Challenge: Transform Familiar to Strange

Look around you. Is this place familiar? Are the objects you see of familiarity? We live in a world of utmost familiarity and mundanity. The things we fill our homes with and the things we are surrounded by give us passive comfort. As we become blanketed in the familiar, the less excited they make us. Instead, we become concerned purely with the new, the innovative, the recently-discovered, the strange.

How might we transform the familiar to strange? This question is intended to challenge our creative perspective. How might we think differently of the things we don’t consciously consider?

“Familiarity breeds conformity. Because things, ideas or people are familiar we stop thinking about them.” —John Adair, The Art of Creative Thinking

The everyday has become associated and synonymous with the norm. The everyday is repetitive, easy to predict, and comfortable. The everyday is also associated with minor importance when viewed at macro scale. Those two, of course, playing into one another. The inverse, however, of addressing the everyday on a micro scale, is rarely taken up or seen.

We have the opportunity to view the everyday as a world of it’s own—a world left to be discovered and investigated. Familiarity is the result of us seeking an inherent safety. Familiarity allows us to check boxes each day. A micro approach allows us to say, “yesterday this was a lamp, today it is the sun.”

“It is one things to be part of the everyday—to help create it—and quite another to make it the subject of analysis or even critique.” —Andrew Blauvelt

I’ll pose this question again, how might we transform the familiar to strange? The point isn’t for me to answer this for you. This is intended to be a challenge and a means of making you think, not an opportunity for you to check boxes. To begin, look around you and begin asking questions. We all love to cast ourselves as curious, but rarely do we actually see or dare to question the familiarity we wade through.

“What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why?” —Georges Perec

I’ve written about the 1960’s literary group OuLiPo previously because they continually challenged the norm and the expected. They’re a perfect example of taking the familiar, which in their case is typically literature and poetry from a perspective of expectancy, and transforming it into the strange and interesting. Above, Perec—one of the icons of OuLiPo—highlights our passiveness to the world around us.

In 1974, Perec embarked on an intensive observation of the everyday which resulted in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. As Perec put it, he was interested “what happens when nothing happens.” He didn’t observe a setting for a short period, but rather he unveiled a setting over the course of 3 days. While the everyday tends to occur in a macro sense, Perec sought to become an observer from the inside, to see what it was like to experience the everyday from a micro perspective.

This weekend I’ll be pursuing a similar quest. Everyday we are increasingly drawn into our phones and media, and are becoming more distant from the everyday with which we are already detached from. We are in a constant state of distraction and mindlessness, and so this is an attempt to disparage this habit that has become social standard.

Each day is an attempt to recognize the ordinary and the mundane, and acknowledge its presence in such a way that it’s no longer the background. Instead, the ordinary acts as the exact thing that strings timelines together—a meeting ground, a forgotten atrium, a liminal and transient space.

“Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” —Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

We tend to only concern ourselves with the new, the flashy, the strange, but neglect that the familiar can be transformed into the strange; that the ordinary when subjected to analysis can be made new. How might we transform the familiar to strange? How might we begin to re-address our surroundings? Why must we be in the constant pursuit of originality and newness?