Encyclopediaof—isms

Recuperation

This post is at stage 2: Found footage remix.

Recuperation (French: récupération) or cooption is the proces through which the spectacle absorbes radical or subversive ideas.

Recuperation is a term that is borrowed from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. The basic idea of the Society of Spectacle is that “contemporary capitalist society have become increasingly obsessed with appearances over all else.” (Nicholas)  This idea of a society that favours appearances over policies, is the starting point to talk about different strategies that are used to maintain, hijack and escape the spectacle. One of these strategies, next to e.g. the Détournement and the Dérive, is recuperation.

“Not only has the spectacle engendered a politics which is based on appearances but in doing so it has created a scenario where if someone steps forward to critique the spectacle or capitalism itself, than the spectacle can subsume that appearance, that aesthetic in order to turn it against itself and help to further sustain the spectacle.” (Nicholas) The Society of the Spectacle “subsumes energy and potentially aesthetic which surrounds those subversive ideas, takes away the substantive ideas at the heart of them and then channels that energy back into sustaining the spectacle.” (Nicholas)

Debord explains that, through the process of recuperation, the subversions that critique the spectacle are decontextualised (removed from their political, social and economic context), trivialised and sterilised (removes the power and virility of the critique) after which they can be spectacularised and mobilised for the ideology their are actually revolting against.

For this blog, where we focus on the role of art, design and visual culture, this means that the work that is produced as a critique, has become devoid of its context, so that even the most radical pieces are now viewed without the political, social and economic context in which they emerged and seen as just nice things to look at, as artefact that can be bought and sold.

The most obvious example of recuperation is Banksy’s Girl with a balloon and its many spin-offs. The work was intended as a disruption of the hyper capitalism of the current art-market, but, through the failure of the shredder, it immediately doubled in market value.

Also the McDonalds’ Warp op the Day, is a vivid example of recuperation. In this advertisement, McDonalds co-opts the punk-aesthetic of Jamie Reid’s Never Mind the Bollocks coverart for selling more fastfood. While the original message of Reid’s artwork was anarchy —against the queen and UK as an empire— it has now become an aesthetic for ‘Britishness‘. All for the purpose of selling wraps.

Sources:
Davel. “Beyond the Social Critic”. thecommoner.org.uk/, The Commoner, 30 juni 2020, www.thecommoner.org.uk/beyond-the-social-critic.
“Society of the Spectacle (Part 2): WTF? Recuperation and Capitalist Realism | Tom Nicholas”. YouTube, Geüpload door Tom Nicholas, 15 mei 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wl3HCKQ6WI.