The Situationist International was an international organisation of social revolutionaries made up of avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political theorists. It was prominent in Europe from its formation in 1957 to its dissolution in 1972. Essential to the situationist theory was the concept of the spectacle, a unified critique of advanced capitalism as personal and social alienation. Another important concept of situationist theory was the primary means of counteracting the spectacle through the construction of situations, moments of everyday life deliberately constructed for the purpose of publicly interrupting the status quo, reawakening and pursuing individual and collective authentic desires. SI’s founding member Guy Debord stated that the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people mediated by those images. Totem Taboo creates directly counter-scenes or neo-situations, or indirectly with its artefacts symbolically dressing such counter-scenes or neo-situations.

Totem Taboo first first-hand public intervention, scene, or situation was ‘Totem Taboo Takes France’s Nation Square’ in Paris, France, in 2017. The ‘place de la nation’ (formerly place du trône, subsequently place du trône-renversé during the French Revolution) is a circle on the eastern side of Paris, on the border of the 11th and 12th arrondissements. Widely known for having the most active guillotines during the revolution, the square was renamed place de la nation on bastille day under the third republic in 1880. The square includes a very large bronze sculpture by Aimé-Jules Dalou called ‘Triumph of the Republic’, it is served by the Paris tube station ‘nation’, and has seen the gathering of many popular movements. A keen republican, Dalou wanted to give his monument a sense of the momentum that was carrying humanity towards a new ‘golden age’: ‘the triumphant republic represented by Marianne stands on top of the chariot of the nation, it is drawn by lions guided by the spirit of freedom, by labour symbolised by a blacksmith, and justice standing alongside the chariot.’ Marianne has been the national personification of the French republic since the French Revolution, as a personification of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity and reason’, as well as a portrayal of the ‘goddess of liberty’. However, round to the back of the statue, there is an additional allegorical figure of a woman spreading flowers who, designed to represent peace funnily enough, was opposing the chariot direction. Totem Taboo dressed this woman with an anti-flag/cape taking over France’s nation square in Paris in 2017. Analogue documentary photography by Fransi Nieto.

by Cristina Morales