- The Consul: Conversations with Gérard Berréby with the Help of Giulio Minghini and Chantal Osterreicher.
To some observers, the Lincoln Center Festival 2003 flagship production The Angel Project, directed by Deborah Werner, might appear to be a brutal commercialization of the last pristine resort of live art. At $90 a ticket, solitary spectators were taken from Roosevelt Island to various environments in the midtown Manhattan, only slightly altered by the presence of art installations and immobile, silent actors. The concept of this project comes dangerously close to the Situationist practice of dérive. More precisely, it approaches a certain superficial notion of dérive, excellently dispelled in this book of conversations between Gérard Berréby and the British artist Ralph Rumney, The Consul (Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time, Vol. II).
Together with détournement (textual or visual appropriation), dérive (drifting) represents one of the most recognizable, and most performable, artistic practices devised by the Situationist International. Literary traces of a dérive-like practice can be found in the Surrealist chronicles such as Andre Breton's Nadja (1928) and Louis Arragon's The Paris Peasant (1926). In the 1950s, Letterist and Situationist's massive critiques of Dada and Surrealist practices involved the radical rejection of romantic and nostalgic literary recordings of dérive. In what is often considered the founding document of SI, "Report on the Construction of Situations" (1958), Debord argued for the shift, through "ludic creations" such as dérive, of political and artistic action from the imaginary battlefields of class struggle to everyday life. Rejecting narrativity, he wrote,
[W]e will have to introduce a system of notation whose accuracy will increase as experiments in construction [of situations] teach us more. We will have to find or confirm laws, like those that make Situationist emotion dependant upon an extreme concentration or an extreme dispersion of acts (classical tragedy providing an approximate image of the first case, and dérive of the second).(48)
This juxtaposition introduces dérive directly into the domain of performance and theatre. The Consul is not an attempt to recant past dérives, but to suggest the vast possibilities of the dispersion of action.
Gérrard Berréby has been close to SI since its inception. In the two books [End Page 200] of his interviews with the former situationists (which Berréby has published with the common subtitle, Contributions to the History of the Situationist International and Its Time) he limited his editorial interventions to the juxtaposition of documentary material with the text of the interviews. While the first volume of Contributions, the book of conversations with Jean-Michel Mension entitled The Tribe (also published by City Lights Books) was somewhat disappointing; the second volume represents an important addition to existing ideas about SI artistic practices. If we return to dérives (which is by no means the sole focus of Berréby's books), we will see that in Mension's recollections they become easily reduced to drunken stumbling through the streets of Paris. Both Mension and Rumney espoused the avantgarde concept of the renunciation of art, exemplified by colorful personalities such as Jacques Vaché and Marcel Duchamp. Unlike Vaché and Mension, and like Duchamp, Rumney made art before he forsake it. Prior to his departure to the continent, he was one of the prominent young abstract artists on the British art scene. What followed was a twisted path that led him to, among other places, galleries and exhibition openings where he met his future wife, Pegeen Guggenheim; Parisian bistros frequented by the likes of Georges Bataille, Tristan Tzara, and Pierre Klossowski; and to the Italian village of Cosio d'Arroscia, where he participated in the foundation of the Situationist International, only to be expelled soon thereafter. The Consul, however, is not a book of biographical reminiscence. Truthful to the idea of dérive, Berréby and Rumney...