Text by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen. Illustrations from Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen's
archive supplemented with material from the archive of the Copenhagen Free
University. The text has also been published as a booklet (CFU#9) including additional documents.

Situationist Map of Denmark
Notes on the Situationist International in Denmark

While the actions and writings of the French, Italian and German situationists have received quite a lot of attention during the last 10 to 15 years, the actions of the Danish section remain largely unevaluated. This is peculiar since a number of Danish artists like Asger Jorn, Jørgen Nash, J. V. Martin and Peter Laugesen were members of this artistic-political organisation, which devoted its existence to the realisation of nothing less than a mental revolution. When the Situationist International was founded in 1957 on the ruins of former avant-garde groups like COBRA and the lettrists, the situationists gave themselves the assignment to accelerate the cultural dissolution of the present society. The artists in the group had to supersede the artistic scandals of the interwar avant-garde using the technique of détournement. Confronted with the consumer culture of the post-war era, the integration of the artistic avant-garde into the institution of art, and the return of civil war (Algeria), scandal was only the first negation. Now, art must be abolished through the realisation of concrete subversions in everyday life.

According to the situationists the methods developed by the interwar artistic and political avant-garde were insufficient as they were not equal to the historical situation. If artists were to be revolutionary, they should appropriate the products and representations of society and use these representations for specific propagandist purposes. Real class warfare should be fought in the realm of ideology through a critique of the sparkling representations post-war society sold as replacements for the absent, authentic imagination. As the situationists explained in their characteristically sharp, empty and totalistic rhetoric: “We are only artists insofar as we are no longer artists: we want to realise art.” Even though a critique of representations remained of pivotal importance throughout the existence of the Situationist International, the massive exclusions of the years 1961 and 1962 caused the group to concentrate on the development of a radical and all-inclusive theory on the alienating society of the spectacle and its destruction.

During the first period of the group's existence, when the development of an anti-art was still on the agenda, Asger Jorn played an important role. Through him several Scandinavian artists became members of the situationist group. The majority of these – among them Jorn’s brother Jørgen Nash – were excluded during discussions about art's role in the critique of the society of the spectacle. At that time, in 1962, Jorn had himself already left the group, not wanting to compromise the situationist organisation through his growing success as an artist and his contact to the established art world. Nevertheless, Jorn kept on financing the journal International Situationniste and became a secret member of the situationist group under the name of George Keller. The complex disagreements that led to the split of the group in 1962 had to do with the question of whether artistic activity could produce anything other than a consolidation of the ruling order and its values. During these discussions two fractions became visible: on the one hand a mainly French and Belgian group around Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, demanding that the use of art was described as ‘anti-situationist’ and on the other a group of mostly Scandinavian and German artists, led by Nash, wanting to keep open the possibility of art playing a role in the service of the revolution. The composition of the two fractions was unclear at first and at a conference in Göteborg in 1961 an agreement was reached which supported the French position. According to an account of the meeting published in Internationale situationniste, only Nash objected. This agreement only lasted briefly however and when the German section Gruppe Spur published their journal without seeking permission from the newly created central committee, the ensuing conflict culminated in the exclusion of not only the Germans but also more or less all Scandinavian members.

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After the break in 1962, it was left to J. V. Martin to run the Scandinavian section of the Situationist International. Based in the city of Randers Martin spent the following years organising a campaign against the ’nashist’ fraction. He also managed to publish the journal Situationistisk Revolution and arranged actions directed against instantiations of authority such as the Danish Monarchy and NATO. Martin remained a member of the situationist group until 1972 when, to his disappointment, Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti dissolved the group.

Together with the other excluded Scandinavian members, Nash created the 2. Situationist International in 1962. Through a number of spectacular actions this group initiated, Nash and his comrade in spirit Jens-Jørgen Thorsen were able to leave their mark on the Danish cultural life of the 1960s. Most famous among the actions was the decapitation of Copenhagen’s ‘little mermaid’ statue. Nash and Thorsen tried to use the creativity which normally remained concealed within the artistic sphere directly in society; they wanted to activate the traditionally passive spectator and turn him/her into an active co-creator of concrete situations of play.

The following text is composed around four Danish city names, which function as headlines to situationists’ activity in Denmark. This subject has been largely neglected and needs to be included both in Danish art history and the history of the Situationist International. The text is intended as a temporary map. I have limited the cities to four – all of which provided a backdrop for significant situationist events: Odense, Silkeborg, Randers and Copenhagen.


In the newly established Galleri Exi, the manifestation ”Destruction of RSG-6” opened on the 22nd of June 1963. The gallery was situated in the basement of the first collective in Denmark, which was run by Mogens Amdi Pedersen, the subsequently notorious leader of the Danish pedagogical experiment Tvind. The manifestation was created by the Situationist International. They turned the first room of the gallery into a shelter with sirens, stretchers and corpses. In the next room pictures of contemporary politicians like president Kennedy, Khrushchev, de Gaulle and the Danish foreign minister Per Hækkerup had been mounted on the wall as targets. The audience were told to use a rifle and shoot at them. If they managed to hit a politician’s eye they would obtain a free copy of the catalogue. Adjacent to the targets hung a series of Debord’s so-called directives. These were white canvases on which Debord had written slogans like: “Abolition du travail aliènè” (Abolition of alienated labour). In the next room J. V. Martin showed his ‘thermonuclear maps’. These were large paintings depicting the world after the outbreak of the third world war. Michele Bernstein’s plaster tableaux with plastic soldiers were placed next to Martin’s maps. The tableaux showed the history of the proletariat’s continued defeats transformed into victories: “Victoire de la Commune de Paris” (Victory of the Commune in Paris).

The manifestation was conceived as a continuation of the action undertaken two months prior by a group of British activists calling themselves Spies for Peace. The British activists had broken into a secret Reading bomb shelter called RSG-6 where the British government had planned to hide in case of a nuclear attack. Following their discovery of the government's secret plans the activists had printed a small pamphlet in which they made public the plans as well as the existence of secret shelters reserved for politicians and civil service personnel. The pamphlet’s publication caused a scandal in Britain and attracted considerable attention. The Danish situationists were not slow to respond.

The political culture of the early 1960’s continued to be marked by the nihilistic crisis, which followed the self-destruction of nazism and the polarisation of the globe into the East/West oppositions of the cold war. Although a politically conservative culture was slowly being replaced by the more optimistic one fostered by the expanding economies of the Western countries, events like the erection of the Berlin Wall ensured this change was short lived. The year before the manifestation took place in Odense, the world had been brought to the brink of nuclear war when American aircraft discovered that the Soviet Union was preparing to install earth-to-earth missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy briefed the American public on the matter in a nation-wide TV-speech on the 22nd of October when he launched a blockade against Cuba. At that moment Soviet ships carrying missiles were already on their way across the Atlantic Ocean to Cuba. Several hair-raising days followed, during which the Soviet ships continued their course and the armies of the two superpowers were put on a state of high alert. The risk of nuclear war seemed immanent but in the final hour the Soviet ships were called back.

The events of the Cold War and the threat of mutually assured destruction contributed to the creation of the protest movement, of which the Spies for Peace group formed a part. In accordance with their theories the Situationist International regarded themselves as the brain of this growing protest movement. In so far as they were the avant-garde of the avant-garde the situationists had developed an adequate revolutionary theory uniting the destruction of art with contemporary political struggle. The action in England was to be put into a proper historical and theoretical setting by the situationists who presented the Odense manifestation as its continuation and as an extension of the battle against the ruling powers. The manifestation was intended to widen the perspective, fusing isolated and concrete phenomena (such as Spies for Peace) into a total situationist critique. The destruction of art and political revolution were two sides of the same coin. Therefore the situationists attempted to stage a kind of total context-text, in which revolutionary consciousness and artistic critique were united. In so far as art was trapped in a dialectical position between subversion and subvention of dominant values, the manifestation in Odense (including Martin’s cartographies and Debord’s directives) had to produce both a critique of modern art and, in the negative, refer to the authenticity art had possessed before it was recuperated by spectacular market society. “Destruction of RSG-6” was thus an attempt to challenge the occupation of art by the spectacle. Debord’s directives, Martin’s maps and Bernstein’s victories were all examples of a situationist use of art in which an anti-ideological communication was supposed to appear through the critique and stultification of modern art. In Martin’s maps it was abstract expressionism that was ridiculed and turned upside down. In Bernstein’s victories it was both monochrome painting and the nouveaux réalistes. According to the situationists all these contemporary artistic practices were examples of how the spectacle had reduced art to the aesthetic preservation of alienation and separation. The artists performed a fully ideological task. The role of the work of art in the society of the spectacle was to affirm the alienation of that which, in art, caused revolt and critique against insensitivity and conformism.

The manifestation in Odense received quite a lot of attention in the Danish newspapers but failed to generate many dedicated reviews. In most contemporary writing on “Destruction of RSG-6” it was presented as a comical incident, with one particularly telling headline describing it as “A cracking painting show”. In the only real review published in the Danish daily Politiken, the critic Pierre Lübecker expressed his doubts as to whether the manifestation was an art exhibition at all. He finished his review by writing: “It is of course against the war itself and the totalitarian state power that they [the situationists] object and they will probably interpret it as a compliment when it is said that they don’t do it with artistic means. But it is not intended as such by yours truly.”

The situationists themselves were not content with the course of events and on the 4th of July Danish SI members J. V. Martin, Peter Laugesen and Hervard Merved demanded the manifestation to be terminated. According to the situationists Galleri Exi had closed the first room, the shelter, and allowed the audience to make their way directly to the targets and anti-works. This was unacceptable to the situationists. Tom Lindhardt, the owner of the gallery, responded that the situationists’ exaggerated demands were impossible to satisfy. When it was closed down, there were only a few days left of the manifestation’s scheduled period. Both the closure and subsequent fuss in the press were probably planned in advance, since the situationists wanted to confirm their anti-artistic stance and gain as much attention as possible for their theories. In retrospect the course of events in Odense appear as a desperate attempt to have it both ways: use art in a situationist way while rejecting art and its infrastructure. The situationists were caught between on the one hand the need for publicity and recognition and on the other the belief that any attention or recognition would damage and compromise their entire project, ultimately preventing the advent of the much desired revolution. Because the situationists tended to reject the possibility of authentic artistic communication, there was little they could do apart from abandon art and disappear. On the one hand it was necessary for the situationists to keep a certain distance from the modern world of the spectacle whose offer of a place in the spotlight constituted an attempt to neutralise them. On the other it was necessary to challenge the spectacular market society here and now with a concrete and topical project. Acuity, secrecy and teleology fused in the obscure situationist mixture. It became extremely difficult to locate the difference between a critique of institutions and incorporation into them; between appropriation and recuperation. The situationists were being pulled apart by the suffocating tension between this world and the one they desired; between what was and what ought to be. Caught in this limbo the situationists went on, blind to themselves. This ignorance devoured them: like all true avant-gardes the situationists were first and foremost a vanguard for themselves. That is why they persecuted themselves, and forced a constant rejection of their rearguard. They were the present seen from the future.



After Asger Jorn had donated a large amount of art works by artists like Dubuffet, Henri Michaux and Roberto Matta to the museum in Silkeborg in 1950’s, in 1960 it was decided to set up a situationist library at the museum. This decision coincided with a visit by Jorn and Debord who, when they came to Silkeborg, also went to visit the old syndicalist Christian Christensen, who had introduced Jorn to alternative Marxism in his youth. The library was to be set up according to a scheme that Debord drew up during their stay in Silkeborg. It was to be divided into four different sections. The first of these was to contain pre-situationist material and had four subcategories: A) COBRA (with a section on the origins of COBRA and Surréalisme Révolutionnaire), B) lettrism (with a section on Isidore Isou’s lettrism after 1952), C) The Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, D) the international lettrists. The second section was supposed to contain situationist material: journals, leaflets, posters and other printed matter. The third was the so-called historical section and contained material about the situationists authored by others. The last section was the copy-section, which was to present examples of works imitating the situationists. In a small notice in the fifth issue of Internationale situationniste it was the last section that was singled out as being most important. The fact that the situationist followers had just copied and thereby falsified the situationist project made it all the easier to condemn their practices. The last section was also supposed to hold a number of different diagrams depicting the historical development of the avant-garde. They were supposed to show that the Situationist International was the only authentic contemporary avant-garde, an avant-garde true to the project of the interwar dada and surrealist experiments. As the organisation of the library makes clear, the most important creation of the situationists were themselves. In a contra-revolutionary moment, the self-realisation of the avant-garde was both the most difficult and important task an avant-garde could set itself. This realisation was however complicated by the fact that the spectacle sought to recuperate the avant-garde by any means necessary. The avant-garde should therefore shun any contact with the cultural establishment; it must refuse containment by the pacifying representations of the spectacle, representations that reduced people to the stale identities of artist, politician, revolutionary, writer, filmmaker, etc. These identities now prevented people from performing activities once prescribed by these terms. The avant-garde faced the problem that any realisation, any created work, was a concession to the ruling powers and to the banality of the old culture. Therefore the situationists had to conceal every ‘finished’ object, mask themselves and realise their actions in a hurry without leaving traces. If the institutions of the spectacle spotted the avant-garde and its possible realisations they would suck up and tame the avant-garde and use it to keep intact the deceitful world of the spectacular commodity. If the avant-garde was to succeed it should cancel its own conditions of existence and become invisible. The avant-garde should work towards its own abolition: The situationist library in Silkeborg was never realised.



After Jørgen Nash and the other Scandinavian members of the Situationist International had been excluded in 1962, it was up to the painter J. V. Martin to lead the Scandinavian section. Martin’s hometown, Randers in Jutland, subsequently became the centre for situationist activities in Denmark. During the next decade Martin more or less single-handedly organised a range of events, which caused small scandals in Denmark. Following the founding of the 2. Situationist International by Nash and his compatriots, Martin directed a series of attacks against Nash and the other renegades. In the eyes of the ‘original’ situationists, like Debord, Martin and the others, the Nashists ‘falsely’ presented themselves as situationists to a Scandinavian public. In articles and interviews Martin objected to Nash’s misuse of the situationists’ theories and vocabulary and described him as a ‘parasite’. The 2. Situationist International was nothing but a “baby soothing, court jesting and peasant girlish romantic escape from reality”. Martin and the situationists presented the exclusions as simply a question of the proper understanding of situationist ideas. The exclusions were a necessary condition for the revolutionary clarity the situationist avant-garde should express. If situationist ideas were used as legitimation for different artistic or semi-artistic activities, the institution would swallow the revolutionary avant-garde. Fellow travellers were not accepted.

Martin’s staging of the manifestation “Destruction of RSG-6” functioned both as a critique of the threat of nuclear war and a response to the Nashist exhibition “Seven Rebels” the year before in Odense. But Martin really became the man of the moment in December 1964, when he produced and distributed two postcards with anti-royal content. The postcards, which were produced in a run of 2000, each showed a naked woman with text bubbles attached. In one a girl, stripped to the waist, lay in a wicker chair saying: “The liberation of the working class is its own work!” On the other, a well known photo of the British prostitute Christine Keeler was reproduced. She says, “As the Situationist International says: It is more honourable to be a prostitute like me than marry a Fascist like Konstantin.” Keeler had been involved in a big scandal the year before: the so-called Profumo-affair hinged on Keeler having an affair with the British minister of defence while simultaneously sleeping with a Soviet naval officer. The postcard’s most provocative element was nevertheless the text bubble in which the recently celebrated marriage between Danish Princess Anne-Marie and the Greek King Konstantin was commented on in terms which left little doubt as to the situationist attitude towards the political situation in Greece. The combination of the naked British prostitute and the text bubble proved too much for Inge Hansen, the chairman of religious and anticommunist organisation Moralsk Oprustning (Moral Rearmament). She reported Martin to the police and accused him of lese-majesty. The case was dropped, according to the situationists because the police and the Danish government wanted to avoid further scandal.

The postcards are a good example of the activity the situationists undertook after they left the art world behind. When they practised their interventions into the social imagery, they of course used insights and practices from dada and surrealism. Despite this, the situationists did not consider their actions as art in a traditional sense. They looked upon themselves as a revolutionary groupuscule that had understood that art was a thing of the past and of no use to present critical tasks. Instead of creating works of art, the situationist avant-garde occupied itself with the theoretical organisation of resistance against the spectacle. ‘Art’ created a passive spectacular relationship. All artistic media, including visual art, literature and cinema, were one-sided spectacular expressions which the situationists sought to dominate or interrupt.

That the Situationist International constituted a real danger to the society of the spectacle was, according to them, confirmed in 1965 when a bomb exploded in Martin’s house in Randers during a demonstration against NATO. Søren Kanstrup, a former East German spy who took part in the rally, had brought a bomb to Randers from Copenhagen. The bomb exploded in mysterious circumstances in Martin’s house, destroying the interior and more or less his entire archive. Kanstrup was arrested but the case was never solved. The situationists never had any doubt that Kanstrup was an agent provocateur for the police and the Danish Communist Party, DKP. According to the situationists, the forces of law and order and the Stalinists had joined forces to counteract the Situationist International and the growing protest movement. The incident in Randers confirmed this self-conception and revolutionary propaganda was intensified.



One of the most important situationist documents was created during 24 hours in 1957 in Copenhagen. The book Fin de Copenhague was made by Jorn and Debord at the printing house Permild & Rosengren after a single visit to the local news stall. The book was composed using the technique of détournement and consisted of fragments snatched from other books and magazines: photographs, comics, advertisements, maps from travel books, photos of naked ladies from pornographic magazines, etc. Each page was made up of a collage of these elements, linked by the colourful splashes Jorn added. Standing on top of a three-meter high ladder, Jorn had poured lithographical ink onto the print plates. The resulting stains mimicked the filtered colour threads of action painters and mediated the attached text- and image elements. In so far as Jorn’s colour stains were printed and reproduced, they twisted the expressiveness of the then dominant abstract painting. The personal gesture was erased through reproduction and lost its intimate human dimension because it had been ‘performed’ at a distance of three meters. In accordance with the situationist analysis of modern art – art has been seized by the spectacle and needs to be abandoned – Jorn parodied the expressiveness of action painting. He reduced action painting’s gestures to an existence as mere social representations, in line with the advertisements and nude photos spread throughout Fin de Copenhague. Jorn feigned expression: the dripping of action painting was demystified and reduced to a technique, a style you could reproduce even outside art. Expressiveness was only present in the negative.

The prefabricated texts and images in the book, which Debord had helped Jorn arrange in his capacity as Conseiller technique pour le détournement, formed a regular catalogue of the reduced communication in the society of the spectacle. The authentic poetry of language had been reduced to the vulgar prose of information. The spectacular-market society had expropriated not only the productive capacity of man but also his communicatory ability. The possibility of human welfare had been destroyed as a consequence of this expropriation and man was now alienated to a completely new degree. In the society of the spectacle language had no other function than to communicate the messages of the society of the spectacle. Language functioned as a material support for the ideology of power; language was the cement that glued together the spectacle’s ideological scraps. That language could be something completely different, that it could be a reservoir in which one was hospitable to both one's kin and the other – i.e. in which people could be something different than the identities the spectacle sold to them – then this was something the spectacle did its best to conceal. According to the spectacle, language was just information and as all communication passed through its cybernetic machines, people no longer communicated rather performing tasks prescribed from above. Communication was a commodity on a par with cars, washing machines and bed lamps. It was mass-produced and distributed by the society of the spectacle. The placement of different advertisements made visible the infinite selection of identical commodities authoritatively instructing the subject to exist in a way that was favourable to the spectacle. As it said on one page in the book: “What do you want? […] Lots of new clothes? A dream home with all the latest comforts and labour-saving devices? A new car… a motor-launch…a light aircraft of your own? Whatever you want, it’s coming your way – plus greater leisure for enjoying it all. With electronics, automation and nuclear energy, we are entering the new Industrial Revolution which will supply our every need, easily… quickly… cheaply… abundantly.” The naive consumptive desire of the spectacle was made explicit in the juxtaposition of this advertisement text with a comic depicting a young woman, her boyfriend and her lover. In the same way that the boyfriend just disappeared (“He just vanished”, the young woman says) and thereby made it possible for the young woman to be with her lover, all problems apparently vanished with the purchase of a new commodity. On a later page in the book the ones excluded from this purified commodity paradise became visible: a turban wearing, swarthy man who was being harassed by a soldier. On the same page the only ‘handwritten’ text of the publication appeared: “VIVE L’ALGÉRIE LIBRE”.

As the title indicates Fin de Copenhague bore witness to the urban nightmare into which functionalism was slowly transforming European cities. The juxtaposition of phrases snatched from advertisements (“le problème est résolu”) with different diagrams mocked the functionalist reduction of the city. The détournement of the different textual and visual fragments in the book testified to the situationists' desire to transform the world. The book documented the missing conditions for authentic communication. The history it was also supposed to tell – about how the situationists wanted to revolutionize Copenhagen and transform the city into a psychogeographical experiment – remained cacophonic. Like the situationists themselves, Fin de Copenhague oscillated almost manic-depressively between a stout and indomitable Hegelian optimism and melancholic elegy. The book was incoherent and stuffed with detached bits and pieces because the world, which spectacular-capitalism had created, was like that too. The book was incoherent because the world was incoherent. But in the negative it kept alive the promise of another world not yet realised.

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen 2003