Defamiliarization or Making Strange

Ostranenie: (n) encouraging people to see common things as strange, wild or unfamiliar; defamiliarizing what is known in order to know it differently or more deeply (English-Russian).

Defamiliarization is an art technique of revealing multiple possibilities to interpret the world through making objects or things or people strange by presenting them through different points of view so that the viewers would see the world in a different way or strange and unfamiliar way in order to break the reality. It will also give possibilities of better understanding and experiencing the world around us.

According to Viktor Shklovsky, we are so familiar to everyday objects it formed how we see the world and we can not say anything significant about it (Shklovsky 1965, p.13). What is become habitual become automatic. We “see” not the process or activity we’re engaged in, but rather the (all to familiar) outcome.

[A]rt exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. (Shklovsky 1914, p.13)

‘Rotation’ of a familiar object

The artist need to detach the object from familiar associations or the domain of life for it to become an art by describing them from different or strange points of view, or for the first time which then reveals other possible sides of the object that may remain hidden through conventional presentations. One of the practice that I implement into making narrative is by changing the perspective by placing objects into different composition, position, and points of views from a third person/objects/things.

in order to teach people to see from new viewpoints, it is necessary to photograph ordinary, familiar objects from completely different points of view in order to give them their full representation. (Rodchenko, The Paths to Everyday Photography, p. 33)

In term 1, Subject-Personification ‘Trenches‘ project, we were asked to illustrate a poem of World War I. We built our own set of WWI trenches so that we can get better understanding of the feel and emotions of the poem. The set or ‘stage’ has also helped us to look at different point of views in narrating the poem by using camera to take shots from different angles; to think like a film-maker. This also applies when I make storyboard.

I am also interested in looking into more artist artworks that use the ‘rotating’ objects technique. I had actually (unknowingly) applied this technique when I ‘reversed’ the character of Woody from Toy Story into a zombie killing hero for my college work. I took the reference from David Mach’s ‘Grizzly Little Fucker’.

David Mach’s starting point was to view the relationship between human being and animals. His intention is to suggest alternative way to think about living creatures, questioning their place in our society and the idea baout cohabitation that might inspire the world of the future.

‘Unfamiliar’ viewing positions for the viewer

 [T]he film in the spectator’s head is more important than the one on the screen. The space between the shots belongs to the viewer [not to the film], to make associations not only with other parts of the film, but with his or her own life experience. (Lutze, 1998, p. 162)
I need to break the viewer position by making the illustration strange so that it allow a different perspective for the viewers to put their own experience onto what is being presented. Few ways of making strange are:
  • Montage jumps from point to point
  • Presents the least important aspects of the scene
  • Puts the viewer in strange positions
  • Extends the length of the scene for no reason
  • Shot reverse shot
  • Out of order sequence of narrative
  • Rotate objects

One example of extending the length of the scene for no reason is a scene in Steve McQueen’s film ‘Shame’ where Michael Fassbender run for more than two minutes. It seems that it’s a waste to spend two minutes long just to show the main character running but actually the director gave the viewers time and made them think therefore put their own perception on what is going through the mind of the character while running. Here’s the clip:

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2 Comments on “Defamiliarization or Making Strange”

  1. […] His feedback was good because he explained to me that the correct theory for the book is in fact Defamiliarization theory by Viktor Shklovsky. He also referred me to a story about the Blind men and an elephant. He […]

  2. […] I’ve received, I feel that this project is more suitable for my Constellation – defamiliarization theory practice.  The design is influenced by Laura Hyde illustration. Even though I won’t […]


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