Sci-Fi Project Proposal (March 8th)

Alien and the Materiality of the Future

1. description of the original text and its socio-cultural and historical contexts;

Alien, written by Dan O’Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott, is a 1979 Science Fiction film and the first of the Alien Franchise. It was one of the first films to blend Sci-Fi and horror, showing the dark side of technology, science, and human nature. The Swiss artist, H.R Geiger is responsible for the biomechanical aesthetic (a blench of organic and technological/ mechanical) of the Alien and the surrounding artifacts on set that merged the ubiquitous futurist design with a darker, extraterrestrial ingenuity. O’Bannon stated that the imagery ‘exhausts the genre’ and subsequently set the tone for every following Sci-Fi/ horror film.  The narrative is full of socio-cultural through lines- human greed and capitalism, the exploitation of ‘other’, sexual violence, and morality- to name a few. The use of money as motivation- as depicted by the crew who continue an ambiguous/ dangerous mission in hopes of receiving their share- and the disposability of the worker- revealed when the crew realizes they are just a means to an end to bring the Alien back alive- permeate the film as a critique on capitalism. The references to sexual violence are evident in Geiger’s imagery, as well as the ways in which the women on board are killed or attempted to be killed. Additionally, the crew is constantly faced with decisions that challenge their collectivism- Are the needs of the individual always prioritized over the security of the whole?

2. justification for the alternate version that explains the new socio-cultural/historical contexts;

Alien established a timeless Sci-Fi aesthetic through its persuasive, withstanding imagery. The visceral materiality of this aesthetic is responsible for eliciting such an emotive response from the crew itself and the viewers on the other side of the screen. When faced with unknown information and impossible choices- the sensory perceptions of the crew influence their cognitive reasoning and drive their decisions. In turn, this same materiality allows us, as viewers, to rationalize and empathize with their choices. Void of the tools and imagery that contribute to our empirical understanding of these situations, the film would lose its ability to so effectively and evocatively communicate.

This alternate version of Alien will exist purely as sensory building blocks. Scenes from the original film will be broken down by its physical qualities and their connotations. Tactile blocks will be designed and fabricated to physically represent varying elements of the film. The user will only have access to these material representations of narrative and will reorder the storyline of Alien based on their sensory understating of these blocks.


3. engagement with relevant theoretical perspectives as they apply to the original work and to the new version;

In Deep Maps and the Spatial Humanities, Bodenhamer characterizes embodied cognition as the understanding that “what we know cannot be separated from what our bodies perceive as we move through space.”  Embodied cognition is a theory that centers the body and the body’s relation to space and objectivity as imperative in acquiring and processing knowledge. Cognition is thus dependent on one’s sensory experiences- this rejects the Cartesian notion that mental phenomena (such as thinking, sensation, reasoning, desire, emotion, and motivation) are in opposition to the physical world. The character’s perspective within Alien, as well as the viewer’s (on a Meta level)- are dependent on their sensory interactions with their material world. These interactions and their sense of space affect their morality, decision making, perceptions of one another, emotional response, and ultimately their fate.

[beyond language]

[extended mind philosophy (material and mind)]


4. a work plan for the project.

Phase 1 involves deconstructing the visual, emotional, and narrative components of Alien.

Guiding Questions:

-What is the materiality of future technology, biomechanical monsters, and human fallibility?

-How do we see/ feel/ hear the future even in the absence of storyline?

-How can our empirical sensibilities move beyond language to convey meaning and motive?

In relation to the socio-historical connotations of Alien, and guiding critical theory, I will deconstruct the scenes in Alien, analyzing what the existing materials and imagery convey, as well as conceive of new interpretations of the narrative. The timeless science fiction imagery within Alien provides for a consistent style that has undoubtedly contributed to the landscape of futuring films. I will determine what specific elements contribute to this durability and influence.


Phase 2 involves the physical fabrication of these objects or ‘visual building blocks’ and tagging- What are the connotations and how does this contribute to the genre of Science Fiction?

-A constant will be used to more effectively compare and contrast the physical qualities

Constant: 3”x3”x3” cube as a baseline structure

-Varying materials, textures, and forms will be used to reconstruct the imagery and provide a material representation of each scene

Possible Materials: wood, metal, plaster, rubber, plastic, fabric

Possible Material Processes: machining, casting, carving,

2D/ Digital Tools: hand rendering, photoshop (to represent a multitude of ‘visual building blocks’ in absence of physical model (due to time constraints))

-Tagging: a short description of the material characteristics that relay the specific emotive qualities within Alien, to the Science Fiction and futuring genre.

This description will be hidden from the user/ participants initially and primarily used as a process for object creation.


Phase 3 involves the curation and creation of a digital site that houses these ‘building blocks’, as well as user testing- ‘workshopping the workshop’ – to determine how this might be perceived and used by others. Because the intention is for this to be consumed physically and not digitally, this acts as a preview to the workshop, an overall view of the collection of objects, and place holder in the absence of any physical models.

The Digital Site could be an interactive PDF or a page on my existing Format website

The Physical Mock-Up could be a carrying case with multiple interior cubbies to house each object. The digital and physical housing will likely reference one another in layout.

The Workshop can be run individually or as a group. There will be very little facilitation beyond the goal, as the intention is to let objectivity lead the way.

Overall Objective: to create a new Science Fiction narrative using the visual building blocks, inspired by Alien. This new narrative might reflect the original storyline or represent something vastly difference based on the material interpretations of the film.

         Learning Objectives for participants:

-Developing Empirical sensibilities (knowledge acquired through the senses)

-Exercise the exchange between cognitive reasoning and embodied research

– Explore materiality as a futuring tool + storytelling device