Other others – how we define the ZAO

A challenge we faced as we progressed with the creation of our fictional ‘ZAO’ character was how this would be identified, and the entity we wished to define as our ‘other’. Our belief system around this being we had tried to gain an understanding of, gradually began to manifest itself in the form of a corporation – one intending to broaden its influence and understanding of the ‘ZAO’ in the form of consumer products.

The objects we had designed evolved from the initial experiments investigating how the being might learn and retain information about new worlds from physical assimilation and collection of objects, what we called ‘tactile information’. This was also about exploring the relationship between consumers and corporations, particularly in the way that the company appeals to and maintains the interest of the customer through a hierarchical, linear form of communication, usually in the form of vacuous slogans and contrived luxury products. This in itself has created a ‘zombified’ culture, where capitalism encourages the pursuit of the desired item. These slogans themselves were designed to appear more like biblical mantras revealing our cause, and were constructed through a mix of randomly generated ‘motivational quotes’, lacking any real meaning or context, and the use of our constructed language without nouns to accentuate previously explored themes of disconnecting from our human understanding.


Screenshots of the ZAOCorp. website, distributing our products expressing our belief system to a wider [susceptible?] audience
In ‘Hypernormalisation’ (2016), Adam Curtis discusses aspects of ‘shape-shifting’ – a condition in our modern world whereby public perception is orchestrated by keeping people in a constant state of uncertainty, “a constant state of de-stabilised perception in order to manage and control”¹. It is a shift in politics epitomised by such leaders as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, with their ability to alter their actions and viewpoints to a receptive audience. The result is a world which is so alien to us because of its familiarity but lack of transparency, aided by ever-more imposing methods of restricting our thinking. The business was, in a sense, an illustration of this process. To project ourselves within the roles of a corporation was to express that we were selling a lifestyle brand; a new way of living to connect with the environment on a more experiential level, inspired by this belief in our fictional other, yet, we may wish to explore further how a particular brand identity and aesthetic can be a powerful factor in shifting people’s views of what is considered ‘reality’.

By this point, the ZAO for us represents an ambiguous entity, a thing not quite explained but beyond our comprehension in terms of its experiences in our world, as if ‘painting an image of the ZAO by design’. We can continue to play with this ambiguity as an interesting space for developing a narrative of our own separated from the cliche of an ‘alien encounter’, but can keep in mind the uncertain territory when trying to identify where we sit within that dynamic. Are we the corporation mediating with this being we claim to have relation with? (if so, perhaps a narrative of our own origin story is needed), or perhaps there is the suggestion our products alienate and ‘other’ our consumer market by their very uncanny nature, verging into realms of alien fetishism for example.

Ideas of ‘simulacra and simulation’ as discussed by Jean Baudrillard play into these themes. Baudrillard’s analogies using objects like the TV demonstrated ways simulations can be delivered to an audience via constructions of new realities and distortion of images. A corporation such as ours may fall into this category (amongst other corporations, religions and ‘cults’) which perpetuate the ‘hyper-real’² – a simulacra so real it becomes treated as reality, transported through such platforms as film, advertising and higher education. We might question how our products may also become objects of the hyper-real, and what the wider consequences of this may be for consumers buying in to our new way of being.

In moving into the second part of the project, where we must begin to bring our fictional world into the context of our own and work with existing discourses, we can start by narrowing down further the identity of our ZAO (i.e. the corporation, the consumer, the things itself etc.) and consider how to progress with the concepts so far. Perhaps this must start with the exposure of the corporation and the consequences of its brand on society as a whole, as a springboard for exploring further ideas without restriction of the business model itself and allowing us to become more clear about the approach we take to explore. It may be we first have to tackle the less ambiguous before we discover how our audience relates to the corporation entirely…playing with the format of origin stories and other examples of cultist or corporate founding narratives to build up a depiction the company relationship with its audience and what it’s further intentions are.

¹’Hypernormalisation’, 2016 [Documentary] Directed by Adan CURTIS, England: BBC
²Baudrillard, J. ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, (1988) from ‘Selected Writings’, Ed. Mark Poster, Standford University Press, pp. 166-184




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