Why Anomalies?

AnomaliaKAAVIOThe image depicts the interrelated processes reality tinkering approach is based on. Everything starts from a phenomenon taking place in the familiar setting – in the everyday life, which we don’t any more consider as anything we should question. We tend to handle the familiar phenomena with highly automatized way (“If we begin to unpack the general laws of perception, we will see that as they become habitual, actions become automatic. Thus do all our practical skills retreat intothe realm of the unconscious-automatic […]” Shklovsky cited in Robinson 2008, 81-82) – which, of course, saves our energy for more demanding tasks, and for that reason is a positive force. On the other hand, the routinization can spread to such areas of life where it is not useful anymore (consider reading a story for a child: it really is possible to read without realizing what is happening in the book, compared to really experiencing the story together with the child). When life starts to feel far too routinized and boring, we need something new: a holiday trip or a pair of designer shoes, perhaps.

We have a huge classification system in our heads, which of course makes the life simple and saves time, as we do not have to pay attention to every detail. On the other hand, again, pre-classifying phenomena, people etc. can block our vision from the delicious variety of realities (which we often want to discover for example by traveling to other cultures). Confusion can be used as a constructive tool – when one suddenly finds herself in a situation which s/he does not thoroughly understand, s/he can learn interesting things about herself and the possible realities: “What if…the momentary reality I just experienced would become the actual?

Invisible theater, a method developed by the Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal (as a part of the Theatre of the Oppressed approach) aims to make social dilemmas visible and evoke discussion (Boal 2000, 143-147). The audience of an invisible performance does not know it is taking part in a theater play, so it is easy to provoke. Since it is impossible for the spectators to know who has caused the event or made the object, and for what reason, they cannot either be sure whether it is ”real” or not. Reality is, thus, a question of definition: take the case of Pilvi Takala’s work The Trainee, which created one kind of reality for several days. The artist raised eyebrows by playing a peculiarly behaving trainee in a large office. Another example could be Ahmet Ogut’s Hitchhiking General, a performative work presenting a hitchhiker in general’s uniform, or the Yes Men’s media interventions. These events have been (at least momentarily) reality to the people who encountered them, evoking thoughts of the performative nature of everything in our shared reality.

Uncertainty is a fruitful starting point for perceiving the environment in a new way, because a distraction forces us to act creatively. Not-knowing can have a mind-opening value in our information-filled world, forcing us to improvise. Giving us a glimpse of the abundance of possible worlds it reminds us how volatile, constructed and strange our ”reality” is. Why is this particular ”reality” ”real” compared to countless other possibilities? It is important to enable and highlight the cracking of reality because by doing so it is possible to reveal the power everyone has to influence the construction of our shared reality. The unveiled realities can be imaginative, more fun/weird than our own (Alice in Wonderland) but as well concrete models of action: glimpses of non-capitalistic world and the possibility of generosity (gift economy), or unconventional social interaction.

Situations which do not allow a person to use the routinized pattern of reaction include emergencies – for example nowadays unfortunately so usual shootings at public places, which have terrible resemblance with Andre Breton in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.” These exceptional moments break the everyday reality too harshly, cutting themselves out of it by contrast which is far too abrupt. They cause us to be more suspicious and less curious – a lonely bag can include a bomb and funny looking young man can shoot you down after a moment. These fear-evoking, confusing situations can, of course, reveal us many things (of ourselves and the world) at the moment, but they surely do not promote active relationship with the world, which the Tinkerer’s Guide is concerned with. Shooting people definitely is an efficient way to change the shared reality, but it is out of the reach of this approach, whose purposes allow only causing a moderate amount of discomfort and mess.


Although Tinkerer’s Guide emerges from the field of art, it is definitely not about art or for art people only. It is connected with various critical approaches in art, which have pursued to challenge the default settings of art and life: for instance invisible theater, constructed situations and event-scores can be seen as technical ancestors of reality tinkering. Central meta-methods behind most of these techniques are estrangement and détournement. Shklovsky defines estrangement as “a term signifying a specific way of perceiving or realizing an already automatized phenomenon” (Shklovsky 1966, The Renewal of a Concept). By using estrangement it is possible to shift the marveling and questioning attitude we have towards unfamiliar to our familiar environment, which helps us to see the emerging possibilities. Situationist détournement is a cunning, powerful technique for evoking new meanings. It functions by separating issues from their usual contexts and reconnecting them to form new combinations, thus questioning effectively our accustomed ways of seeing and understanding them (i.e. the anti-ad approach).

The anomaly approach is twofold including 1) collecting the surprises offered by the world to somebody who is not aware (nonart, using the concept as the way of Allan Kaprow) and 2) intentionally arranging small adjustments (invisible approach). The anomalies can happen in any situation and their nature is very versatile. Regardless, they often share some common elements. Firstly, the experience is very intimate: “audience” can be formed of only one person at a time. Encountering the anomaly is a question of the state of perception and experience, which is individual.  Intentionally arranged “pieces” can have a slightly larger “audience”, because they are not only internal experiences. On the other hand, they are so subtle, that many people may not notice them at all. In any case, the “audience” does not recognize itself as an audience. Secondly, the pieces are anonymous and could be made by anyone – they do not necessarily demand any special skills, and the signature of the artist would only ruin them. Although skillful crafting or acting can be used, it is possible to select to make works as well without any. The pieces can take any form – if they are material, they can be small in size and made of anything, which makes them cheap to make and easy to transport. Of course it is possible to use expensive materials or bigger sizes, but expensive, durable material is not required (compared for instance to making permanent public sculptures), making tinkering with them possible for everyone.

From participant’s viewpoint it is not important to make a difference between the two ways of emerging: in both cases s/he is the author (simply by paying attention to the anomaly) independently of the possible ‘artist’. Working with the anomalies is peculiar kind of activity. The ‘pieces’ are not anyone’s personal creations, because in many cases they could very well exist also without a creator, and announcing people of the creator would totally spoil the effect. Because of this remarkable difference from the concept of art work, which is usually seen as an unique creation, the approach of helping the anomalies to emerge differs from art-making. As a sculptor, who is used to master every detail of my pieces from sketching to installation, I had to figure out a more suitable approach for this open-ended, dialogical working. I found fostering as a fruitful metaphor (foster = encourage the development of (something, especially something desirable), develop (a feeling or idea) in oneself, bring up (a child that is not one’s own by birth) / Oxford Dictionary, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/foster), because it is optimistic and dialogical way of intervention: considering for instance how, in spite of the risk of somebody destroying their plantations, the guerrilla gardeners do not give up their belief in the possibilities of their work. Guerrilla gardening is a wonderful example of using one’s effort to make change, starting from the images evoking from its oxymorous name: a radical underground militant tending a flowering garden… Fostering is invaluable and at the same time underestimated power: thousands of pages of history have been written about the acts of heroes, but the continuous work of fostering, consisting of small, mundane, often numb acts, has not been seen as interesting. Fostering is a slow and quiet process compared to the sudden acts of change.

Fostering attitude is:

1.  Optimistic by definition, including the belief in the reality-changing value of one’s efforts. There is no space for passive cynicism, although everything is known to end at some point. Fostering is active and practical, about encouraging the development of something through working and believing, rendering mere theorizing inadequate. Destruction of the work could be easy and instant (compare the time and effort needed for growing a flower or stomping on it), but the value of the process can never be taken away from the participants.
2. Dialogical. The fosterer is not the creator, but the enabler of the “outcome”. The outcome is achieved by cooperation of the fosterer, the tended one, and the environment. The fosterer can never fully manage the process, s/he can only try to steer it. S/he has to juggle with active and passive states in the process and give space for the one s/he is taking care of. Because of its intimate nature, one of the outcomes of fostering is always a relation. The dialogue with the anomalies have to be sustained by avoiding to take too dominant position to them, by understanding that the most important moment happens only after my departure.
3. Releasing. Although fostering acts are always done in the current moment, the care-taking actions as a whole refer to the future: to the bloom of a flower, growth of a child…Fostering is often cumulative and slow, because a relation is built on repetition and commitment. The change is achieved through time, not abruptly. Fostering consists of acts which are made knowing the fact that the fostered one has to be set free at some point. The process, the life lived together, still grants the importance – although a foster child would return back to her parents, the relationship with the foster parents can be life-long. And, on the other hand, even your own children aren’t your own, as the saying goes. That is one point where fostering and gift giving come together: like a relationship, a gift is an “inalienable possession” (Annette B. Weiner).

4. Unspectacular but responsible. Fostering consists often of simple, mundane acts which may not demand special skills but more dedication and patience. The acts themselves may not appear inviting, they can be seen as dull “maintenance work” (Mierle Laderman Ukeles), supplying the basic life-supporting needs of the tended one. Despite this simple guise, fostering work is very responsible. As a gardener you know your flowers will die if you do not water them regularly.

Hannah Higgings (2002, 63) describes Fluxus with the words which suit as well to th fostering attitude: “To value prosaic materials and experiences seems to me to go some way toward an appreciative (as opposed to cynical) and emphatetic (as opposed to alienated) cognitive model that maintains a critical relationship to the subject while remaining open to it as well. Fluxus in these terms offers tools with which to create a sense of belonging in the world.” Fostering as an approach differs abruptly from the concept of artist as genius, who is the autonomous master of his (sic!) artistic world, working with highly specified, valued skills in the heart of art institution, detached from the world of maintenance work.