The UFO Bureau
(of Investigation)

Visual Arts

The UFO Bureau (of Investigation) -

Transgressing discipline divides

Using art practice to reframe issues, Andy Thomson and Paul Cullen work across discipline divides to provoke new critical perspectives.


The collaborative research of associate professors Andy Thomson and Paul Cullen is revealed through The UFO Bureau (of Investigation), a trans-disciplinary and international affiliation of individuals, students, institutions and research organisations. Stemming from a visual arts practice, people taking part in UFO work on solo, collaborative or co-operative projects with researchers from other fields – including those of particle physics, business, the environment, education and the arts. As an organisational infrastructure, UFO brings people and projects together, expanding the discipline and application of the visual arts.

Participants have been able to transgress discipline divides and give form and expression to critical perspectives not readily generated, or accepted, within a specific subject discipline. This inherent capacity of art to reframe problems, envision new perspectives and propose alternative models to the status quo is deployed by UFO as a means to build critical understanding across and within various disciplines. Processes and findings are documented and produced as artworks, exhibitions, curricula and learning materials and/or papers, supported by an online forum to facilitate co-operation and dissemination of research outcomes.

Researchers involved in the programme might variously deploy spatial and sculptural practices, and/or use more socially oriented art practices to achieve shared or integrated goals and creative outcomes with potentially new applications in their fields of inquiry. Projects variously involve: objects, sound, video, installation, documentation, landscape, architecture, critique, re-presentation, and political and participatory modes of art making.

Summary

Project name

The UFO Bureau (of Investigation)

Department

Visual Arts

Researchers

Paul Cullen and Andy Thomson

Paul Cullen

Associate Professor Visual Arts

Paul Cullen is head of Visual Arts and an associate professor at AUT. His current sculptural project, Provisional Arrangements, investigates the temporary and provisional nature of knowledge through apparently purposeful and quasi-scientific site-related installations of objects. Influenced by contemporary developments in materialist thinking and by Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics’ (the science of imaginary solutions), Provisional Arrangements is an ontological investigation. Recently completed projects include Survey With Incomplete Models at ZK/U, Berlin, and The (Spanish) Orange Theory for Valija diplomática, Spain (an international touring exhibition).

Participants have been able to transgress discipline divides and give form and expression to critical perspectives not readily generated, or accepted, within a specific subject discipline. This inherent capacity of art to reframe problems, envision new perspectives and propose alternative models to the status quo is deployed by UFO as a means to build critical understanding across and within various disciplines. Processes and findings are documented and produced as artworks, exhibitions, curricula and learning materials and/or papers, supported by an online forum to facilitate co-operation and dissemination of research outcomes.

Researchers involved in the programme might variously deploy spatial and sculptural practices, and/or use more socially oriented art practices to achieve shared or integrated goals and creative outcomes with potentially new applications in their fields of inquiry. Projects variously involve: objects, sound, video, installation, documentation, landscape, architecture, critique, re-presentation, and political and participatory modes of art making.

We bring people together to interact and explore the boundaries of visual arts. They engage in new processes that have not been encountered before, and which often have unexpected outcomes.

Paul Cullen

Liminal Terrain Project

The Liminal Terrain Project: A new ecology is a co-operative research project initiated by Thomson, Cullen, and Dr Colleen Higgins from AUT’s Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences. The geographical focus for the project is Ihumatao, a small peninsula in the Manukau Harbour with a rich cultural, ecological, geological and economic history.
Dr Higgins’s scientific research into the lettuce necrotic yellows virus (or LNYV virus, which is transmitted by aphids and causes plant leaves to yellow and rot), and its possible impact on populations of the endangered native sow thistle, Sonchus kirkii (a species endemic to New Zealand), will conflate with the UFO artistic research locating Ihumatao as a heterotopia, as a space that is always opening and closing, that is both isolated and penetrable.


The theoretical framework for the project is a materialist one arguing for a pan-ecological theory of being, one in which societies are ecosystems that can only be understood in the context of nonhuman material agencies – where objects/materials (in this case a virus and an endangered plant) and the people are co-responsible for the outcomes.

Deploying Dr Higgins’s research into the LNYV virus – and mechanisms of inter-species transferral as a central paradigm for action – the project will implicate two sites: one in Ihumatao and the second an experimental lab-based heterotopia at AUT. Following on from Michel Foucault’s definitions and thoughts about heterotypical space and its uses, we propose to redefine and delimit the space of the scientific laboratory in order to expand its access and function. This will involve a built environment for a scientific laboratory, which will be co-designed by artists and scientists, to include the laboratory as an installational display.
Project participants – including AUT postgraduate students, local and international artists, scientists and landscape architects – will work closely with residents of Ihumatao throughout the developmental process to bring the project into real socio-environmental contexts and relevancies.
The Liminal Terrain Project intends to develop other related and non-related art-science projects nationally and internationally, and sees this initial collaboration as a ground-breaking exercise in interdisciplinary practice here at AUT and in the New Zealand arts and science communities generally. Some of its key outcomes and discussions will be foregrounded at the New Ecology Symposium, to be hosted by AUT’s UFO Bureau in November 2016.