[Excerpt from essay by Rachel Mayeri in Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities]
Squirrel monkeys are curious by nature. The first time I see them, it’s with a video camera, and many monkeys jump on to the bars of their enclosures to get a closer look at me and my contraption. Their eyes are framed by gray arches; tufted ears spring out from their heads – they would be sock monkeys except for their smell and the demonic grimaces. Their undersides are as incredible as their faces – little patches of purple and pink skin surrounded by white and yellow fur in beautiful patterns. Their feet and hands are adorned with black fingernails. As a group, their movements are impossibly synchronized and chaotic. They cascade on top of each other, grasping each other by the neck, stepping on someone’s head. Extremely social animals, individuals cannot be kept away from their group for more than a few hours, lest they lose their group scent and become ostracized. How could I entertain a squirrel monkey with an inert video – they are so kinesthetic, interactive, and sensual? One scientist measures their attention with a maximum span of two seconds. On the other hand, they have never been outside the white cube in which they were raised. The video could be an expansion of the space of the cage, stimulating some innate memory of trees, and the occasional excitement of a mouse entering their enclosure. My first video experiment involved swinging through trees, the video of themselves looking at me with a videocamera, and an animated portion in which I showed them my view from behind bars – their tails and genitalia, and a segment I call “flying anuses.” I set up a camera and monitor facing the enclosure to record their reaction to the video. A third camera recorded the entire experiment. Their reaction was entirely different than our previous encounter. When they looked at video of themselves, they seemed interested, but wanted to watch from a faraway branch rather than by the opening of the enclosure. My camera was unable to capture their rapid movements while watching the show.