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 material assemblages as active and performative?
FORMATA are non-terrestrial, lively, kinetic and autonomous entities in a waterless, alien mini-planet. Their soft bodies are composed of organic substances similar to those found in meteorites and comets, namely, abiotic fatty acids, hydrocarbons and amino acids.
Unlike Earth, FORMATA inhabit an alien world without water and oxygen. The atmosphere of this mini-planet is made up of ammonia, carbon monoxide and argon gases, and its surface is covered with warm pools of liquid formamide (NH2CHO). In these puddles, these entities move away from stasis: they deform, actively move and self-divide. They become non-equilibrium agents, active material assemblages traversed by flows of matter and energy.
For us it is important that the audience experiences how non-terrestrial 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.
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.
W 5m x D 5m x H 3 (meters)
In this work, alienness and the perception that these agents 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 agents help us to materialize the ʻother’, the unknown and unfamiliar lifeforms; 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 challenge our current relation with matter, deconstructing the human/non-human hierarchy and replacing it with an ‘unscaled agency’ of living, partially alive and non-living things.
Rock Design – Yasushi Inoue
Experimental facility – Gifu Prefectural Industrial Technology Center
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.