Making Strange presentation to Ealing LIP group by Arun Misra and Fabrizio Quagliuso
Fabrizio and I gave a presentation on 1stJuly 2020 on the short lived but highly influential art and photography movement called Making Strange. Making Strange, which is also known as ‘De-familiarisation’ was situated within the broader context of the Russian Futurism movement at the beginning of the 20thCentury.
We talked about some of the really big early 20thC events and how these affected society, culture and art and that there seems to be a parallel with times we are living through now. The first 20 years of the last century saw World War 1, Russian Revolution, rise in fascism, recognition of women’s’ rights to equality, the beginning of the end of the British Empire, Spanish Flu, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that led to a fundamental change in our outlook of the Universe. The supposedly rational World order was broken and distrusted, and in culture there was a move away from Romantic ideals and beliefs towards new forms of artistic experimentation and expressions.
New, anti-sense, irrational, reverential art movements came about including Dada, Futurism, Surrealism all of which foreshadowed modern arts such as abstract, expressionist and conceptual arts.
Out of all this, in Russia, grew Russian Futurism and Making Strange – a concept developed by Viktor Shklovsky. He expressed the idea of de-familiarisation as:
Art exists to help us to recover the sensation of life, to make the stone, stony. The end of art is to give a sensation of the object as seen, not recognised. The technique of art is to make things ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms obscure, so as to increase the difficulty and the duration of perception. The act of perception in art is an end in itself and must be prolonged. In art, it is our experience of the process of construction that counts, not the finished product
Russian Futurismis not easily defined. It was an ideological umbrella that was intentionally flexible, accommodating diverse artists and practices. Russian futurists believed that Romantic ideas of pure vision and Karl Marx’s idea of false consciousness about the ways in which we see and represent the world could also help to change it and art had a role to play in this. Russian Futurists shared a passion for exploring new modes of expression in poetry, visual art, music, and performance. They wanted their art to help change and create a new and better society.
The concept of False Consciousness refers to the systematic mis-representation of dominant social relations in the consciousness of subordinate classes such as workers. Subordinate classes, according to Marx, suffer from false consciousness in that their mental representations of the social structures and relations around them systematically conceal or obscure the realities of subordination, exploitation and domination by others. This belief led to a radically new emphasis on the ways in which culture legitimates particular forms of society, and may in turn be used to disclose and de-mystify them.
So as a group we adopted a working definition of Making Strange with which to experiment and create our own works. Making strange is the artistic technique of:
- presenting common things
- in an unfamiliar or strange way
- in order to enhance perception of the familiar.
The group looked at works by leading Russian Futurist such as Velimir Khlebnikov (poet), Kazimir Malevich (Black Square), El Lissitzky (The Announcer), Aleksander Rodchenko (various paintings and photographs), and Natalia Goncharova (The Cyclist).
Russian Futurism and Making Strange had a powerful impact on the imagination of a generation of legendary European and American photographers. Amongst them Andre Kertez, Cartier-Bresson, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray and Franz Roh who experimented with new perspectives, angles, lighting and shadows to show their unique insights, and through de-familiarisation, ‘prolonged the duration of perception’.
Making Strange possessed an ideology that implied that social contradictions could be made immediately accessible to the eye, simply by means of visual surprise. This is now thought to have been flawed. But in the end Making Strange was assimilated into mainstream European photography giving rise to a new type of pictorialism.
As part of the session members contributed their photographs taken with making strange ideas in mind. Fabrizio presented a slideshow which led to a lively and exciting discussion and a strong feeling that we should continue with this kind of work. Everybody’s images were critiqued and the group provided interesting and varied feedback.
The group considered how we should take this forward and the consensus was that we should produce an exhibition or a Zine to reflect the strange times we are experiencing.
Please give your thoughts on how we could harness the energy and enthusiasm of the evening.
Here are a few of the group's images that were shown: