The Familiar Unfamiliar





'When you wash your hands in the bathroom, for instance, do you wet your hands for three seconds, four or longer?' is one of several questions posed by artist Alan Kaprow a long while before we found ourselves compulsively washing our hands in last few weeks (or has it been months now?).




So I couldn't resist reaching out for Kaprow's essay, where he invites readers to pay close attention to routine behaviour, observing that 'when you pay close attention to anything, especially routine behaviour... it changes. Attention alters what is attended'. A series of questions follows (and I invite you to imagine you are washing your hands as you read this) ' Do you pick up the soap with your left hand or your right? Do you work up a lather with three revolutions of your hands or more? Do you look into the sink or at the mirrors as you wash? Do you lean backward to avoid the splashing water? Do you shake your hands to rid them of excess water before reaching for the towel? Do you look at yourself in the mirror to see if you’re presentable? If you began accounting for all these operations in sequence while you were still washing your hands, you’d notice that they seem to take longer than they should and that everything happens awkwardly, or at least disjunctively. You may never have given any thought to how many movements you make automatically, or to the physical sensations. You might become fascinated with the soap bubbles, with the drying motions of your hands, with looking at these in the mirror or rather directly. Soon you realise it is all very strange; you are in a territory of the familiar unfamiliar'*.


Kaprow's essay is published in a large volume of his written work titled The Blurring of Art and Life. This blurring of art and life is familiar as ideas for future work and the everyday bleed into each other. And now that more and more of us are working from home - is a new reality being forged and boundaries that were once firm begin to soften or is it actually the other way around? From tomorrow onwards we'll go onto social media to engage with people since we cannot run the 'pop ups' as planned. Like many artists and projects all around the world we face some tough times and hard questions, in some cases re-thinking the way we practice and engage audiences. As we are continue to isolate in our familiar homes - I will invite you to take the time to pay closer attention to any number of routine behaviours, or the objects we surround ourselves with to make the familiar unfamiliar - who knows what we will find?

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* Allan Kaprow, 'The Meaning of Life' (1990), From: Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley (2003).


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