EXTRATERRESTRIAL ORGANIC MATTER
EXTRATERRESTRIAL ORGANIC MATTER

 

 

 

F O R M A T A

2020 – 2022

Is there any(body) out there?

 

How do we know that matter isn’t self-assembling or evolving in other worlds?

 

Today, at a time when our anthropogenic impact is expanding beyond Earth, what would it mean ontologically to experience alien matter as active and performative?

 

FORMATA is a multi-sensory art installation, featuring lively and autonomous blobs within an experimental reactor crafted to simulate the conditions of an alien world with liquid formamide. The vibrant blobs that inhabit this ‘mini-planet’ are composed of abiotic fatty acids, amino acids and hydrocarbons – echoing the organic materials found in meteorites and comets. Unlike Earth, the atmosphere here is an exotic blend of carbon monoxide, ammonia and argon gases, and the rocky surface is covered with warm pools of formamide. Within these pools, the oily blobs become animated, breaking free from stasis to engage in a dynamic dance of active movement, deformation and self-division.

 

Through the staging of alien active matter, we aim to disrupt the deeply ingrained anthropocentric mind-set that dominates our utilitarian understanding of matter. For us it is important that the audience experiences how these unfamiliar entities become operative and autonomous in an alien environment. We aim to reveal how their ability to act is rooted in their materiality, without the need for complex mechanisms, genetic instructions or water. In other words, we aim to exhibit how a self-assembled body, an embedded protometabolism, the capability to deform, move and self-divide are all present within these agents in the form of material agency.

 

 

 

Through the staging

of alien active matter,

we aim to disrupt

the deeply ingrained

anthropocentric

mind-set that

dominates our

utilitarian

understanding of

matter. 

Materials

Formamide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, argon, decane, tridecane, decanoic acid, glycine, high-pressure/temperature reactor, heater, vacuum pump, pressure gauge, gas cylinders, gas hoses, rock, LED lamp and LCD display.

Dimensions

W 5m x D 5m x H 3m (meters)

That alien matter can
be experienced as
active and performative,
as a physical and
sensual encounter,
can not only help us
understand how
matter itself behaves,
but also allow us to
rethink the basis for
how we perceive and
relate to materials,
objects and the living.

In this work, alienness and the perception that these entities are not yet living but already more or less alive certainly confront visitors in multiple ways. This bodily encounter between the audience and alien active matter is critical to our project. It is important not only in the way that these entities help us to materialize non-human agency, alien life and the unknown; but also for the way in which they compel us to re-evaluate our place in an active cosmos.

 

That alien matter can be experienced as active and performative, as a physical and sensual encounter, can not only help us understand how matter itself behaves, but also allow us to rethink the basis for how we perceive and relate to materials, objects and the living. Through these bodily encounters, FORMATA challenges the prevailing narratives that shape our engagement with matter, paving the way for an ‘unscaled agency’ where living, partially alive, and non-living entities coalesce.

CREDITS

Experimental laboratory – Gifu Prefectural Industrial Technology Center
Rock Design – Yasushi Inoue
Support – The Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS); Department of Information Design, Tama Art University; and The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo

Special Thanks – TACHIBANA Co., Ltd., Artech Gallery – Tama Art University, GYRE Gallery.