My point of view today, and this had determined a good deal of my relation to cinema and to fiction in general, is that when it comes to art, and particularly the relation of art to the world, two paths coexist, and are not mutually exclusive.
The first path would be the one that shaped the 20th century: that of avant-gardes and their constant interrogation of the relation between the arts – their role, their borders – and the world: also their interrogation of their own nature. One might say that the situationist moment is its final stage: there was formulated the answer that remains, of its kind, unsurpassable.
But the very nature of humanity is to survive the unsurpassable. There are novels after Proust and Joyce, there is poetry after Mallarmé – even if the aforementioned, each in his own way, through a transcendent oeuvre, defines a resolution of those questions that constituted the inaccessible horizon of their predecessors. I am describing this in a doubtlessly summary fashion; however, it seems to me that beyond supersession there lies not necessarily another supersession but, rather, access to a virgin terrain, a lunar landscape where everything remains to be built anew, sometimes even using the same tools as before.
Situationism identified precisely the path to supersession of art and proceeded to carry it out. From the vantage point of the plastic arts, let’s say that we are today in an after which is not only unable to find itself but has often given up even seeking itself, sparing an individual, fragmentary salvation only at the expense of a pretty remarkable reduction of its ambitions: a space nonetheless sufficient for the expression of specific genius in some great, entirely isolated artists.
The second path, which grows in the shadow of the first and often in ignorance of it, is that consisting in the simple representation of the world where humanity simply concerns itself with the human, with the timeless means that, in every era, have allowed it to reach these ends, always renewed, always the same.
What I mean to say is that beyond all theory, beyond any historical perspective on art, there resides within a contemporary artist the same question that posed itself to a gentleman of the Tang Dynasty: how to capture this moment, the face of a beloved, a country road in an autumn mist, the corner of the street where you live. Or, to pose in a more specifically contemporary context the same timeless question: how to seize the thoughts that traverse us while we are seated in a metro, rushing through the underground tunnels of the big city?
This is where to find the simple, limpid need for figuration as one of the immutable functions of being human. But does this idea actually distance me all that much from situationism?
Didn’t Debord write La Societé du spectacle while simultaneously making autobiographical films devoted to preserving from the ravages of time, to capture in a flash for all eternity, life as it offered itself to him at certain moments of grace? And did he not also make these films so that, in them, might radiate the glow of the faces of those he had loved? Isn’t that exactly where their poetry vibrates most dearly? All this I see clearly today, even if very few know how to articulate it, even among those who regard themselves as being closest to Debord’s ideas.
- Olivier Assayas, A Post-May Adolescence