From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A détournement (French for "rerouting", "hijacking") is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International, and later adapted by the Situationist International (SI), that was defined in the SI's inaugural 1958 journal as "[t]he integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of those means. In a more elementary sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres." It has been defined elsewhere as "turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself"—as when slogans and logos are turned against their advertisers or the political status quo. Détournement was prominently used to set up subversive political pranks, an influential tactic called situationist prank that was reprised by the punk movement in the late 1970s and inspired the culture jamming movement in the late 1980s.
Its opposite is recuperation, in which radical ideas are twisted, commodified, and absorbed in a more socially acceptable context.
Examples after the Situationist International
In the United States, Frank Discussion is widely known for his use of detournement in his works dating from the late 70s through the present, particularly with the Feederz. The use of détournement by Barbara Kruger familiarised many with the technique, and it was extensively and effectively used as part of the early HIV/AIDS activism of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Examples of contemporary detournement include Adbusters' "subvertisements" and other instances of culture jamming, as well as poems composed collaboratively by Marlene Mountain, Paul Conneally, and others, in which quotations from such famous sources as the Ten Commandments and quotations by United States President George W. Bush are combined with haiku-like phrases to produce a larger work intended to subvert the original source. The comic artist Brad Neely's reinterpretation of Harry Potter, Wizard People, took Warner Brother's first Harry Potter film, The Sorcerer's Stone, and substituted the original soundtrack with a narration that casts the hero as a Nietzschean superman.
The concept of détournement has had a popular influence amongst contemporary radicals, and the technique can be seen in action in the present day when looking at the work of Culture Jammers including the Cacophony Society, Billboard Liberation Front, and Adbusters, 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 third-world 'free trade zones'. However, the line between 'recuperation' and 'détournement' can become thin (or at least very fuzzy) at times, as Naomi Klein points out in her book No Logo. Here she details how corporations such as Nike, Pepsi or Diesel have approached Culture Jammers and Adbusters and offered them lucrative contracts in return for partaking in 'ironic' promotional campaigns. She points out further irony by drawing attention to merchandising produced in order to promote Adbusters' Buy Nothing Day, an example of the recuperation of détournement if ever there was one.
Klein's arguments about irony reifying rather than breaking down power structures is echoed by Slavoj Žižek. Žižek argues that the kind of distance opened up by detournement is the condition of possibility for ideology to operate: by attacking and distancing oneself from the sign-systems of capital, the subject creates a fantasy of transgression that "covers up" his/her actual complicity with capitalism as an overarching system. In contrast, evoLhypergrapHyCx are very fond of pointing out the differences between hypergraphics, 'detournement', the postmodern idea of appropriation and the Neoist use of plagiarism as the use of different and similar techniques used for different and similar means, effects and causes.
- "Mode d'emploi du détournement" (1956) by Wolman and Debord
- Detourned painting
- Culture jamming
- Can dialectics break bricks?
- Modifications (Enrico Baj)