Pecha Kucha: Detournement


Any sort of public speaking petrifies me. I class a talk a success if I didn’t cry. Well, I didn’t cry. Unfortunately I think that was the only thing I managed to do right. From uploading the WRONG files 40 seconds after the deadline (because I was distracted by shiny things on the internet and lost track of time), to misbehaving powerpoint. And I should know better.

I know I should give myself plenty of time, things happen. I know not to leave it, or in this case some of it, to the last minute. It ALWAYS takes longer then planned. I know I should stay focuses, on task, focus, focus…. ooooh shiny thing…

But I survived. And it is over, and it is done. And at my age I really should know better then to leave things to the last minute. But I didn’t. And with all such things I regret it, but I can’t quite convince myself I won’t do it again…

Link to slides (as PDF) pechakucha_detournement

The Talk

I was going to adlib, but decided the night before the talk to write it done, because I didn’t trust myself not to freeze. And I’m glad I did. Although I used it as a crutch after the series of glitches that started of the talk I would have been in a absolute mess if I didn’t have the following notes.

Slide 1:

So, my topic is Detournement. Or Detournement. As I will mispronounce for the rest of the talk. Detournement is the appropriation of pre-existing “artistic productions” into a new context. It is a type of propaganda and is often ideologically driven (‘Definitions’  1958; Klein 2001). Targets of detournement are, for example, typically capitalism or art.

Slide 2:

So why does it matter? Detournement is an example of how messages can be subverted. Some of the examples I will go through range from criticism of the Iraq war, culture jamming, tobacco, strong female characters and McDonalds.

Where detournement originate? It started with the Situationists.

Slide 3:

The situationists were an offshoot of the Letterists and influenced by movements like Dada and Surrealism. It was all a little incestuous. The situationists were about urban environments, but that is outside of the scope of this talk. The phrase: “Under the pavement, the beach” is a reference to the Paris riots of 1968, in which the Situationists played a role, at least briefly.

Slide 4:

Guy (ghee) Debord was the key figure in the Situationists. He argued life is currently presented as a series of spectacles through the media. This fragmented world consists mostly of images, and coalesces into a pseudo-world that mediates social relationships. Detournement is a means of subverting spectacle. But in this mediated world subversive acts are fodder for spectacle. Which I will come back to later.

Slide 5:

This is the first example. A disturbed duckling. This was done by another key figure in the situationists: Asger Jorn, who loved bad art. So much so, he painted on it. In this case it is a detourned image because art, even bad art, is considered more than an just an object and painting on a painting is close to sacrilege.

Slide 6:

I am now going to go over how at least one detourned image was constructed. In 2003, after the US invasion of Iraq, there were rumours of Americans torturing, and photographing detainees in humiliating ways. This photo was one of those released. At the time, there was considerable talk regarding the privatisation of war, post-war construction, and the involvement of corporations. This came on top of that.

Slide 7:

But hey, at the same time iPods where getting traction. The predecessor to the iPhone, was advertised successfully an many images like this one. An anonymised silhouette with the tagline, 10,000 songs in your pocket. The ubiquity of this image meant it was ripe to be detourned. Which it was.

Slide 8:

The anonymity of the silhouetted figure, a figure that could be anyone, was replaced with the silhouette of the tortured Iraqi. It is also a pose with religious overtones. The result was striking, and subverted the advertising message of Apple into a critique of war and capitalism, and the role of corporations in war.

Slide 9:

The following slides are to help show what is, and is not detournement. These paintings are by Goya. A 18th and 19th C Spanish painter. He lived through the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s when Napoleon invaded Spain. This impacted his work and he produced a series of etched plates titled the Disasters of War, although these weren’t printed until 1863, decades after Goya’s death. They are rare and valuable.

Slide 10 & Slide 11:

This title of this etching is translated as: ‘An heroic feat! With dead men!’ Goya was big on sarcasm. The second image is modified by the Chapman Brothers, Dinos and Jake. They purchased a first edition set of Goya’s prints and drew on them. One of the reasons they defaced the prints was to remove them from circulation. Goya used etchings, prints, because he wanted to disseminate these images as widely as possible. The Chapman Brothers intentionally made them rarer.

These are all by the Chapman Brothers. But why the first image is Detournement and these are not, is the motivation and meaning, (except maybe Year Zero the green one), none of the other iterations they have done of Plate 39 subvert its meaning.

Slide 12:

This is the Chapman Brothers again. This was an installation purported to be a family collection of artefacts from Africa. On closer inspection they incorporate McDonalds symbols. This one is more difficult to say if it is detourned. It takes pre-existing artefacts: McDonalds symbols into a new context and subverts their meaning into that of cult. There are issues of race and art that need to be addressed in this work.

Slide 13:

But onto an offshoot of detournement. Culture Jamming. In 2001 Nike started offering a way for people to customise their shoes by adding a word. Jonah Petretti requested his be printed “sweatshop”. The subsequent email exchange was released and went viral. Culture Jamming intercepts a companies means of sending messages, usually advertising, and subverts it (Klein 2001). In this case: Nike selling itself as freedom loving.

Slide 14:

This Fiat ad with its counter graffiti is also an example of Culture Jamming. As are many other additions to billboards. Arguably, even just using an ad-blockers can be classed as a form of Culture Jamming. Although I’m not entirely sold on that idea.

Slide 15:

The next two slides show detourned advertising. One of these is a genuine ad from the 1970s, the other is a parody produced by Ad-Busters. A magazine that was of its time prior to the 2000s and specialised in culture jamming. The actor pictured, Alan Lander, in the genuine ad died of lung cancer, while suing Winston tobacco.

Slide 16:

This is another real ad by Winston tobacco, and the re-interpreted version done by Mad Magazine. This sort of advertising and counter-advertising needs to be located close to each other in time to work. Otherwise it loses some of its meaning. 

Slide 17:

I’m not really going to go into this one, just a bit of a tangent. Just to flag that the situationists and detournement had an influence on punk and music. The artist, Jamie Reid, who did this, claimed at his retrospective that his work, which was labelled as Situationist, was actually “taking the piss out of Situationism, because it got so highbrow” (Smith 1997).

 Slide 18:

Although the material in this is new and original it subverts a theme in superhero comics that came to a head in 2011. When one of the largest comic publishers, DC Comics (ie Batman). Reset their universe to entice new readers, mostly young women, but continued to draw women as they always had, scantily clad but with a new twist! They kicked butt! While showing butt! Yay! Empowerment. Also, the artist is Katie Beaton and well worth looking up.

Slide 19:

While this is not detourned. This is Garfield minus Garfield. By just removing Garfield it subverts the meaning from comedy to a bleak and desolate comic. But I would argue this is not detourned. Even though the alternation subverts the meaning of the original material and places it into a new context. There is no critique of a larger system

Slide 20:

Finally, as a sort of conclusion. At the beginning, I said that subversive acts will be trivialised, and are absorbed by spectacle as a novelty. Like graffiti into street art, or protests into fashion shoots. Even as far back as 1996 when this ad came out, corporations were trying to find ways around it. “We don’t sell dreams” is a pre-emptive strike. And advertising companies have reportedly approached culture jammers, like Ad-busters to run ad campaigns for them.



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