Tiny anomalies in the pattern of everyday life offer useful tools for a reality tinkerer.
The image above 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 into the 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 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 by the environment or a /non/artist) are fruitful starting points 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 into non-capitalistic world and the possibility of generosity (gift economy), or unconventional social interaction.
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, 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 house. 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.
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).
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 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 and mess.
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. For example in the incident described on page 4, we both saw the one-eyed horse but the experience of my friend may not have been as striking, she may not think about it still today. 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. That is why I call the approach reality tinkering – bricolage activity anyone is capable of, cunning play with multiple sources, materials and possibilities.
Working with anomalies is a 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 letting people to know about the creator would totally spoil the effect. From a participant’s viewpoint, it is not even 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’. Because of this remarkable difference from the concept of artwork, which is usually seen as an unique creation, the approach of helping the anomalies to emerge differs from art-making.
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: the “audience” can often be formed of only one person at a time. Encountering the anomaly is a question of the state of mind, perception and experience, which are individual. For example, in the incident described in the beginning of this chapter, we both saw the one-eyed horse but the experience of my friend may not have been as striking, she may not think about it still today. 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. That is why I call the approach of working with the anomalies reality tinkering – bricolage activity anyone is capable of, cunning play with multiple sources, materials and possibilities.