Artist: Fred Pepper
Artwork: What Is This Earth Thing You Call Kissing?
Description: Teleterra (Far Earth), or TLTR (as it is more frequently designated) travels in an eccentric orbit around a hot, young star. Its unusual composition is one reason that it has so far gone undetected against the crowded background of other young stars in the Gould Belt. Some 1000 parsecs separate us from TLTR; it is approximately 3000 light years distant.
Life arose, as mysteriously and as spontaneously as it did on Earth, across the oppositional zones, taking the form of coherent electromagnetic and chemical processes, able to react to stimuli, cooperate with others, generate offspring with inherited traits and eventually reason. Barely two-dimensional and bound to the specific conditions of their home, the people of TLTR would appear to us as nothing more than the chemical reactions and variations of radiation one might expect on the surface of a novel celestial body.
The two oppositional orange zones of TLTR are not dissimilar to the surface of our own Sun, having been thrown off by the planet's system star early in its lifecycle.
These were held in a stable enough orbit -with each other and around the system star- over millions of years that the outer boundaries of both zones were able to condense and accrue matter, eventually gathering the current planetary mass. This mass (mainly dense gaseous elements) provides fuel for the reactions that sustain the oppositional zones, but depletion over millions of years will eventually cool TLTR to a liquid, then solid, body unable to sustain current native life.
The people of TLTR are confined to their world and to their respective planetary zones, but are able to perceive and communicate with the wider universe. Being electromagnetic processes themselves, they do not recognise the background noise of the universe as being separate from them, but as a vast and ungoverned collective extension of themselves. Just like humanity, they are looking for the patterns in the chaos that they adjudge the signs of civilisation; we are looking at each other, but the patterns are not recognisable.
Humanity is looking for creatures utilising electromagnetism, Teleterrity likewise; the crucial difference is that for TLTR utilising and being are the same. Our lifeforms are not patterns to them, but the things we do are. TLTR will talk to our technology, interact with it, colonise it, experiment and learn, but will they be interested in the physical world this somehow similar life form exists against? Are we recognisable patterns at all?
What Is This Earth Thing You Call Kissing? is the physical manifestation as art object of conceptual pattern recognition from the anthrocentric position. I cannot make the art of the aliens, but I can make my own from the patterns I’ve generated in imagining the existence of another world and lifeform, projected against the background of my interests.
As a species, our ability to meaningfully communicate and definitively identify with the other minds in the global ecosystem is limited, yet the background of cultural tropes informing our understanding of what we imagine aliens to be and how they will behave leads us to prepare for contact on our terms, as if with other people, not things outside our symbol system.
What Is This Earth Thing You Call Kissing? takes its title from the simplistic science fiction trope that heroic males from Earth would encounter sexually compatible but naïve females and teach them about human love. The world I imagined and the work derived therefrom are based on the likelihood of extraterrestrial contact being with something truly alien, and with humanity being just as alien to them. This gulf of difference could be to the point that neither party can recognise the other for what they are, let alone begin to communicate.
While the (admittedly sketchy) physical details of TLTR and its people arise from contemporary xenological theory, as well as hard SF, What Is This Earth Thing You Call Kissing? owes much to a lucky dip of SF works of the 20th Century from book and film. The oeuvres of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur C. Clarke must be acknowledged, more for the cultural penetration and tone of their ideas than specific works. Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (Wayne Barlowe, 1979), Telempath (Spider Robinson, 1976) and the work of Ursula K. Le Guin and China Mieville cover scenarios of cross-
species recognition, interaction, compatibility and understanding.
In the films Species (1995) and Demon Seed (1977, from the novel by Dean R. Koontz), the stories are driven by alien lifeforms (extraterrestrial and earthbound) deriving from data, which then exercise agency in the human world. Developments in available real-world technology can make these fantasies seem less outrageous in their parts, or even in their sum, as the 21 st Century (the science fiction future until we got here) advances.
Photography by Strawbleu Editions