Project explores alien sexuality

Eccentric DVD, book preach empathy, tolerance

Kaytie Nielsen Sep 23, 2012

A screening and release party of the DVD and book Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities — a project dedicated to exploring extraterrestrial sexual desires — took place on Friday night at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room.

Seventy different artists collaborated on the project, all of them contributing through various mediums, including visual art, creative writing, and video. Those involved in the project made an effort to do away with conventional sexual boundaries, moving far beyond binary thinking and attempting to conceptualize all the dirty details of extraterrestrial pleasure.

Suzie Silver, an associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon who spearheaded this project, claims that Strange Attractors has a “huge CMU presence.” She estimates that nearly half of the project is made up of Carnegie Mellon affiliates, and that about two-thirds of the video contributors were her students at one point.

In 2009, Silver founded the Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality, inspired by a combination of her love of sci-fi, her longstanding interest in gender expression and sexuality, and the launching of the Kepler Space Telescope in March of that year. Her efforts, united with those of Encyclopedia Destructica — a community-based artist book publisher that started as a student project at Carnegie Mellon — and those of the eclectic group of artistic contributors, all acted together to provide this unique insight into sexual imagination.

At the screening last Friday, the audience congregated in the lobby before the show. Waiters in outrageous alien costumes that blinked and sparkled carried trays of strangely phosphorescent jello shots. Audience members sported striking styles: half-shaven heads, bold facial piercings, ample facial hair, black leather pants, and sophisticated silk vests.

The screening itself was composed of selected videos from the DVD, as well as readings from the book. Silver, sporting what looked like an alien space helmet, read passages from her work. As the screening continued, the audience was shocked, confused, and intrigued. But throughout it all, there was a deeper underlying message. “Imagine and empathize with others who are really, really different from you,” Silver explained. “If you can do that, then maybe you can empathize and tolerate people that might be just a little bit different from you.”

The success of this project should be encouraging to any student at Carnegie Mellon who desires to embark on a journey that may be a little out-of-the-box. “No idea is too weird,” said Scott Andrew, a Carnegie Mellon art graduate student and video contributor to the project, on the amount of resources available to students. The group behind Strange Attractors was able to raise about $24,000 for the project from various sources, such as the Heinz Foundation and Kickstarter.

The creativity of these artists and their determination to see their project through to the end, no matter how odd or eccentric it may appear, is truly inspirational. As Silver put it: “Are we just gonna let whatever happens happen? Or are we going to try to imagine, and actively participate in, creating a world of our dreams?”