McKenzie Wark on Mon, 4 Nov 2002 20:20:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Theology of the Spectacle

Masayuki Kawai
About a Theological Situation in the Society of the Spectactle
Queens Museum of Art, New York, 3-10 Nov
guest curator Christine Wang

There is something untouchable about the major works of Guy
Debord, founder and animating force of the Situationist
International. As someone who famously declared "we are
not about to play the game", he is not so easy to assimilate
into the play of institutional signifiers that is the art world.

What makes Masayuki Kawai's video so fine is that it pretty
much ignores the question of what it means to appropriate
and rework Debord's work. This video just does it, and in
fine style.

What one learns, in the process, is that recession or not,
Japanese commodity culture still furnishes the kinds of
images that really do seem to bear out Debord's thesis.

As Debord writes, "the whole life of those societies in which
modern conditions of production prevail presents itself
as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that was
once directly lived has become mere representation."

This is a world in which "that which is good appears, and
that which appears is good." The spectacle is not just an
accumulation of images, "it is rather a social relationship
mediated by images."

Of course Debord made his own film version of his classic
work, The Society of the Spectacle. Part of the problem with
that film is that Debord was using the image culture of
mid century France, which was far from being the most
highly developed of the time. Kawai's video, on the other
hand, is effective precisely because one seems to peer
over the brink of a future the bulk of the world has yet to
quite enter.

I'm not in a position to assess Kawai's development of
the Debordian thesis from one viewing, but there too, this
is a work of some value. There's something static,
unreflective in the ways in which the thesis of the spectacle
is usually taken up. Debord's empahsis on separation
has its limitations in a world in which the vectoral and
connective property of media seems more telling. The
alienation Debord identifies hinges on a somewhat
static understanding of a necessity that pre-exists its
rupture in the commodity economy.

It's not that Kawai has resolved these issues in the
Debordian thesis. The video seems to me to offer a
very elegant restatement and adaption of the classic
situationist position. But he does offer a very useful
artwork with which to think these issues through.

Masayuki Kawai
About a Theological Situation in the Society of the Spectactle
single channel video
Queens Museum of Art 3-10 Nov
guest curator Christine Wang

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