This exhibition takes as its starting point the visual and conceptual strategies of the Situationist Internationale (SI), the French avant-garde group that formed in the late 1950s. Led by Guy Debord, members of the SI produced theoretical tracts along with ironic examples of what they termed détournement, the subversion of elements of the mass media. Détournement literally means “to deflect or redirect” and involves transforming known ideas or images into something new that radically undermines their original message. The exhibition explores the development of détournement over the last four decades and how this strategy has impacted visual communication.
The Return of the Durutti Column
The Return of the Durutti Column (Le Retour de la Colonne Durutti) is a four-page comic by André Bertrand that was handed out at Strasbourg University in October 1966 during a student protest upon the opening of the school year. This provocative piece of détournement was published and distributed with the help of a number of students inspired by Situationist ideas. Attempts by the university and police to suppress the students in Strasbourg backfired and soon new protests arose in Jussieu and Nanterre, followed by the dramatic events in Paris of May 1968. Until 1966, the SI had consisted of only an obscure group of like-minded intellectuals, but the media attention from the protest in Strasbourg launched the group into the public consciousness.
Elliott Earl’s poster Liberty Weeps suggests a détourned meditation on the iconic images made by Norman Rockwell during World War II. In 1943, Rockwell had created a series of paintings based on the concept of the “Four Freedoms” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had articulated in the 1941 State of the Union Address. Earl’s poster appropriates the idealized style employed by Rockwell as Earls seeks to revisit the current status of liberty in the United States (the poster was first exhibited in the summer of 2008). In this manner, Earls contributes to the public discussion of liberty that has preoccupied the nation in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th.
Curated by Stephen Eskilson and Robert Petersen, "Détournement: Subversive Visual Communication" is on view November 12 – February 26 in the main galleries of the Tarble Arts Center. Included in the exhibition are stunning comics, posters, commercial graphics, and other printed ephemera. Additionally, a series of short films that thematically engage the exhibition—including Guy Debord’s rarely seen La société du spectacle (1973)—will be screened on February 2, 2012 at 7:30pm in the Tarble Atrium. The Tarble Arts Center is located at 2010 9th Street on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. For more information phone 217-581-ARTS (2787), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.eiu.edu/tarble.