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Long live rock 'n’ roll [1] : Neo-Situationism by Andres Lõo

Anders Härm (3-4/2009)

Anders Härm dissects the artistic activity of Andres Lõo, who performs at this year's Nu Performance Festival
 “And it is obvious that the sign of the most vital revolutionary cultural experiments is the effort to break the viewer’s psychological identification with the hero: to push the viewer into action…”
Rapport sur la construction des situations
On the afternoon of November 26th 2008, several people gathered at Tallinn City Gallery for the opening of the exhibition Stylish Pentagram [2]   by the group Stiilne Viisnurk (‘Stylish Pentagram’). For seemingly incomprehensible reasons, an area of several square metres had been cut off from the rest of the gallery with barrier tape. However, the mystery was soon solved. A Land Rover drove in front of the gallery and out came an artist wearing a suit – the lanky Andres Lõo – holding a TV set. A moment later, he tossed the TV… in through the gallery window. Pieces of glass flew far beyond the ‘safe area’. This was Lõo’s third action in the series Rock ‘n’ Roll. He also realised an idea which had been haunting him throughout the entire 21st century; or rather, for however long the century had lasted so far. At the time, Lõo wrote that the action Tele Vision “is rock ‘n’ roll read backwards”[3]. Indeed – who isn’t familiar with the endless stories of how objects come to be thrown from hotel-room windows by rock stars during their after-show parties, at the end of a stressful tour and under the influence of alcohol, drugs and sexual frustration. Statistically the most frequently seen flying object is surely the TV, which makes a particularly ghastly groan when it hits the ground, like an imploding bomb, like a TV set thrown through a gallery window. Andres’ gesture is obviously a reference to the inversion of the clichéd gesture, but in the manner of the Situationists, who would call it ‘constructing a situation’ or détournement (‘hijacking’). It is precisely the logic of hijacking the situation that ties the aforementioned action to those previously carried out as Under Wear and Joint, and with the subsequently released album Skeletons on Rock.
The first action in the series – Under Wear – took place on October 7th 2008 at Club Hollywood during the concert of the band Klaxons. Towards the end of the concert, underwear smuggled in by Lõo's fellow actionists Kris Lemsalu, Edith Karlson and Maris Männik began to be thrown on stage. Twenty kilos of it. Such a gesture by female fans , tossing their most intimate items of clothing onto the stage, usually signifies readiness for sexual surrender. Lemsalu and Karlson, however, kept pulling out further layers of large a(nti)sexual pantaloons and bras and tossed them on stage, kilo after kilo, to the great bewilderment of band members, thus thwarting any promise of sex from the outset. Joint, the second action from the series, took place during Tricky’s concert at Rock Café on November 20th the same year. Aware that the joint is one of the central features of Tricky’s image, and since it is known that he always likes to smoke a joint on stage, the actionists delivered a giant mock joint on stage which, much to the surprise of the security men, Tricky then lit up and smoked with the band and audience. The joint was stuffed with hay that had a similar smell to marijuana, so the entire Rock Café was soon filled with the mild aroma. Big flaming pieces falling from the giant joint nearly set the stage equipment on fire. Within only a matter of seconds, the anxious security men put out the little fire. In Lõo’s opinion, the most important aspect of the action was the artist’s meeting his own image, a surprise encounter with the main figure in his representation of himself: “As if Tricky’s reflection in the toilet mirror had spoken to him. This is something this guy, who at the end of the gig did a twenty-minute cover of the rock classic Ace of Spades, did not expect.”[4]
In a conceptual sense, Lõo considers his own solo album Skeletons on Rock, released in spring 2009, to belong to the series. As the title of the album suggests, these are ‘skeletons’ of rock, onto which he builds his album. He strips the experience of rock ‘n’ roll naked, divides its affective-conceptual experience into parts, simple structures – skeletons – and constructs his own simple, rough music world with these ‘part objects’.
At the same time we may ask the justified question – what is the difference between Lõo’s actions and, for example, MTV’s intermission clips with some guys smashing acoustic guitars in the city streets. The answer is that they are not so very different. I am sure that Lõo would say they are witty clips. And yet there is a difference, however microscopic it might seem at first glance. It mainly follows from their different starting points – Lõo’s striving to participate personally in rock ‘n’ roll, his conceptual purposefulness and his approach that results from an idiosyncratic do-it-yourself logic, is in contrast with the corporation, which has turned the pop-music desire-machine into its industrial piggy-bank and now wishes to show how it too can express a witty and ironic attitude towards itself. MTV proceeds with a method of encompassing all through self-publicity, whereas Lõo playfully disentangles the pop industry while simultaneously fully acknowledging the charms of the rock ‘n’ roll world of desire. As he says himself: “Rock music is 60 years old. It is a history of burning guitars and pianos with feet, it is fame-driven history of the self-destructive and glamorous person. Three generations of people have been raised on this dignified cultural layer, and it is clear to everyone that rock has radically changed the world. Rock has become art, lifestyle and high culture. Rock is total media.”[5]
However, a corporation would never risk such a scandal as underwear hitting the Klaxons and bearing an MTV logo without prior agreement with both band and concert management, nor would they risk incurring a law suit against a TV network targeted at minors, because it was seen to be promoting drug addiction. Lõo is not satisfied with the passive role of spectator, and instead demands that he have the right to participate through direct or symbolic actions. This wish, itself idiosyncratic, is in direct opposition to the corporate message of MTV – “we are checking the beat too”.
The first issue of the magazine Internationale Situationniste (SI), 1958, includes the article Constructing Situations: an Introduction. Although the author of that article is not stated, we do have an idea who it is – i.e. the main man himself, Guy Debord. The text begins with a passage which, in the current context, deserves to be quoted in its entirety:
“‘Constructing situations’ means more than bringing together a certain amount of artistic techniques and uniting them in one particular environment – however powerful the environment’s reach be in time and space. A situation is also a behavioral logic united in a particular moment of time. It is created through gestures, which are included in the temporal framework (décor). These gestures are the products of the framework and of themselves; and they in turn produce different kinds of frameworks and different kinds of gestures. How is it possible to direct these forces? It is evident that we are not interested in environments, which are formed around some sort of mechanically staged ‘surprise’. What we consider a truly meaningful experiment is about creating a particular temporal field on the basis of already more or less clearly acknowledged desires, which favour the further evolution of specifically these desires. This alone can lead to the further clarification of these desires which have already been acknowledged, and the initial chaotic manifestation of new desires – these are desires the material roots of which are already in the new reality, which have been created by situationist constructions.”[6]
Thus, heaping things into environments is not yet sufficient to create situations. The creation of situations begins with playing around with behavioral logics that exist together in a certain temporal frame, and this leads to the creation of new desires.
In order to better understand what Debord is saying, we need to realize that with the above passage of writing he was opposing himself to Sartre, whose first volumes of the collected work Situations (1947–1965) were at that time triumphant all over France, and whom Debord referred to, somewhat discourteously, as “a complete nothing”[7]. He radically opposed Sartre’s treatment situations as something “factual” or “given”, into which one had to fit in one way or the other. For Debord, a situation was something that needed to be inverted, intensified and played with, that needed to be directed through tactical moves which could be created by staging unexpected associations (by contrasting with a theatrical trick, a surprise), and with a clearly defined ultimate goal – the disintegration of the spectacle. Debord wrote: “construction of situations can succeed only when the spectacle starts to disintegrate”[8]. Thus they tried to turn the streets of Paris into a psycho-geographical playground, invaded Charlie Chaplin’s press conference, gavve an anti-Catholicist and anti-religious speech from a cathedral pulpit during mass, caused traffic jams during a general strike and in 1968 attempted to turn a student riot into an industrial revolution.[9]
Détournement was a situationist ‘technique’ for creating situations and for using the media, i.e. self-motivated occupation of an existing situation, the takeover of particular media structures, using existing films to make their own films, etc. The situationist comic strip is the easiest example of this strategy of hijacking to describe: taking a regularly published comic strip, the text in the speech bubbles is replaced by a political text. The situationists derived the idea of détournement from Lautremont’s conception of plagiarism – the supplemented use of already existing phrases and sentences in the generation of literature. The situationists expanded this across the whole of their activity – ‘artistic’ and political, poetry and painting.
What is particularly interesting in Debord’s paragraph, with regard to Lõo’s actions, is the part where he talks about intensifying situations and desires to the point when they become something else – possibilities for new desires and situations. And this is what seems to have happened with these two concert actions: the artist ‘imbues’ the situation and, so to speak, grabs a part of it for himself. “The only radical thing is the liberating of people’s desire for play”[10] is a situationist maxim to which Lõo’s actions seem close. Having had the opportunity to experience Joint first-hand, I can confirm this. What happened with Joint was the very thing the situationists were pursuing: the liberation of playfulness, the involvement of both audience and performers, the transformation of the situation through shifting it, the acknowledgement of the power relations between the performer and the audience through truly Brechtian methods of alienation. It is probably even more true of the Klaxons action, as the status of the performers’ sexual fetish was articulated with such show. The desire-machine was sent out to circulate about the audience and, instead of saying “I want to get laid”, it now said – “We know we all want to get laid.” Cool. If the democracy of getting laid is the only thing the 21st century has retained from the situationists’ program of revolutionizing everyday life, after “sixty years of rock ‘n’ roll”, then perhaps the outcome has not been so bad.
Although the situationists and rock ‘n’ roll are contemporary with one another, the situationists have never really clearly expressed their relationship with the new powerful mass cultural phenomenon that emerged alongside them.[11] Perhaps the relationship may be sensed from their silence about it, but providing a clear definition is relatively complicated. As a low cultural phenomenon, conveying the liberation of sexual energy and desire and tossing bourgeois norms of morality overboard, they may have found it appealing. On the other hand, as a mass phenomenon, it should probably be categorized as a vegetative culture of the spectacle, rather than a fruitful one – for it made a rubber doll of man and needed to be disintegrated in every way possible, as we have shown earlier. However, as Malcolm Quinn wrote, “In the inverted world of global capitalism, the future lies where corporations are situated, anarchy and resistance have become valuable commodities and the names of revolutionaries have become brand names – the magazine Living Marxism is now equivocally sold under the name LM and situationism seems like a great idea for a business seminar.”[12] In a world where anti-capitalist situationism has been hijacked as a splendid marketing strategy by the society of the spectacle it so passionately hates, Lõo’s neo-situationist rock-piracy seems a significant puncture in the iron grip of capitalism.
Anders Härm is curator of Tallinn Art Hall.

[1] Listen to the song “Ela rock’n’roll hästi” by Vennaskond from their 1993 cassette album “Vaenlane ei maga”.

[2] Exhibition Stylish Pentagram (Jasper Zoova, Andres Lõo, Kiwa, Hanno Soans) at Tallinn City Gallery 27.11.2008–14.12.2008

[3] Andres Lõo’s accompanying text to the action Tele Vision, 26.11.2008.

[4] Andres Lõo’s email to the author, 25.08.2009.

[5] Andres Lõo’s accompanying text to the action Tele Vision, 26.11.2008.

[6] The Construction of Situations: an Introduction. – IS No. 1, 1958. Quote: Leaving the 20th Century. The Incomplete Work of The Situationist International. Ed. Christopher Grey. London: Rebel Press, 1998, pp, 12–14.

[7] Len Bracken, Guy Debord. – Revolutionary. Venice, CA: Feral House, 1997, p. 12.

[8] The Construction of Situations: an Introduction, pp. 12–14.

[9] To be precise, several of the aforementioned actions still took place under the name of SI’s precursor, Letterist International, in which activities Debord had participated since 1950.

[10] The Construction of Situations: an Introduction, pp. 12–14.

[11] However, it should be made clear that the author of this text is not familiar with texts on this subject.

[12] Malcolm Quinn, The Customer is Totally Insane. – Blueprint, Jan 2000, pp. 28–30.

Andres Lõo, artist and sound artist. Born in 1978, studied at Estonian Academy of Arts, personal exhibitions and participations in group-exhibitions since the beginning of 2000. Lõo has organized the METABOR event, a series of installations and performances, performed as creative DJ under the pseudonym A as in alfa,as drummer in the band Luarvik Luarvik and other musical activities.
Additional information:
At St Canute’s Guild Hall     
November 12th–14th 2009
NU Performance Festival 3: Recycle POP
A Tallinn-based performance festival held for the third time this year in the format of a rock festival.
Curators Anders Härm, Priit Raud.
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