Some scientists have begun to suspect that we are alone in the universe -- unless one considers microbes and bacteria the equivalent of alien friends and neighbors. But little green men and Unidentified Flying Objects captured the public's imagination long ago, and they remain an international obsession.
A case in point is "The UFO Show," an art exhibit at the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs that is drawing crowds.
The turnout for the show, which opened December 15, has been "wonderful," says Gerry Riggs, director of the university's Gallery of Contemporary Art. "We've had great traffic for it." One of the big points the curators made, he elaborates, was that there is so much interest in UFOs that the topic is the second or third most popular hit on the Internet. (The first, he says, is "porno.")
Any concerns Riggs might have had about the popularity of the traveling exhibit vanished on opening night.
"It was really nuts," he says. "It wasn't just the usual art crowd. People came dressed as aliens. The Art Police (a Colorado Springs art-advocacy group) came as 'Grays,' and they were escorted by an FBI agent. They had on gray alien masks and lab coats. One guy came as a Klingon; some had on com (communication) badges. One came as a giant eyeball. There were little girls with green faces and antennae. It was pretty fun."
Although the number of oddly garbed visitors has declined since opening night, the exhibit itself provides plenty of whimsy and food for thought.
The UFO Show features 63 works by 22 artists and includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and "audible art." The Colorado Springs gallery is the last venue for the show, which was conceived of and organized in 1999 by curators at the University Galleries of Illinois State University.
The message conveyed by some pieces -- such as a 1990 Keith Haring serigraph depicting aliens cutting people in half -- are pretty clear cut. Other pieces, such as Mariko Mori's video "Miko No Inori," are more abstract. Mori, a well-known Japanese performance artist, created a thirty-minute film in which she appears dressed as a silver alien who caresses a glass globe while a prayer is sung in the background.
"It's a repetitive, trance kind of thing," Riggs explains of the video, which was filmed in a Tokyo shopping mall. "It's a really neat piece. The woman blows on the ball, and a force field becomes visible. I have no idea how they did it."
Riggs's favorite piece in the exhibit is an abstract serigraph by Paul Laffoley titled "The Time Machine: The Geochronmechane."
"It's a complex print containing complicated scientific principles," Riggs says. "It's a pseudo-scientific technical drawing with lettering around the edges, a mind-boggling thing. It's designed to baffle you and inform you."
The crowd favorite is not so much abstract as it is...cuddly. There's just something about Jeremy Kidd's pink-and-yellow plush UFOs that makes people want to hug them.
"They find them absolutely delightful," Riggs says of the fuzzy flying saucers. "The yellow one has flocking over foam and has a brain coral in it. The other one has a pink blob coming out of the side. It's the weirdest thing; everybody wants to touch it."
Andrew Detskas's work, "Forget SETI" is not nearly so huggable, but it's just as intriguing. SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, has been sending radio waves and digital information into space for years in hopes of getting a response. Detskas's piece is an artist's extrapolation of the effort, consisting of black and white cubes and headphones on which the visitor can listen to an eighteen-second recording. Anybody out there?