“There is urgency of exercises of Estrangement in the complex contemporary situation, one that likes to simplify to explain, but which dangerous outcomes are visible everyday on the news.”

Giulia Busetti (IT)
is an independent curator who gained a theoretical background through her studies in Visual Arts (IT), Art Theory and Curatorial Practice (DE) and Arts and Cultural Management (UK). Her areas of research are the concept of cultural identity and its conflictual aesthetics, the role of the outsider and the necessity of dis-order, but also all those practices that activate the political potential of artistic practice. She lives in Zurich, where she works as assistant at Luma Westbau and as events coordinator at schwarzescafé, Löwenbräukunst

Banner for the Estrangement Sessions courtesy of dis- order
Photo from the performance “Touching (is electric) by Rafal Pierzynski, 2019


Dear Alien,

The next lines aim to introduce you to the concept and the urgency of the Estrangement Sessions, before getting to know their protagonist and their work throughout the next weeks.

I had the pleasure to be invited to be part of this journey when most of the programme was already there, so in a certain way I had to find my way(s) of interpretation - my local point of view in a broader horizon of opportunities for configuration.

From a practical point of view, the Estrangement Sessions will accompany the exhibition Intimate Estrangement and consist of talks, performances, workshops by invited artists and thinkers, and a role play (LARP) . These activities, taking place on September 25–27, 2020 will be hosted by the independent off-space Mikro and Löwenbräukunst’ schwarzescafé, a spatial choice that buttresses the constructive alienation in a physical sense through the transit from a space to another. Relation with the space that will be analised by the poetry reading of the artist Martina Mächler.
Liaising with the exhibition, the Estrangement Sessions reflect i.a. on System Theory, on Queer Phenomenology and on the notions Nature / Natural, affirming the urgency of a constructive alienation for an emancipatory freedom. How can we create non-normative perspectives? The Estrangement Sessions want to show us practical possibilities and theoretical approaches to that and to any system, in order to be able to navigate it thanks to our body-mind-space connection.
Hopefully, after the sessions, we will look for a fault in a system and welcome it as a chance, like Reza Negarestani claims, ’a designated alienation’ that can bring us towards a better understanding of that same system. Ideally, we will appreciate the potential (and maybe even the ne-cessity) of the un-known to cope with the complex reality we are in, a collective becoming alien that could be our only chance for co-habitating.

This idea of proximity, of touching and being in touch, the perception and the limits in depth-investigated by the performance artist Rafal Pierzynski, can get a brand new connotation after last weeks of lockdown and the consequent social distancing. Let’s take for example the current automatic association of touching with a series of hygiene measures.

Estrangement /Alienation = Isolation?

The Estrangement Sessions ask us to trust the capacity of art to change our perception of reality through alienation. This word is normally conceived as negative, because connected to solitude, or maybe to the fear of seeing ourselves without the influence of the others, the “normality” given by the mass.

Let’s think for a moment about the general panic triggered by the main rule “stay at home” of the past weeks of Covid-19 pandemic. Inconceivable for many, the idea to change their own habits even just for a little while (1), and so on with the home version of everything we were used to: zoom meetings (/parties), online exhibitions, insta live openings, bedroom DJs, in order to estrange us as less as possible.
What are we exactly scared of?
Although we all agree on the necessity of a certain distance -the famous “step back” - to better grasp the state of things, yet we are at once surmounted by the terror of missing something and need to feel the gaps that get us away from the “normality” through prothesis, politically correct adjectives, reassuring technologies with feminine voice (2) and online formats.
Even though reality changes, we are reactionary. The estrangement from ourselves and what we know seems to be the most difficult one, the consequences of which we fear. Even if the object changes, the subject is the decisive element, and in its not-changing it doesn’t give space to any possibility of emancipation, neither of the object nor of the reality in which object, subject and predicates frustrated claim to want to change.

Social distancing is not equal to alienation and even less to estrangement. But what is with estrangement meant, then?
The term is exquisitely transdisciplinary: let’s take the literary technique whereby the reader’s perception of reality is altered and distorted by means of various techniques to make him discover new sides of reality, dismantling and deconstructing the most usual and most conventional perception of the world around us. In the literary critic we find "estrangement", referring to the current of the Formalism, active in Russia in the years from 1914 to 1930. In particular Viktor Sklovskij (1893-1984), the writer and critic who with the essay Art as an artifice (1917) wrote its manifesto, and defined the "estrangement" as a "procedure", a mechanism through which art can "resurrect our perception of life" in its most authentic essence, thus contributing to "make things sensitive".(3)

I like to imagine all of us participants in the Estrangements Sessions assuming the same attitude of the fanciullino, the “little child” described by the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli (4). Nature for Pascoli must be seen with the amazed eyes of a child, to whom no detail escapes. They are "epiphanies", revelations of a hidden sense, escaped by the most.

Or moreover, in the twentieth-century theatre, the “estranged acting technique” provided by the theatre of Bertolt Brecht for which an actor must not identify with his character, but rather describe it from the outside to the public, so that the play is not only a source of entertainment but also of critical reflection on the distortions of contemporary society.(5) My exhortation is thus to act with the attitude of this avangarde experimental technique.
Our intention is precisely to induce a critical reflection on the distortions of contemporary socie-ty, but not to see them from an external point of view as the actors of Brecht, but on the contrary to become aware of our contribution as individuals to what we are used to contemptuously de-fine and -erroneously- detached as "system": that set of already given rules (by whom? "Definitely not by us!" …), absolving ourselves of any guilt through the same abstraction process of someone who buys meat at the supermarket cleaned of any organicity, yet inveighing against the barbarity of intensive animal farming.

What’s accepted as norm is often very questionable and not necessary logic, feminism is socially accepted but specism is considered radical, racism is certainly abnormal, nevertheless deeply rooted. Is the norm ok? When we condemn the brutal violence of the police we don’t think even for a second that it has something to do with the accepted norm, but voilà, that’s it. There are norms we are forced to review and reconsider, if not for us personally, for the sake of the society at large. But there are norms, which constitute our normality, that we just don’t question, it doesn’t matter if then the same norms make us suffer at a certain point, they are the normality and it’s “normal” to have some frictions with and in a not-fitting reality.
Is the normal natural and the natural normal? An aware rediscovery of our agency would be strongly recommended. (6)
Emancipation from the norms comes at costs of extravagance but also and above all comes with the risk of loosing, a waste of time and energy not very appreciated in the neoliberal society.
Different stories could be written if we not only accepted the risk of the mistake but even looked for it, seeing it as a chance and appreciating the generative force of the instability (7), even if this would mean acting against the axiomatic conditions of production.

The reach of the final destination is overvalued

In order to translate the word Estrangement into an emancipatory action, moments of disruption rather than assertion help us to find the right way. The reach of the final destination is overvalued, the aim to reorient our direction after integrating an element of disturb through the sessions. The elements that create our reality and are objects of our subjectivity become the subjects of this journey: so we have the subject body and its queer possibilities explored by Rafał Pierzyński, situated and active in the nature analysed by Stefan Kristensen.
Is the body given? Is nature even given? And according to whom/to the benefit of whom? If nature is unjust maybe we don’t need to change nature, maybe is enough to change ourselves and our relationship to it.
Is a body with protheses still a natural one? One doesn’t need a medical diagnosis to feel un-normal . The artist Nagi Gianni will make us reflect on this. The result might be a reaction, a re-consideration. What we call mental illness is actually patterns of coping, trauma responses and adaptions to survive.

The Sessions are inputs / exercises models whose pattern and methodologies we could apply in different circumstances. The chances for estrangement are everywhere.
In particular, with Sessions are meant short episodes in which one can be alone while being with other people.
Because of this format the element of sociality is fundamental: although the sessions take place with other people, that very character of togetherness can be disrupting at the same time, like in a wicked upside down game of #AloneTogether (8). Is an estrangement among other people even possible? Starting point is that we try to alienate not necessarily from the others but from our-Self. If we are Alien from the Self, the Self it-self feels alienated from us. In this way we could even have more Selves! They could interact among them but also with the Selves of the other people. By doing so, the Sessions could show us the multiplicity of the possibilities for our selves, thus acting for ourselves.
This would open up to several selves, walking on the fringe of a multiple personality disorder, approached under the disguise of the Live Action Role Play designed by Susan Ploetz, which helps us get in touch with the alien inside us. The most primal, intimate experience and also sometimes our most alien.

What is to expect from a system that denies to be a system? This epistemological fault teaches us exactly to be skeptical towards definitions, the same that bring us to define dis-order through the old binary categories.
So please don’t wait for answers or certainties - the price for that would be a certain disap-pointment - but rather disruption and diversions.

We would rather follow the advice of Patricia Reed and introduce hypothesis (9) and maybe-factors. They don’t distance ourselves from an otherwise well-rounded truth, but instead they test its validity and above all the necessity of a well-roundness at all with “extreme prejudice”, as Reza Negarestani would say referring to his style of navigation (10). We should address a certain healthy scepticism to everything that present itself as flawless, riding the wave of the critique of the foundational assumptions of Western thought that enable and perpetuate binary opposi-tions such as Same/Other, human/nonhuman, mind/matter, culture/nature, global/local and so on. It’s in this interstice that Johanna Bruckner will show us her video Molecular Sex in the onto-logical and ethical reorientations made possible by thinking matter, ethics, and knowledge-making practices together. Only hybridity can reflect the current state of the things, it doesn’t matter if in a political, ecological or technological point of view.

You need estrangement in order to alienate, to learn to appreciate what is different, might be the Self, one of the Selves, or the Self of someone else.
There is urgency of exercises of Estrangement in the complex contemporary situation, one that likes to simplify to explain, but which dangerous outcomes are visible everyday on the news. An introspective process would also but also make feel responsible for the society. What today is considered social injustice hasn’t always be considered as such, if the clock of history can’t be reversed, we can still question the present to avoid an alienated future.
(1) Sylvia Sasse calls the Corona-Pandemic the “biggest deautomatisation machine until today”

(2) see Helen Hester, Technically Female: Women, Machines and Hyperemployement. 10 August, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSBefHq7C_o

(3) Carlo Ginzburg, Occhiacci di legno: nove riflessioni sulla distanza, Cap.1 “Preistoria di un procedimento letterario”, 2012, Taschen.

(4) Giovanni Pascoli, Il Fanciullino, ed. Nottetempo 2012.

(5) Giorgio Pullini, Pirandello e il teatro del Novecento, ed. 2015.

(6) In anthropology, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. The structure versus agency debate may be understood as an issue of socialization against auton-omy in determining whether an individual acts as a free agent or in a manner dictated by social structure.

(7) Patricia Reed, Seduced by Dragons: On the Necessity of the Hypothetical, in: Grasping a Concept is Mas-tering the Use of a Form, ed. Beatriz Ortega Botas, Madrid: La Casa Ensendida, 2017.

(8) #AloneToghether is a British campaign launched to show support for people who have been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(9) Patricia Reed, Seduced by Dragons.

(10) Reza Negarestani, Navigate With Extreme Prejudice (Definitions and Ramifications) Encyclonospace Iranica (Vancouver: Access, dadabase, 2013)