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Art historian to talk ‘détournement’ movement

November 10, 2011

God Save the Queen, Sex Pistols, Virgin Records, promotional poster designed by Jamie Reid, 39'' x 27", 1977Stephen Eskilson, a professor of art history at Eastern Illinois University, will visit the NIU campus at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, to lecture on “Détournement—Subversive Visual Communication.”

Professor Eskilson’s lecture in Gabel Hall 126 springs from an exhibition he curated this autumn at EIU.

The exhibition takes as its starting point the visual and conceptual strategies of the Situationist Internationale (SI), the French avant-garde group that “officially” existed between 1957 and 1972.

Led by Guy Debord after 1962, members of the SI produced theoretical tracts along with ironic examples of what they termed détournement, the subversion of elements of the mass media.

Détournement literally means “to deflect or redirect” and suggests a strategy of turning known ideas or images into something new and different with the intent to communicate subversive ideas in a familiar guise. Debord and Gil J. Wolman observed, “Ultimately, any sign or word is susceptible to being converted into something else, even into its opposite.”

Today, détournement as a visual strategy continues to be employed in graphic communication, but it is no longer exclusively a means for communicating a political ideology that resists mainstream culture.

In his lecture, Eskilson will explain the history of détournement and seek to problematize the standard narrative whereby radical politics are co-opted by corporate capitalist interests.

Eskilson’s visit is sponsored by the Elizabeth Allen Visiting Lectures in Art History in the NIU School of Art. The lecture is free and open to the public. Call (815) 753-1474 for more information.