8 September 2021

Ostranenie: how to see the world differently

A programme by Alexander Burenkov 

Participating artists: Alex Anikina, Sara Culmann, Gediminas Daugela, Anna Leonova, Kristina Matveeva, Ulyana Podkorytova, Anna Rotaenko, Kirill Savchenkov, Sofa Skidan, Vasiliy Sumin, Aleksei Taruts, Egor Tsvetkov

Art and philosophy are often understood as providing ideas for politics as they expand the boundaries of imagination and the utopian horizons of the future. But what’s the changing role of art in the world after the pandemic? Which forms of reconstructing the world can be proposed and how can contemporary art not only create new cartography of the world through personal lenses and find out new horizons but also offer an alternative arsenal of ways to resist what we might call modern cosmology and contribute to the dialogue about the potential of art for worldmaking? Standing at the threshold between different worlds and different ages, it’s a moment to rethink what it means to make art, music, philosophy when the future is about to end and a new time is yet to begin.

To recalibrate our vision and find out new cosmogonic forces that can set a different system of reality art can turn again to ostranenie, the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way so they can gain new perspectives and see the world differently without the distortions of automatic ways of perceiving and knowing. The term ‘ostranenie’ or ‘defamiliarization’ was first coined in 1917 by Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky in his essay ‘Art as Device’ (alternate translation: ‘Art as Technique’’). Shklovsky invented the term as a means to ‘distinguish poetics from practical language on the basis of the former’s perceptibility’ and stated that poetic language is fundamentally different from the language that we use every day because it is more difficult to understand. This difference is the key to the creation of art and the prevention of ‘over-automatization’, which causes an individual to ‘function as though by formula.’ Probably, to establish a new vision through art via a shift in the perception of the social, cultural and living environment we should direct our gaze to the past by embracing magic thinking and the poetics of irrationality.

Alexander Burenkov (b. 1987, Leningrad, based in Moscow) is an independent curator of contemporary art, a cultural producer, art manager, art writer and head of the curatorial department of Moscow School of Contemporary Art (department’s programme title for the season 2021/2021 is ‘Curatorial practices in the XXI century: Radical care for art, the planet and others’). He is a teacher at Sreda Obuchenia school, British Higher School of Art & Design and RMA art management school. His curatorial interests navigate contemporary visual culture and sociotechnical systems such as ecology and the web. Formerly he was the curator at the V-A-C Foundation (2013–2016), a member of the curatorial group for the development of the format and concept of the new type of cultural institution GES-2 (due to open in 2021 under supervision of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop). He was chief curator at ISSMAG gallery (2016–2017) and chief specialist of the Regional Development Directorate of the National Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA) (2017–2018), curator of the renovated municipal Khodynka Gallery (2019), and curator of non-profit Cosmoscow foundation for support of contemporary art (2019-2020). Burenkov has curated more than 20 exhibitions spanning Russia and Europe. He was the recipient of Russia’s Innovation Art Prize (2017) as the Curator of the Year for the exhibition ‘Planned obsolescence’ at Miltronic body/digital gym center, in the framework of the parallel program of the V Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, 2016. He was a nominee of the State Prize in Contemporary Art ‘Innovation’ (2021) in the nomination ‘Educational Project’ for Blizhe online platform (www.blizhe.education), produced by Cosmoscow foundation and Vladimir Potanin Foundation. He was a Nominee of the State Prize in Contemporary Art ‘Innovation”’(2018) in the nomination ‘Curator of the Year’ and Kuryokhin Art Prize (2018) in the nomination ‘Curator of the Year’ for the project ‘Going Unconscious / Trembling / With open eyes / I see you / Surrender’ in HSE Art gallery of the School of Design of the Higher School of Economics. He graduated from the St. Petersburg State University with an MA in General linguistics and Greek languages and studied new artistic strategies at the Institute for Contemporary Arts Moscow and art management in RMA School. Burenkov writes on contemporary art and visual culture in various periodicals and has contributed to numerous publications such as Artforum, Kommersant Art, Spectate, Esp cultural magazine, Aroundart, Colta, Afisha, East East, Moscow Art Magazine, Lookatme, Calvert Journal, Dialogue of Arts, Strelka Magazine etc. 

Keywords: ostranenie, estrangement, defamiliarization, postcovid, COVID-19, pandemic, postpandemic, Shklovsky, worldmaking, Russia, imagination, speculative, optics, over-automatization, urgent.