Mémoires (Memories) is an artist’s book made by the Danish artist Asger Jorn in collaboration with the French artist and theorist Guy Debord. Printed in 1959, it is the second of two collaborative books by the two men whilst they were both members of the Situationist International.
The work contains two separate layers. The first is printed with black ink, reproducing found text and graphics taken from newspapers and magazines. The second layer is printed using coloured inks, splashed across the pages. These sometimes connect images and text, sometimes cover them, and sometimes are seemingly unconnected. The black layer contains fragments of text, maps of Paris and London, illustrations of siege warfare, cheap reproductions of old masters and questions such as ‘How do you feel about the world at the moment, Sir?’ The coloured layer contains freefloating ink splashes, lines created by a matchstick loaded in ink, and a Rorschach inkblob.
Other pages deal with more personal themes, including a cartoon of the first showing of his film Hurlements en Faveur de Sade, with comments for and against, and references to Dérive, which would become known as Situationist Drift, the habit of walking aimlessly through a city in an attempt to find its spirit. Détournement (‘diversion’ or ‘disruption’) is also employed in the book to disorient the reader by creating startling collaged juxtapositions. Originally deriving from Dada, détournement would become a key situationist strategy.
The last page is an orange swirl, above which reads the single sentence ‘I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my century.’
The book is most famous for its cover, a dust jacket made of heavy-grade sandpaper. Usually credited to Debord, the sleeve was actually conceived in a conversation between Jorn and the printer, V.O. Permild:
[Permild:] Long had [Jorn] asked me, if I couldn’t ﬁnd an unconventional material for the book cover. Preferably some sticky asphalt or perhaps glass wool. Kiddingly, he wanted, that by looking at people, you should be able to tell whether or not they had had the book in their hands. He acquiesced by my ﬁnal suggestion: sandpaper (ﬂint) nr. 2: ‘Fine. Can you imagine the result when the book lies on a blank polished mahogany table, or when it’s inserted or taken out of the bookshelf. It planes shavings off the neighbour’s desert goat.
Asger Oluf Jorn quotes:
A creative train of thought is set off by: the unexpected, the unknown, the accidental, the disorderly, the absurd, the impossible.
Anything really new is repulsive, because it is abnormal and unreasonable.
Only my current situation has enabled me to accomplish the expensive task of demonstrating that the preferred sustenance of painting is painting.
I act with full responsibility and after extensive reflection.
Beautiful, ugly, impressive, disgusting, meaningless, grim, contradictory etc … It makes no difference, as long as it is life, vigorously pouring forth.
Guy Debord, Michéle Bernstein and Asger Jorn in Paris, 1961