1957-1961: The Situationist International
In 1958 Jorn was amongst the founders of the Situationist International: A radical avant-garde movement that aimed to revolutionise modern consumer society by putting a stop to the commodification of art and channelling creativity into reinventing everyday life instead.
Together with the French filmmaker and theorist Guy Debord, Asger Jorn became one of the key figures of the Situationist International during the first four years of the movement’s existence.
The Situationists wanted to change people’s behaviour – prompting them to move away from being passive observers to become active participants in a social, creative everyday existence. They sought to do this by staging playful “situations”. For example, they would arrange experimental city walks intended to raise awareness of how our surroundings affect the human psyche.
The group’s central technique, "détournement", was about putting a new spin on existing texts or images, imbuing them with new, critical significance. The technique is employed in Jorn’s so-called "modifications": he would take old paintings sourced from flea markets, etc., and paint his own motifs on top of them. You can see one of Jorn’s modified paintings at the bottom of this page. Jorn also used this technique in the two artists’ books he created together with Debord: Fin de Copenhague and Mémoires.
Disagreement on the role of painting
Different positions on the role of painting were a major bone of contention within the Situationist International. Debord, who was the movement’s leading theorist, rejected visual arts – particularly painting, which he believed could far too easily become a commodity. But Jorn did not wish to give up painting.
Around this time Jorn was also experiencing growing artistic and monetary success, a fact which was difficult to reconcile with the Situationists’ critical project, and so he left the Situationist International in 1961. However, he did not sever all ties and continued to provide the Situationists with financial support.