Following an exploration of what we believe it means to be Human, an exercise in asking ‘what if’ questions of our ZAO entity was a way in to driving more physical experimentation with objects and the environment and avoid being too grounded in theoretical and existential concepts. We question, what if this ‘other’ lacked an inability to retain information? What if it had to be submerged in water? what if it had no concept of time relative to our own? What if it could only ask questions? What if it needed to be in contact with its surroundings constantly? in order, perhaps, to satisfy its deprivation of knowledge and desire to build understanding in this strange world. We might say a collector of souvenirs; ‘an alien tourist.’
One approach was through a playful manipulation of our own language to translate the world of this entity. We attempted conversations, setting rules like the removal of all verbs and then all nouns – a tool for understanding our world from an alternative perspective, one-removed of our ingrained understanding of objects and their uses.
These were, in part, references to the film ‘Under the skin’ directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013)¹, whereby the otherly protagonist (Scarlett Johansson) associates with her victims by assuming human characteristics, yet remains alien in her inability to empathise or differentiate between the human beings she prays on. In developing this basic structure of a language of the ZAO based on replacing nouns with verbs and adjectives, we began to get an insight into this kind of naive attempt to assimilate with a strange world where all objects and organisms are understood only by their action and appearance, rather than their place in design and culture as human beings would understand them.
The ZAO takes this to extremes when out in the real world. Its inability to place objects in the context of their function as we would understand lends itself to ambiguity and constant fascination with everything it comes into contact with (maybe it is vital it has contact with these things at all times). We considered it a collector, gaining sensory experience through touch and careful analysis of the objects it finds and holds in its containment vessels. In ‘Collecting, the rescue of things and the human’ (2012), Noël Valis discusses the act of collecting as “find[ing] its analogue in the writing of the aesthetic experience through the display of words and colours”², which can be intrinsically linked to our desire for order, and a fear of growing bored with the world when deprived of greater experiences. Our ZAO may present itself in this way, as a reflection of something which is, conversely, more human – as being bound to objects.
We drew connections here, also, to theories of speculative realism and Object Orientated Ontology as proposed by such theorists as Graham Harman, where there may be “many ways, objects, animals, and so on, have of relating or accessing the objects of this world beyond [our senses and experience]”³. With this in mind, objects and organisms can be placed on one plane, in which human beings are not dominant over any ‘other’ and all ‘others’ carry with them a latent, inaccessible experience that we can only speculate on. The ZAO may view our world with similar perspective. Where arguably, the most successful life form is the microorganism, and all objects equal to each other.
The ZAO prefers water. Its inability to sustain itself in our environment means it requires a containment unit in order to transport itself…with difficulty. Experimentation with a water-filled trolley moved into the territory of sensory experience and the change in conditions being an uncomfortable transition. When in public space, our ‘other’ faces challenges in navigating the architecture, even maintaining its dignity (if such a concept is considered) in the process.
Such encounters may also raise questions around the ways our being is able to navigate amidst our infrastructure. As a stranger experiencing this new environment, there may be sensitive issues around this area of inaccessibilty and design which could be addressed.
This is where we begin to take an alternate direction in our exploration of the ZAO. As questions generate further questions, we are inclined to continue to explore just what it is and how it exists in the context of our world. Further exploration using this as a vehicle, lends itself to us becoming the experts; to becoming the fanatics intent on making the argument for its existence and how it operates. To convince others of its plight and give them an understanding of its alternate experiences which we can only speculate on. This may continue to be inspired by our exploration of language and its incessant need to assimilate itself with the environment through collections. We may gradually, and subtly, begin to design a conversation about our cause and our fanaticism by providing a catalogue of knowledge. We can also ask how far our belief systems and ethics may be influenced or pushed in accomplishing this, and begin to develop a greater understanding of our process in doing so.