Why Anomalies?

“If the everyday is that which is most familiar and most recognizable, then what happens when that world is disturbed and disturbed by the unfamiliar? If the ‘shock of the new’ sends tremors to the core of the everyday, then what happens to the sense of the everyday as familiar and recognizable? In modernity the everyday becomes the setting for a dynamic process: for making the unfamiliar familiar; for getting accustomed to the disruption of custom; for struggling to incorporate the new; for adjusting to different ways of living.” (Highmore 2002, 2)

The image below depicts the interrelated processes this project is based on. Everything starts from a phenomenon taking place in the familiar context – in the everyday, which we don’t anymore consider as anything we should question. We tend to handle the familiar phenomena on a highly automated way (O’Brien 2017, 90) – 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 / i.e. Leon Solomon’s and Gertrude Stein’s experiments on automatic reading / Langer 2017, 112). 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 (O’Brien 2017, 19), which of course makes life much easier and saves time, as we do not have to pay attention to every detail. On the other hand, again, pre-classifying can block from our vision 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 suddenly finding oneself in a situation a person does not thoroughly understand, it is possible to learn interesting things about oneself and the possible realities: “What if…the momentary reality I just experienced would become the actual?”

Confusion and uncertainty (provided spontaneously by the environment or intentionally by a person) are fruitful starting points for perceiving the environment in a new way, because a distraction forces us to act creatively (O’Brien 2017, 90). “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 (in the style of Alice in Wonderland) but as well concrete models of action: glimpses into non-capitalistic world and the possibility of generosity (gift economy), or unconventional social interaction. Social patterns are often not visible unless something goes wrong. The sociologist Harold Garfinkel made social breaching experiments in the 1960s with his students at the University of California, Los Angeles. These were organized situations, where the breachers intentionally “acted wrong” and interrupted the shared expectations of reality of the ignorant participants. (O’Brien 2017, 450-451). These breaches come near to artistic performances and pranks aiming to interrupting the normal. 

In the history of art, there has been a continuous interest in everyday life and techniques developed especially for creating disturbance into the familiar. Invisible theater is a good example of anomaly-provoking techniques. It was developed by the Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal (as a part of the Theatre of the Oppressed approach) aiming 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 be sure whether it is ”real” or not. Reality is, thus, question of definition: take the case of Pilvi Takala’s work The Trainee (2008), which created one kind of reality for several days. The artist raised eyebrows by playing a peculiarly behaving trainee in a large office house. Another example could be Ahmet Ogut’s Hitchhiking General (2008), a performative work presenting a hitchhiker in general’s uniform, or The Yes Men’s media interventions, or the collective pranks of Improv Everywhere. 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. 

Central meta-methods behind the above-mentioned works are defamiliarization (estrangement) and détournement. Russian author Viktor Shklovsky considered art as a method for seeing anew the everyday objects our minds have over time habitually packed as symbols. Art makes things difficult and brings them into our attention, which forces us to take a fresh look at them. “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” (Shlovsky, Art as Technique 1917). By using defamiliarization, 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). (Pyhtilä 2005, 59-66.) Because of its relation-based nature, everyday life can be seen as a bricolage built out of different, often unmatching pieces of behaviors and attitudes. This technique is involved in making new combinations out of found material, like is the case with the everyday life, both at the cognitive and material levels. Beliefs and behaviors are ready-mades, as are all the physical things surrounding us. Our role is merely to try and combine these elements in the quest for transforming our lives into an individual, meaningful “piece of art”. The anomalous acts made in this project work along the rules of bricolage and readymade. Also, the theoretical sources utilized here form a bricolage of their own: because the environment of the anomalies is formed of the everyday, human mind and society, I have to consult the ideas of various writers and disciplines (mostly of the areas of social psychology, philosophy and cultural studies). My education and the scope of this research do not allow me to dive very deep to any of the ideas, but introducing them is important for understanding the context of anomalies and setting up the worldview of this study. The result is a bricolage of inspiring contents: not complete, but hopefully thought-provoking.

Situations which do not allow a person to use the routinized pattern of reaction include emergencies – for example nowadays unfortunately 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” (Breton 1972, 152). 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 and curious relationship with the world, which this project is concerned with. Shooting people definitely is an efficient way to change the shared reality, but it is out of the reach of this project, the purposes of which only allows to cause a moderate amount of discomfort.