A Conversation with Martin Plowman

We spoke to Dr Martin Plowman about UFO's and writing his new book.

Martin Plowman grew up in Melbourne with an Anglo-Australian father and Italian mother, who arrived in Australia as a child from Stromboli, a small volcanic island off the coast of Sicily consisting of just 200 - 300 people, with the exception of the tourist season. Martin's mother was one of many Stromboli residents who migrated to Melbourne after World War 2, when Martin's grandfather, a sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during the war, returned to Stromboli to find no work. Martin’s family history is now playing a big part in his current work, as he is in the process of writing his second book. The story is set in Italy during World War 2 and also in Melbourne just before the 1956 Olympic Games. This is a shift from his previous area of expertise, where he worked for over a decade researching and writing about UFOs and the people who believe in them. Martin did his PhD in Cultural Studies on the history of people’s belief in UFOs, and went on to write the esteemed book The UFO Diaries.  

We had to ask about the highlights of his research, which included seeing UFO conspiracy theories 'hot spots' like the famous town of Roswell in New Mexico and crop circles in Wiltshire, England, along with conversations with Mexican shamans about their direct contact with extraterrestrials, aka alien abductions! Being the first Australian to do a doctorate of philosophy on “ufology,” (as UFO believers call the study of UFOs) the curious question that people invariably ask over his career is about his own belief in Unidentified Flying Objects, which he understood as a means to "gauge if I'm a weirdo or not". We jumped onboard the list and asked; Martin remains a skeptic.

With Martin’s writing ritual now dedicated to his new book, writing days are spent in his studio at Neon Parlour where he starts with coffee, then some fictional reading to get into the rhythms of story telling, before delving into his own words. We see him emerge, from what sometimes seems like another world, in time to pick up one of his two sons from school. And as if Martin needed more intrigue, he also runs a blog about games. He is fascinated with the idea of games as an untapped artistic form, and especially roleplaying games which are a kind of storytelling within new worlds that encompasses a heavily interactive relationship with it's audience, different to that of other traditional modes of story telling like novels, films and performing arts.

You can check out Martin’s blog Games vs Play at gamesvsplay.com
UFO Dairies is available here, and accessible through your local library.

Interview by Peachy Fulford-Wierzbicki

Bivouac 4 - An Exercise in Cognitive Camping

by Kate Richards

As an eighties child, the idea of a video telephone call seemed a distant fiction of cartoons like the Jetsons, alongside hover-boards and robot housekeepers. Technologies readily surpass imagined future possibilities, and once manifested transform our psychological sense of the world and ourselves. We have become accustomed to knowing earth’s minutiae surveyed and transposed upon distant screens, facilitated by the omnipresent eye of Google within a nebulas expanse of infinitely accessible information. Experience of place is disembodied by such mobilised visions of the globe. However, aspects of dissonance emerge between the ontologies that bookend such vast technological change.

The fourth collection of works within the Bivouac series, explores this juncture; between the experience of a physical site and encounter with constructions of place through far-flung media sources.  

Bivouac 4 maps a terrain beyond the familiar. The four artists represented display work of a medium that they are less habituated to. By imposing conditions of personal discomfort the artists situate themselves within the uncomfortable truths they depict. Their generous gestures serve to acknowledge our collective vulnerability, and the susceptibly of human minds bamboozled by a changing landscape of information distribution.  


Mark T Walker’s Centrasia 3B, a moving-image of an ostensibly anonymous cityscape with cars hastily commuting upon a freeway, provokes the viewer to seek a reference of place.  Dated cars, an unfamiliar flag (to myself anyhow), the pointed tones of the sound score, are potential clues for an image that seemingly could be anywhere. Two photographic works on steel; Tehran Black, Tehran White adopt a commercial production technique of signage to semantically signpost the location of Walker’s examination of place. The juxtaposition of black and white within these photographic works is the artist’s play upon the viewers mind; having conjured a sense of familiarity through video of the Arab world, he asks us to question the polarity of preconceived notions constructed from afar.


Andrew Turland’s photographs further dissect Walker’s observations. Turland presents three compositions that contrast an in-situ photographic exploration of Kashmir, with images of internet-based research of the same location. In Run from the rocks, two miniscule figures upon a vast rock face could be easily missed, adjacent to a grainy screen-grab of uniformed soldiers. A fitting metaphor of Turland’s appeal to the viewer to search for the human narrative within the expansive web-based landscape of stories that may readily foreshadow them.

 These stories are fragments within a complex system that scaffold a particular version of the reality in which we find ourselves.

Martin White brings us to contemplate a contrast of human experience and consumer facade. White’s photographic survey, of living spaces inhabited by persons sleeping rough in Norway are accompanied by found text from Ikea catalogues. The intimate pathos imbued by the images is violently disregarded by the grandiloquent voice of the multinational brand. The consumer hammers the nail into the coffin of their own mythology, complicit in dispelling assumptions of a Scandinavian socialist utopia. 

This landscape is fraught by a disorientating predicament of virtual and actual.

Emily Yuting Chen’s piece highlights such trickery. Her video work, Pulse documents a scanner, melding object and subject through the artist’s processes of mimicry. The perceptual outcome is a conceptual house of mirrors, leaving the viewer scrambling to locate elusive truths.

As society moves swiftly towards imagined futures, what folly belies progress? Where can islands of humanism be found amongst the intangible ether of new media incarnations?  How do we locate ourselves and understand others within this nexus of interloping future and past, local and global, physical and virtual, organic and technological? Bivouac’s response may be found in the exhibition’s title, a reference to this exercise in cognitive camping, whereby the viewer is enticed to consider diverse methodologies of knowing. As fictions become reality through the passage of time, so too, truths emerge amongst a litter of deception.

Ready! Set?......LAUNCH

The final few weeks of our allotted building time for Neon Parlour saw the crew sleep deprived and Coffee fueled. That familiar feeling of adrenalin surged us through many late nights of painting and preparation towards our impending deadline. The night we throw open the doors and hope people come to celebrate the newest creative space in Melbourne's inner north.

We had artists for the Gallery Space, Performers for the Project space and DJ's to keep everyone dancing to the small hours