An itinerant project exploring urban errors, discrepancies, and territories in Walter Benjamin's Moscow Diary (1926)


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Curatorial practice
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Moscow Manege Research Department, and the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art


Trust for Mutual Understanding, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts


Curated by Xenia Vytuleva, Aaron Levy and Eduardo Cadava

Process initiated


Opens to public



50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Straying," an itinerant project that both builds upon and strays from Walter Benjamin's Moscow Diary. The project begins with Benjamin's experiences in December 1926, as recorded in his personal diary, and seeks to retrace his winter movements through an unfamiliar language, culture, community and territory. The urban landscape of Moscow becomes for Benjamin a prism that enables continuously shifting interpretations about a matrix of issues ranging from the interpersonal to the spatial and the political.

Our project seeks to turn Benjamin's diary into a manual, in effect, one that decodes the concept of "straying" in relation to both local and global considerations. A diverse array of participants will contribute to a collective understanding of straying, together exploring the mechanisms that enable one to stray through art, philosophy, geography, and politics. Our project argues for the importance of straying not just as an intellectual pursuit but as a life practice, building upon Benjamin's commitment to developing a capacity for losing oneself in urban environments.

Curated by Xenia Vytuleva together with Eduardo Cadava and Aaron Levy, the project will develop over time through a series of geographically dispersed discursive events and exhibitions, and the many voices that contribute to it. It will commence with a series of seminars in Moscow, Russia from September 26-27, 2015 as parallel programs of Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. These include programs at Central Exhibition Hall (Moscow Manege Research Department), MARCH – Moscow Architectural School, and Moscow, VDNKh, Pavilion #1.

The program will then migrate to Princeton University, New Jersey, where a symposium entitled "Straying: On the Drift of History in Benjamin's Moscow Diary" will take place on November 19, 2015 from 4:30-7pm with noted translators and scholars of Benjamin including Devin Fore, Gerhard Richter, and Christina Kiaer, moderated by Michael Jennings and Eduardo Cadava. Finally, the project will migrate to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December 2015, where it will assume the form of an exhibition at Slought featuring historical artifacts, projected media, and research. The exhibition in Philadelphia will be complemented by additional discursive programs featuring a variety of visiting architects, scholars and curators from Moscow, Russia with whom the project began.

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The etymology of the word "straying" implies a departure from one's usual or proper place. It evokes all manner of errors, discrepancies, and territories beginning as early as the 13th century, when it appears in reference to the problem of domestic animals who had wandered away from their owners. More than a casual or passive phenomenon, straying is a problem that risks penalty, forfeiture and the threat of impoundment.

From the 15th century onwards, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, straying begins to encompass not only spatial but also psychological derivations. These include individuals who have gone astray in conduct or opinion, those who are astray from the faith, friendless persons who have strayed from the social, homeless individuals who have lost a sense of home or opportunities for employment, or, importantly, those who have strayed in their allegiance to army or militia.

Our project challenges the aforementioned historical understandings, which impart a negative connotation to the act of departing from the proper or regular course. Inspired by the writings of Walter Benjamin, we argue instead for the importance of straying as a practice and a way of life, and recognize its creative implications for originality and individuality.

Finally, we seek to situate straying within the current geopolitical arena, registering contemporary extremes such as the prevalence of grey zones, border conflicts, and contested territories. Here, straying takes on new spatial, architectural and ethical resonances. Moving beyond the individual, it implicates collective bodies and memories, and becomes strategic as it impacts the tactics of militarized nations and insurgencies. Straying thus mutates from aberration to average, and becomes a new formula, metaphor and trope for tensions worldwide.

"To lose oneself in the city--as one loses oneself in a forest--that requires a completely different schooling. Then, signboards and street names, passersby, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a twig snapping under his feet in the forest, like the startling call of a bittern in the distance, like the sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing erect at its center. Paris taught me this art of straying: if fulfilled the dream that had shown its first traces in the labyrinths on the blotting pages of my school exercise books."

-- Walter Benjamin, Berlin Chronicle

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