Artist Martin Sexton talks to acclaimed writer Mark Pilkington about his far-out new book Mirage Men
Martin Sexton is an artist renowned for his investigations into esoterica and the outer limits of consciousness, creating sculptural works from billions of years old chunks of meteorite and films such as Indestructible Truth, which explore the psychoanalytical implications of UFOlogy and its relationship to ancient Buddhism. Mark Pilkington is the acclaimed writer behind Strange Attractor Press and author of the new book Mirage Men, in which he travels America trying to separate fact from fiction in the strange world of UFO's, governmental cover-ups and half-truths. Here the two discuss his new book, the covert actions of American intelligence agencies (Black Ops), and the psychosocial implications of modern myth-making.
Martin Sexton: Mark your book is a thought-provoking investigation into the UFO phenomenon. Did you think it would take you into the world of psychology and the utterly fascinating aspect of the psychosocial aspects of flying saucers?
Mark Pilkington: UFO is really an umbrella term for a wide range of phenomena: a small few accounts represent rare natural phenomena like ball lightning, which comes in many forms; an equally small few represent sightings of technologies including advanced and black (secret) aircraft; a small few may represent other anomalies, perhaps even non-human intelligences of some kind. The vast majority, however, occur in the mind. I don't mean that they're hallucinations, I mean that they are mundane events that become transformed by the power of the UFO myth.
Martin Sexton: Do you think that on occasion something poorly understood – or genuinely mysterious – that is neither machine, or this wonderful term you use 'technological angels', could be acting or inherent in us as complex beings and that it occasionally erupts or manifests in the form of a sighting or alien visitation?
Mark Pilkington: Well, I'm a fortean and a practicing agnostic so I would say that anything – or almost anything – is possible. I firmly believe that, with the right trigger, we humans are capable of really surprising, even seemingly-impossible, things – we have the capacity to heal ourselves or make ourselves sick, to deceive ourselves, to hypnotize ourselves. For this reason, I don't consider the psychosocial approach to UFOs any less fascinating or mysterious than any other. A sighting of a Chinese lantern drifting overhead may trigger off an incredible transformation of your reality, as might walking into a crop circle or drinking a potent psychedelic brew. I do also think it's possible that some UFOs, or anomalous aerial phenomena, may display signs of what we might recognise as sentience, perhaps in the way that we might see it in another animal. For example, there are several accounts on the record of balls of light seeming to interact with and respond to humans. Meanwhile, the astrophysicist Paul Davies is leading the hunt for extraterrestrial microbes on Earth. Slime moulds in labs have demonstrated the ability to navigate mazes, so we shouldn't underestimate any non-human life-forms!
Martin Sexton: Given the very real and powerful military involvement in so-called Black Projects – were you ever concerned that your investigations were getting too uncomfortably close to a truth that Black Ops guard so possessively - indeed that you yourself became concerned for your safety?
Mark Pilkington: It does seem to me that some key UFO incidents have Black Ops fingerprints all over them. By Black Ops I mean intelligence and counter-intelligence, espionage and counter-espionage, psychological warfare and advanced technologies – any military or intelligence operation that is carried out in secret with built-in plausible deniability. In the book, I try to reframe the key historical stepping stones in the shaping of the UFO story within the context of such activities taking place during the Cold War. I'm certainly not saying that every major UFO incident is the result of these projects, but I try to demonstrate how the subject has been exploited to such ends in the past, possibly as recently as five years ago. I do think that we were discreetly 'checked out' but that the intelligence folk realised that we weren't working for anyone but ourselves, and that we weren't looking for the keys to their secret aircraft..
Martin Sexton: Your book does give us a contemporary time-line for the flying saucer and UFO phenomenon - and of course its title sets out its subject 'Mirage Men' - but do you think there is another book to be written - that excludes the very real effect of Black Ops and Black Projects and deals exclusively with sightings throughout history pre our Atomic age?
Mark Pilkington: There is actually a forthcoming book called Wonders In The Sky by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck that sets out to do just that – I've seen an early version of it and I'm sure it'll be fascinating. However its important to realise that reports of historical aerial anomalies have to be read within the context of the knowledge available at the time time, and it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle folklore from actual historical reportage – really the two were (and still are) inextricably linked. It's fascinating to look at the history of meteorite reports in this respect – even in the late 1700s European scientists denied that stones fell from the skies; they believed that rocks on the ground had been struck by lightning while the uneducated attributed them to gods and sprites. People have always tried to make sense of things seen in the skies and there are multiple accounts of dancing lights, flying shields and crosses, spectral armies warring in the clouds and so on. Some were interpretations of the kinds of things that are today viewed as alien spacecraft, while others were fictions generated to political ends, again like some contemporary UFO accounts!
Martin Sexton: If you could name one truly baffling UFO or related incident that resists a down to earth explanation - what would it be & why?
Mark Pilkington: To me the most puzzling technological UFO incident is one that took place near Dayton, Texas on 29 December 1980; it's known as the Cash-Landrum case after its three witnesses. Two middle aged woman and a young boy described being dazzled and badly burned by a low-flying diamond-shaped object that belched flames and was accompanied by several Chinook helicopters. Afterwards all three appeared to suffer from radiation sickness. It's a genuine mystery.
Martin Sexton: I recently went to a talk at the Royal Society where the English cosmologist and Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees said, that aliens were already here. If a respected astronomer such as Rees infers that not just microbes but intelligent life may be among us in a form we simply cannot recognise where does this possibly lead us?
Mark Pilkington: All this leads us back to the point that Bernard Newman's fictional scientists were trying to make by faking flying saucer sightings in his 1948 novel The Flying Saucer. We humans are but one species, sharing a small blue planet with many thousands of others; we have a responsibility to ourselves, and our planet, to protect it and to help each other in doing so. We are not the only ones, and intelligence is everywhere. I believe that, in the words of astrochemist Christian De Duve, life is a cosmic imperative. I don't think that you'll find many people in the scientific community who would discount the possibility, or even the probability, that intelligent life exists out there in the Universe. Nor can we deny the possibility that it has visited us here, or even co-exists with us, though we may not recognise it. Whether it takes the form of microbes, as some astrophysicists suggest, or humanoids, as some UFO believers state, is another question entirely. I'd vote for the microbes myself, but I'd love to be wrong!
Martin Sexton's new film installation 'Cognitive Dissonance' - 2010) is currently showing at 'Barmy Park' Exploring Art & Madness - Bethnal Green Library (behind the green) 11th September - 25th September 2010.