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Related: appropriation - Luther Blissett - parody - ridicule - subversion - Situationist International

Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but employs more direct reuse or faithful mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original. It may be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media. The most famous work of détournement is Marcel Duchamp's rendition of the Mona Lisa with mustache. In an ironic twist of fate, this appropriated version of a public domain painting cannot be shown online because the copyright belongs to Marcel Duchamp. Marcel Duchamp's work will be available for free in 2038.

The literary and artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes. It is, of course, necessary to go beyond any idea of mere scandal. Since opposition to the bourgeois notion of art and artistic genius has become pretty much old hat, [Marcel Duchamp’s] drawing of a mustache on the Mona Lisa is no more interesting than the original version of that painting. We must now push this process to the point of negating the negation. Bertolt Brecht, revealing in a recent interview in France-Observateur that he makes cuts in the classics of the theater in order to make the performances more educative, is much closer than Duchamp to the revolutionary orientation we are calling for. We must note, however, that in Brecht’s case these salutary alterations are narrowly limited by his unfortunate respect for culture as defined by the ruling class — that same respect, taught in the newspapers of the workers parties as well as in the primary schools of the bourgeoisie, which leads even the reddest worker districts of Paris always to prefer The Cid over [Brecht’s] Mother Courage. --A User’s Guide to Détournement (1956) - Guy Debord & Gil J. Wolman [1]


Detournement; "short for: detournement of pre-existing aesthetic elements. The integration of past or present artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no Situationist painting or music, but only a Situationist use of these means.", Internationale Situationiste issue 1, June 1958.

Detournement may be understood as the opposite of 'recuperation', the process by which radical ideas and images are commodified and incorporated within the 'safe' confines of 'spectacular' society. With detournement, images produced by the spectacle are altered and subverted so that rather than supporting the status quo, their meaning is changed in order to put across a more radical or oppositionist message. Such a pro-situ technique can be seen in the work of Culture Jammers such as Ad Busters 1 (http://www.adbusters.org/), whose 'subvertisements' 'detourn' Nike adverts, for example. In this case the original advertisement's imagery is altered in order to draw attention to said company's policy of shifting their production base to cheap labour cost third world 'Free trade Zones'.

However, the line between 'recuperation' and 'detournement' can at times seem rather thin. Naomi Klein, in her book No Logo, details how Culture Jammers and Ad Busters have been approached (sometimes successfully) by corporations such as Nike, Pepsi, or Diesel, and offered lucrative contracts in return for partaking in 'ironic' promotional campaigns. She points up further irony in the instance of merchandising produced to promote Ad Busters' Buy Nothing day; this, she suggests, may be understood as an example of the recuperation of detournement. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detournement [Jul 2004]

"There is no Situationist art, only Situationist uses of art."

On the methods of détournement by the S.I.

Détournement is usually translated into English as ‘diversion’ and was the method of artistic creation used by the situationists. It was, in effect, plagiarism where both the source and the meaning of the original work was subverted to create a new work. In the SI’s own words ‘there is no Situationist art, only Situationist uses of art.’ Detournement is distinct from ‘theft’ plagiarism, which only subverts the source of the material and post-modern ‘ironic quotation’ plagiarism which only subverts the meaning of the material, the source becoming the meaning. The SI used detournement in films, art, graphics for their journal and in posters that detourned comics during the events of May ’68. --Karen Eliot, Oct 1999. No copyright. No rights reserved.

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