On this day in 1956, a group of around twenty obscure radical artists converged on the small Italian town of Alba, just southeast of Turin, for the First World Congress of Liberated Artists. Revolution was the common denominator among these avant-gardists, all of them representatives of Europe’s then most subversive art movements – COBRA, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, the London Psychogeographical Association and the Lettrist International. But their vision for revolution was not one driven by justice and suffering, but rather by a lust for the world and a “total critique of [the] idea of happiness” – a World Vision in which art would play a crucial role in creating a new “performance” each and every day, thus bringing people to life. For the next seven days, the delegates discussed the need for a common platform to renew art in order that art could renew life. In a concluding statement, one of its organisers – the Danish painter Asger Jorn – predicted that the First World Congress of Liberated Artists would one day be recognised as “a key moment … in the struggle for a new sensibility and a new culture”.
How right Jorn was. For just ten months later, several of these Alba participants, including representatives from all the aforementioned movements, would reconvene at another Italian conference, which – subsuming many of the already-discussed First World Congress ideas – would declare itself the Situationist International. But let us today remember that momentous meeting up at Alba, for from its utopian Ur-rumblings would the avant-garde movement slowly gather speed and momentum, eventually taking on culture with such finesse and daring that the results would, by May 1968, scare even General De Gaulle into briefly quitting his country – preferring to take refuge in nearby West Germany than risk a head-on confrontation with absurd Situationist forces beyond his ken.
Hi Dorian. Arthur magazine posted a link to your Leila Khaled entry the other day and I’ve since spent all my free time catching up on all your posts. What can I say except THANK YOU.
Took me a while but I can finally resist trying to read every post of On This Deity in a few sittings. I now read the daily entry and related comments each morning. At last I feel I have found my tribe. Like many I have poked around the fringes of much of what has been written on your site. I get outraged and empowered and educated. Today I found out how the Situationists came to be. I had heard about them on the DVD ‘Punk: Attitude’ by Don Letts. Artists, obviously including musicians, have such power as change makers; encouraging humans to look at our behaviour, reflect on our values and challenge the status quo. (the band Status Quo has now sold the rights to one of their songs are now shamelessly advertising one of the duopoly supermarket chains in Australia). So much is out of our hands but so much is within our grasp. Bring on the Situationists! Thank you so much for all your hard work Dorian and all those who continue the conversation.
Lust for the world and a “total critique of [the] idea of happiness” I’m in!
Tom Jefferson screwed up bad when he wrote, “The pursuit of happiness”. He should have written, “the pursuit of contentment.”