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Cobra after Cobra and the Alba Congress

Nathalie Aubert
Published online: 30 Jun 2006.

To cite this article: Nathalie Aubert (2006) Cobra after Cobra and the Alba Congress, Third Text, 20:02, 259-267, DOI:

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Third Text, Vol. 20, Issue 2, March, 2006, 259267

Cobra after Cobra

and the Alba Congress
From Revolutionary Avant-Garde
to Situationist Experiment
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Nathalie Aubert

In 1956, following the Soviet Unions suppression of the Hungarian revo-

2006Ltd (online)

lution, Western Marxism entered a new phase. With a wave of intellectu-

als leaving the Western Communist parties, a New Left started to
1 Jean-Clarence Lambert,
Cobra, Sotheby emerge in which France would take a leading role by May 1968. That
Publications, London, same year, the first exhibition of Cobra after Cobra took place at the
1983, p 222 Taptoe Gallery in Brussels, organised by Christian Dotremont.1 By then,
2 The Alba Congress was a everyone knew that Cobra was no longer a group (it only lasted officially
reaction to the failure of for three years, from 1948 to 1951) and that its members had since devel-
the Marseille exhibition in
August 1956. Organised oped along individual lines. But the legacy of its communal experiment
with the support of the was strong and most of the major artists of the group, notably the Danish
Ministry of Reconstruction
and Urban Planning and
painter Asger Jorn and the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys, and to
various official bodies some extent the Belgian poet Christian Dotremont, continued to work for
promoting tourism, it was years with the fundamental theoretical principles on which Cobra had
supposed to be an avant-
garde arts festival and was
been built the fusion of art and life, the unity of form and expression
held in Le Corbusiers La through experiment. It will be argued here that 1956 was a significant
Cit Radieuse. That alone year for the legacy of Cobras ideals, as it marked the move, for some of
was enough to link its
participants to the most
its members, towards the Situationist International, one of the most
retrograde tendencies of significant art movements of the post-Stalinist era. Born out of the Lettrist
modernity. The Lettrist International (founded in December 1952 in Aubervilliers near Paris) the
International boycotted it
(Potlatch, no 27, 2 Situationist International emerged as a postwar Western European avant-
November 1956). See Ken garde movement seeking to unite art and life. Based on the idea that
Knabb, ed and trans, radical situations in life were to replace artworks in museums in order
Situationist International
Anthology, Bureau of to realise the utopian promise of art in everyday life, they perceived this
Public Secrets, Berkeley, as a revolutionary step capable of overthrowing bourgeois society. Situa-
1981, p 78. The congress tionism was a child of Western Marxisms New Left. This paper will
in Alba, self-financed, was
to be an answer by the examine its formative decade, which saw the end of Surrealism after
Free Artists to those seen Bretons return from the United States in 1946, the birth and death of
as part of the
Establishment who had
Cobra, and finally Jorns Congress of Free Artists held in Alba, Italy, from
attended the arts festival in 2 to 8 September 1956. Its platform, it will be concluded, led to the
Marseille. creation of the Situationist International by Guy Debord in 1957.2

Third Text ISSN 0952-8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online Third Text (2006)
DOI: 10.1080/09528820600590959 Page 260 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


The Alba Congress had been called by Asger Jorn and Giuseppe
Gallizio in the name of the International Movement for an Imaginist
Bauhaus. Debord, of the Lettrist International, sent Gil Wolman as a
delegate. Constant was the other ex-Cobra member present whose ideas
had evolved progressively towards architecture and urbanism.3 In fact,
when he arrived in Alba, he announced himself as an ex-artist by way
of a declaration of his commitment to the construction of situations.
There were also representatives of avant-garde groups from eight
countries (Algeria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Great
Britain, Holland, Italy) determined to establish the bases for a united
organisation. Due to the political developments in Eastern Europe, the
Czechoslovakian representatives Pravoslav Rada and Kotik were
prevented from entering Italy (in spite of the organisers protests). None-
theless, it was in a fluid political context that the members of the
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congress were holding discussions on the future of experimental activity.

This experimental activity had started with the Cobra movement,
founded in Paris in 1948 by artists and writers principally from
Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands.4 They wanted to break away
from the Surrealist movement, which had become too imbued with
Bretons preoccupation with occultism and excess theorisation (at least
in France, according to these Northern artists). These young artists were
concerned above all with spontaneity of inspiration and expression.
They also refused any specialisation, as their claim to creativity was
linked more to experiment than art. One of the main characteristics of
the Cobra movement was to amalgamate painting, writing and sculp-
ture. Like the Surrealists, they saw themselves in revolt against the
principles of order and reason that had structured Western art since the
Renaissance. They too rejected abstraction and turned instead to primi-
tive art, childrens art and graffiti in their search for spontaneity and
irrational uncivilised forms of expression.5 The child-like in art also
meant pleasure in painting, in the materials, in form, colour and finally
the picture itself, which could give the conscious and the unconscious
unrestricted interplay. This notion of desire unbound was central to the
aesthetic of these artists. The abandonment of the sphere of the uncon-
scious would be Cobras most significant shift from Surrealist theory and
practice into a world of full consciousness. This still allowed Cobra
artists to remain within the avant-garde framework so valued by the
Surrealists; but their subsequent evolution toward the Situationist
International, driven by what we shall see was a defining commitment to
3 Dotremont, one of Cobras revolutionary politics, caused it to question the political efficacy of the
founder members, had not
been invited because of his
avant-garde. After the Soviet Unions 1956 Twentieth Party Congress,
relationship with the when arts political efficacy was coming under renewed examination
publisher Nouvelle Revue internationally, the very possibility, or indeed, legitimacy, of any avant-
Franaise, which was
judged as reactionary.
garde movement at all was going to be strongly disputed at the Alba
4 Hence the name, which is
an acronym for In trying to understand how the Alba Platform could have been
Copenhagen, Brussels and endorsed by former Cobra members, we have to consider the artists
Amsterdam. longstanding commitment to revolutionary politics. Many had been
5 The common interest members of the Communist Party (particularly the Danes in the 1930s)
among the Dutch artists or were Marxists. Egill Jacobsen, one of the Danish painters and a
within Cobra (Constant,
Corneille, Appel) was in member of the Communist Party since 1933, expressed his ideas on the
childrens art. relationship between artist, art and society in the following way. In the Page 261 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


Linien exhibition catalogue of 1939, he wrote on behalf of his

Abstract-Surrealist companions:

We do not paint so that the picture looks like this or that. We paint
because our emotions are saturated with all we see and endure because
we are forced to. As artists, we will collaborate with those who work
to make man happier and richer, materially and intellectually. We are not
spectators, indifferent to invisible tragedies.6

All the artists were strongly marked by the war and Cobra would swiftly
become one of the most important new revolutionary art movements in
Europe in the immediate postwar period. The three countries from
which Cobra drew its artists were committed to the Western European
reconstruction effort in the Cold War era. Dotremont, Jorn and
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Constant, to single out a few in particular, reacted to the Cold War

political vicissitudes of the time. The story of Cobra is therefore
inscribed in a historical context that must be kept in sight if we are to
understand the evolution of each member and of the whole. The princi-
pal landmarks of their development, inasmuch as they were either
members or fellow travellers of the Communist Party, were anchored in
the evolution of the conception of revolutionary art during and after the
Stalinist phase.
In addition to its genealogical links with Surrealism, Cobra was also
connected with other experimental groups (the Danish Hst and the
Dutch Reflex). Because he was of the second Surrealist generation, what
6 In the Linien exhibition Dotremont retained of Surrealism was an immediate sense of necessity
(of 1939) catalogue, re- created by historical circumstances. Arriving in Paris from Belgium, just
published by Statens
Museum for Kunst,
when Andr Breton had left France for America (in March 1941), he
Kbenhavn, 1988. joined forces with a group of young Surrealist writers and participated in
7 Gographie nocturne,
the creation of the journal La Main Plume, which sought to link the
Editions de la Main wartime historical situation with the need for political involvement (with
Plume, Paris, September, which by then Breton disagreed). In the anonymous and undated fore-
1941, p 1
word to the first issue, they noted: We still refuse to flee reality for
8 La conqute du monde par poetry. We will stay.7 On their return from exile in 1946, Surrealists
limage, Editions de la
Main Plume, Paris, April, Benjamin Pret who saw exile as the dishonour of poets and Breton
1942, p 18 denounced the political involvement that both the Communists and
9 The Resistance review Jean-Paul Sartre demanded of the intellectual.
Helhesten (the horse of The year 1946 was therefore both a turning point and foundation for
hell is a figure of Nordic
mythology) was published
what was to become first Le surralisme rvolutionnaire (1947) and,
by Jorn and his soon after, the Cobra movement. During the war, when he was still part
companions during the of the Main Plume group, Dotremont had advocated (with Nol
Nazi occupation in
Denmark. In the first issue
Arnaud), a collective poetry and poetry by everyone which should
in 1941, Egill Jacobsen not be the sum total of poems for someone.8 At exactly the same time in
explained that, for him, Copenhagen, Jorn and his collaborators in the review Helhesten (mean-
Social Realism and
Constructivism were
ing horse of hell9) were taking an interest in the art of the banal. The
equally intellectual (in the story of Cobra in its development is therefore deeply anchored in the
pejorative sense), inasmuch belief that art and life are one. When Breton, in the Second Surrealist
as they each
underestimated the emotive Manifesto, advocated sovereignty of thought, he suggested that it is the
moment and psychological task of the social revolution to get rid of that limiting dependence on
content. Many of these economic and social determinations, and that, in the meantime, art
artists were Communist
Party members or should fiercely guard its inviolate autonomy. This is precisely what the
sympathisers. Cobra artists were moving away from as a remnant of idealism in the Page 262 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


aesthetic of the past. As early as 1942, in the technical notes he had

attached to La conqute du monde par limage, a collection published in
La main plume, Dotremont had already sought to relieve the word
image of all aesthetic meaning, repeating that the imaginary is not the
anti-real. In fact, the materialisation of the image is what interested
Dotremont, to which he would later give a definition that marked his
divergence from the Surrealist theorists and the influence on him of
Gaston Bachelard and Henri Lefebvres Critique de la vie quotidienne
(1946). Lefebvres conception of experiments on everyday life would
become a way of defining a new materialism. This conceptual frame-
work, progressively enriched by the reflections of Jorn and Constant,
would form the basis for the participation of some of the former Cobra
members at the Alba Congress in 1956. But, for the time being, it was a
matter of studying the collective sensations having relation to the path
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from desire to pleasure inside a concrete psychology. In other words, it

was a very definite move away from Socialist Realist art, in particular
that of the painter Andr Fougeron. Jorn wrote in the second issue of the
Cobra review:

True realism, materialist realism, lies in the search for the expression of
forms faithful to their content. But theres no content detached from
human interest. True realism, materialist realism, renouncing the idealist
equation of subjectivity with individualism as described by Marx, seeks
the forms of reality that are common to the senses of all men.

He continued:

Thus, the red flag is an expression of revolution which immediately

strikes the senses, the senses of all men, a synthesis of reality and the
vested needs of revolution, a common link and not an allegory, outside
the range of the senses or a symbol for flag manufacturers. We can
identify ourselves only accidentally with a poor woman buying fish.10

Christian Dotremont at the time dreamed of a Marxist aesthetic which

Jorn for his part would call materialistic within which there would be a
place for free experimentation, persuaded as he was of its social and
historical efficacy. Experimental art was truly the avant-garde move-
ment. In the only issue of Le Surralisme Rvolutionnaire, published in
Paris in 1948, Dotremont wrote the editorial, Le coup du faux
dilemme, touching on the problem of the social significance of the work
and, in consequence, its social commitment. He sensed that it is danger-
ous to ask that a work of art should always be manifestly or literally
committed and yet avoid becoming trapped in another false dilemma.
10 The poor woman buying
To escape this difficulty, he proposed a unity of life and consciousness,
fish is a reference to of art and knowledge, of knowledge of politics, of sensibility and intelli-
Parisiennes au march by gence. Dotremont punctuated this blow of unity with several exhorta-
the Socialist Realist
painter Andr Fougeron
tions: Life is revolutionary or He who has the experimental spirit must
(191398), a leading artist necessarily be a Communist, which were, as it turned out two years
associated with the French later, vainly seeking to unite two revolutions the political and the
Communist Party in the
early 1950s.
cultural. Indeed, this occurred at the commencement of the Korean War
in 1950 when Dotremont realised, much to Jorns anger, that it was a
11 In a letter quoted by Jean-
Clarence Lambert, op cit, programme impossible to sustain.11 The Belgian Communist Party
p 165 would not consider his ideas as valid, as these were times dominated by Page 263 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


Zhdanovs party-line Socialist Realist doctrine. Hence, in his pamphlet,

Le ralisme socialiste contre la rvolution, Dotremont explained why he
understood it necessary to abandon all hopes of political efficiency for
experimental art. This was the end of the alliance of experimental art
and revolutionary Surrealism with the sort of Marxism practised by the
Communist Party, and the end of all collaborations by Dotremont with
Communist organisations. This upset both Jorn and Constant, and
explains why Dotremont did not attend the Alba Congress.
One of the reasons that Cobra lasted only three years concerns the
problem of putting theory into practice. This particularly concerned
Asger Jorn. He was a socialist historian and a philosopher but primarily
an artist, and so the problem of practice would be located for him
directly in the sphere of art. Hence his theoretical stance had a direct
bearing on his own activity, even if he never insisted (a characteristic of
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all Cobras) in retaining the specificity and autonomy of artistic revolu-

tion. He began by defining materialism in relation to nature. Materialist
art would express the natural being of humans as well as their social
being. It would be on the side of instinctive vitality and involve physical
gesture. The materialist attitude of life had to involve the expression of
natural rhythms and passions, rather than subordinate activity to a
sovereign reason or engage in the unnatural and slavish copying of
nature. By 1956 not only did Cobra no longer exist, but Jorns position
had evolved towards a more integrated kind of artistic activity with his
own group, called Imaginist Bauhaus, which he founded in Switzerland
in 1953. In a leaflet published in Italy in 1956 and in Eristica. Bolletino
dinformazione de movemento internazionale per una Bauhaus immag-
inista, no 2, Jorn was seeking to promote an integral revolutionary
attitude like the original Bauhaus under Gropiuss leadership.12 Just as
the Berlin architect had done (especially after 1923), Jorn acknowledged
12 Reproduced in Knabb, op the machine age but arrived at different conclusions. Gropius had
cit, p 84 pleaded for an artistic elaboration of technological forms within a model
13 The creation of the provided by a new formal totality. Jorn, and soon afterwards Debord
Institute of Design in Ulm and the Situationists, argued not for integration but for a displacement
(195368) coincides with of industrial forms. He had begun to do so with the imaginist
Jorns foundation of the
International Movement laboratory created with his friend and fellow artist Pinot-Gallizio. The
for an Imaginist Bauhaus laboratory in Alba was the Italians studio (a vast room in a seventeenth-
the same year. Under Max
Bill, the school developed
century monastery) and very quickly became a centre of European
distinct conceptions of culture. The free experimental artists gathered there focused on imag-
design. The designers main inist experiences with various materials and techniques (including
task, according to him, was
in re-enchanting the objects
ceramics) individually and as a group. For example, Pinot-Gallizio
of everyday life (as had experimented with industrial painting on enormous rolls of canvas
been the Surrealist goal) intended for large spaces and sold by the metre. Jorn, in his 1956 text, is
but in the name of the
good, the beautiful, and the
clearly establishing his new programme in opposition to Max Bills New
practical. See Jeannine Bauhaus by stipulating that the role of experimental artists must be to
Fiedler and Peter get hold of industrial means and subject them to their own, non-
Feierabend, eds, Bauhaus,
Knemann, Cologne, utilitarian ends.13
1999, p 74 Jorn concludes with the impossibility of a direct transfer of artistic
14 This was the spirit (if not gifts and replaces them with a series of processes or phases: Shock,
the letter) of the first wonder, imitation, rejection, experimentation, possession destined to be
Bauhaus and indeed of an integral part of everyday life. The role of the artist is therefore to
most avant-garde
movements of the promote an integral revolutionary cultural attitude.14 Art has
twentieth century. become for Jorn, in 1956, an experimental activity (last words of the Page 264 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


leaflet) open to everyone (including children). The motto of the first

Bauhaus, Architects, sculptors, painters: we must all go back to being
artisans, as encapsulated in the Staatlichen Baushauss Weimar
Manifesto, is completely outdated. The artisanal has become an insignif-
icant realm in the industrial age, according to Jorn. In addition, as
opposed to the aims of the Cobra group, the idea is no longer to annihi-
late the dualities of ugliness and beauty, design and colour, subjective
power and external reality entertained since the Renaissance by first
aristocratic then bourgeois art, but to act directly on a more general
human development.
In the 1956 Alba Platform, Wolmans statement stressed the
necessity for a common platform specifying the totality of current exper-
imentation with a specific emphasis on a unitary urbanism:
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Comrades, the parallel crises presently affecting all modes of artistic

creation are determined by general, interrelated tendencies and cannot be
resolved outside a comprehensive general perspective. The process of
negation and destruction that has manifested itself at an accelerated rate
against all the former conditions of artistic activity is irreversible: it is the
consequence of the appearance of superior possibilities of action on the
world. Whatever prestige the bourgeoisie may today be willing to grant
to fragmentary or deliberately retrograde artistic tentatives, creation can
now be nothing less than a synthesis aiming at the construction of entire
atmospheres and styles of life. A unitary urbanism the synthesis we call
for, incorporating arts and technology must be created in accordance
with new values of life, values which we now need to distinguish and

The political climate of the time encouraged a sense of consolidation and

the participants were highly aware of it:

The Alba Congress will probably one day be seen as a key moment, one
of the difficult stages in the struggle for a new sensibility and a new
culture, a struggle which is itself part of the general revolutionary resur-
gence characterising the year 1956, visible in the upsurge of the masses in
the USSR, Poland and Hungary (although in the latter case we see the
dangerously confusing revival of rotten old watchwords of clerical
nationalism resulting from the fatal error of the prohibition of any
15 Originally appeared as a Marxist opposition), in the successes of the Algerian revolt, and in the
leaflet published after the major strikes in Spain. These developments allow us the greatest hopes
Congress of Free Artists for the near future.15
held in Alba, 28
September 1956 and was
signed by J Calonne, The last words of the declaration show that the free artists gathered
Constant, G Pinot-Gallizio, still conceived the future in rather optimistic terms and, in particular,
Jorn, J Kotik, P Rada, P
Simondo, E Sottsass Jr, E
that they still believed in the power of experiment to act upon reality.
Verrone and G J Wolman. Wolmans unitary urbanism seemed to require that Situationists some-
Drawn up by Jorn together how start to build their new city, just as utopians had before them.
with others and later
printed in Potlatch, no 27,
Constant was ready to rise to the challenge, seeing in the convergence of
November 1956. See Ken Situationism and the latest structural technology the chance finally for
Knabb, op cit, p 78 architecture to escape the confines of rationalism.16 However, if
16 Simon Sadler, The Constant had thrown himself into the conception of the New Babylon,
Situationist City, MIT it later became clear that the utopia they were all seeking was much
Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1999, closer to its sixteenth-century origins in Thomas Mores original concep-
p 121 tion of a perfect society as ou-topos, a place that can be found nowhere. Page 265 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


Constant told performance artist Sean Wellesley-Miller in 1966: I am

very much aware of the fact that the New Babylon can not be realised
now, that a way of life the New Babylon project is based on depends on
new conditions in the field of economy.17
Wolmans use of the terms process of negation and destruction
made apparent that the Lettrist International was already opening up the
path leading beyond the realisation of art to its suppression. At the time,
however, it was still possible to achieve arts integration to the totality.
This could be imagined done through arts own self-negation by a strat-
egy of systematic dtournement, as Debord wanted. Later on, in the mid-
1960s, it was to suppress any such realisation and become instead an
ever-evolving discursive critique of society.
In Les lvres nues, published in Brussels in 1956, Wolman and
Debord gave a mode demploi du dtournement (directions for
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dtournement). They predicted that the architectural complex will

make plastic and emotional use of all sorts of dtourned objects:
calculatedly arranged cranes or metal scaffolding replacing a defunct
sculptural tradition. Situationism aimed to supersede its modernist
precursors in architecture from both an ideological and aesthetic point
of view. Where modernism in architecture was synonymous with
abstraction and functionalism, they were looking for a disorienting
urbanism, for displacement of elements of decoration from the locations
where we are used to seeing them.18 However, it did not mean an
Irrational Embellishment of a City as Breton had suggested in 1933 for
the city of Paris, which effectively proposed more spectacle: Notre-
Dame? Replace the towers with an enormous glass cruet, one of the
bottles filled with blood, the other with semen.19 The Lettrist Interna-
tional, on the other hand, had announced in its journal Potlatch in 1955
that they wanted to alter the context and use of the existing infrastruc-
ture of the city:20
17 Les lvres nues, no 8,
reprinted in Berreby,
Documents, pp 3029, Open the Mtro at night after the trains stop running. Keep the corridors
translated as Methods of and tunnels poorly lit by means of weak, intermittently functioning
Dtournement in Knabb, lights. With a careful rearrangement of the fire escapes, and the creation
op cit, pp 814
of walkways where needed, open the roofs of Paris for strolling. Leave
18 Andr Breton, Sur the public gardens open at night. Keep them dark. (In some cases, a weak
certaines possibilits illumination may be justified by psychogeographic considerations).21
irrationnel dune ville, Le
surralisme au service de la From the start therefore, dtournement was more a matter of colonising
rvolution, no 6, May,
1933, Paris, p 18, cited in the ready-made material fabric of history than creating new structures.
Greil Marcus, Lipstick The title of this paper, published in the Lettrist Internationals journal,
Traces: A Secret History of Potlatch, was a direct inversion of Bretons title: where the Surrealist
the Twentieth Century,
Secker and Warburg, leader vaguely evoked certain possibilities of embellishment the Situa-
London, 1989, p 410. tionists offered a proactive project Projet dembellissements rationnels
19 Sadler, op cit, p 109 de la ville de Paris (Project for the rational embellishments of the city of
20 Ibid
Paris). Irrational in Bretons text turns into rational in the anonymous
one. In effect, this meant the inversion of Surrealism the ego replaces the
21 Anon, Projet
censoring unconscious in order to consciously free the self from the deter-
rationnels de la ville de minism of the unconscious and also displaces the Surrealist notion of
Paris, Potlatch, no 23, poetic freedom as the uncompromising release of repressed desire onto
Paris, October, 1955 and
in Lipstick Traces, op cit, the practical and political register. With the creation of the Situationist
pp 41011 International, this displacement also involved a semantic shift in the Page 266 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


meaning of the word desire. Abandoning the sphere of the unconscious

for that of the conscious enabled the movement to endorse the Surrealist
slogan take your desires for reality. But from then on, the poetic or
artistic revolution could only be the political revolution in full self-
In 1956, in an article published at the time of the Taptoe Gallery
exhibition in Brussels, Jorn looked back on what Cobra had been.
Explaining that the novelty of the movement had still not been clearly
perceived, even by the members of the group, he nevertheless underlined
the general framework of what had been an avant-garde movement
establishing itself against both formalism and aestheticism among a
group of artists, preoccupied with the unity of form and expression:

Dotremont stimulated us constantly in every way in an experiment

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which was always young and alive. Through him, Cobra held itself in
total opposition to all possible aestheticism and formalism (classical
formalism as much as warm or cold abstraction). In this way we uncon-
sciously added the climate of continuous research to the unity of form
and expression.22

In his opening speech at the Alba Congress, Jorn referred clearly to the
new conditions in which he wanted his new Institute of Artistic Experiment
and Theory to evolve. He opened up the notion of avant-garde to the
intellectual milieu in general, by stepping towards the Lettrist International
but also, more generally, towards human society and artistic progress:

The banner of the artistic Avant-Garde has always seemed suspect to me.
Extremism is usually an empty attitude. There are two conditions that
apply for a movement to be called avant-garde. In the first place, it must
be isolated, without direct support from the established order, and given
over to an apparently impossible and useless struggle. I think everybody
will recognise that our movement exactly fulfills this first condition.

Next, the struggle of this group must be of essential importance for the
forces in whose name it struggles in our case, human society and artistic
progress and the position conquered by this avant-garde must later be
confirmed by a more general development.

It is only in the future that we will be able to find precise justification of

the prior condition. This yet remains in the realm of hope and belief, even
if numerous expressions of sympathy, and our own certainty of the
22 Asger Jorn, Notes on the merits of our enterprise, give us an assurance of its success.23
formation of the Imaginist
Bauhaus, first published as
a leaflet in Italy in 1956 Without clearly being aware of it, a shift was taking place at the Congress
and in Eristica. Bolletino
dinformazione de away from art and aestheticism towards philosophy and experiment as a
Movemento Internazionale result of the blockage of revolutionary hope in the West and the conse-
per una Bauhaus
Imaginista, no 2, translated
quent enfeeblement of Western Marxism. The Alba Congress acknowl-
and reprinted in Knabb, op edged a displacement of the artistic avant-garde onto the terrain of
cit, p 72 philosophy associated with the traditional left. As Jorn said in his speech:
23 Opening Speech of the
Congress of Free Artists in Create, artist, do not speak. This speech has been made to us all too often
Alba, in Knabb, op cit, by people who claim to speak for us, think for us and act for us: politi-
p 77
cians, intellectuals, industrialists, teachers, art critics and others. And we
24 Ibid have always been betrayed.24 Page 267 Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:57 AM


With the addition of Wolman to the editorial board of Eristica, an infor-

mation bulletin for the International Movement for an Imaginist
Bauhaus, and Asger Jorn to the board of directors of the Lettrist Interna-
tional, the achievements of the Alba Congress marked the first concrete
steps in this direction. Experiment had been placed in the more general
field of Situationism.
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