Vostell's ruins: Dé-collage and the mnemotechnic space of the postwar city

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This essay considers Wolf Vostell's agenda of commemoration in his dé-collage performances Tour de Vanves. Theater is in the Street (Paris, 1958) and Cityrama (Cologne, 1961). Vostell's fully collaborative and performative notion of dé-collage reconfigured the avant-garde paradigms of performance and collage, once geared toward forgetfulness, in order to fix the specific importance of remembering destruction in the postwar period. Dé-collage marked the evacuation of the symbolic content these avant-gardist forms once possessed in connection with the modern city. While the dé-collage object may superficially resemble the déaffiche lacerée, it is clearly distinguishable from it through its collective and performative mode of production; the essential contradictions of the concept of dé-collage contained a critique of the modernist form of collage. Vostell's commemorative project in dé-collage resonates with the theorization of collage as a materialist paradigm of art by Louis Aragon and Walter Benjamin, who tied collage to revolutionary intent and even transcendence by means of its relation to remembrance and its function as allegory. Vostell turned to the spaces of the postwar German city in 1961 further to investigate the performative spatial mnemonics of dé-collage. Dé-collage staged the postwar city as 'mnemotechnic space', to recover Benjamin's term, thereby escaping the empty repetitions of 'neo-avant-gardism' in rethinking flânerie and collage to encompass the cultural necessity of remembrance. Tours de Vanves and Cityrama actively engaged the issue of collective memory that critical theory had foregrounded as a cultural and epistemological priority of the postwar world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-115
Number of pages28
JournalArt History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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