street art south of the river.

(This blog entry is an edited version of two entries published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing.)

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