As of 1967 Fred Forest began a series of actions that would foreground the Sociological Art movement. A decade prior to the formal constitution of the “Sociological Art Collective” he held a number of public events in the context of the May 1968 protests in France at the Place d’Aligre in Paris, at debates at the Sorbonne and at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. At the time, he was also often active around the activist-politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit and professor Jacques Monod of Jussieu University.
With these actions, he dismissed the traditional artistic media of drawing, painting and sculpture, favouring the use of communication technologies in impoverished neighbourhoods (1967), video (1967) as well as printed and audiovisual press mechanisms. Notably, in 1972 at the occasion of the Salon titled “Comparison” at the “Grand Palais” in Paris, he openly argued with its official cultural institutions in denouncing their alleged heinous exploitation of market economics and political maneuvering. In June 1973 he organized a number of experiments in video exchange amidst communities of retirees in the south of France, an action of which philosopher Vilem Flusser and sociologist Philippe Buteaud were tributaries.
In October 1973 at the occasion of the XII Bienal de São Paulo, http://www.webnetmuseum.org/html/en/expo-retr-fredforest/actions/08_en.htm#text he effectuated a series of political provocations calling into question the established military dictatorship. In effect, he invited the Biennale’s artists to overstep the official framework of the event to extend their expression into the very streets of Brazil. As a result of the concrete manifestation of this project, a procession in which artistic collaborators cum demonstrators took to the main streets of São Paulo bearing white placards, he was arrested and taken to the Political Police Headquarters, a retaliation that generated international media attention effectively achieving the artist’s intended artistic-political goal. Forest formalized this now clear trajectory upon returning from this experience in May 1974, Forest organized an exhibition bearing the epiteth “sociological art” at the Galerie German in Paris.
At the occasion of this exhibition, Forest met Michel Journiac and together they gathered a number of artists together to begin a movement engaged with critical and sociological realities. The meetings brough together artists such as Gina Pane, Bertand Lavier, Thierry Agullo, Joan Rabsacal, Jocelyne Hervé, Hervé Fischer, Jean-Paul Thenot as well as art critics François Pluchart and Bernard Teyssedre.
On the 10th of October 1974, the Sociological Art Collective was officially declared with the publication in newspaper Le Monde of its first manifesto, signed by Hervé Fischer, Fred Forest and Jean-Paul Thénot. From this date onwards, these artists would alternate between practices claiming this lineage and their own personal practices. Concretely speaking, the collective published a number of texts, organized and effectuated a series of projects, and participated in colloquia and exhibitions.
Sociological Art is a praxis that criticizes all and any forms of alienation by using art as its platform and technology and critical methodology as its levers. With the development of post-1945 expansionism and globalisation, artistic concepts had to adapt. Sociological Art holds that the recasting of the function, methods, tools, materials and aims of artists was inevitable at a period of such social upheaval.
It proposed to consider art in terms of interaction, animation and the creation of structures of exchange, provocation and disruption of conventional social behaviours with a view to denouncing all and any forms of conditioning. In a classic move of Détournement often associated with the Situationists, Sociological Art aimed to draw attention to the channels of power and communication it was aiming to undermine.
It called upon derision, simulacrum and humorous cum critical ellipses in order to explode or alter a certain reality structured by the social codes of the time. Sociological Art attempted to establish the modalities required for participative and discursive communication between artists and the public. This stance was in strict opposition with traditional artistic and cultural dogmas in terms of media, intention, method, aim, linguistic register, location and audience.
As summarized by Fred Forest: The practical aim of Sociological Art is to provide the necessary conditions of existence for various devices that frame a given efficient and effective questioning or investigation, thereby establishing the optimal conditions for a situation of intersubjectivity.
Steeped in the theories of Existentialism and Situationism and the political realities of the time, Sociological Art was a politically engaged response to an art world that was perceived as being out of touch both with the technologies and the society of its time.