Disco Volante

Disco Volante was shown at In Situ Photo Project, Christchurch, 17 October – 10 November 2017. The images and text are shared here with permission.

Caryline Boreham’s Disco Volante

The conclusion is: something is seen, but one doesn’t know what.”

Carl Jung, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1)

Caryline Boreham’s Disco Volante tells the straight story of a phenomenon that is anything but. The ongoing project began in 2016, with Boreham researching documented UFO sightings in Aotearoa New Zealand. She journeys to the precise locations of these sightings and photographs them using medium format film in all its opulence.

The photographs take their specific vantage points from eyewitness accounts. Where these details are unavailable they take a more interpretive view of the sites. Adopting a documentary mode, her lens retraces the landscape of these contested, problematic and transformative encounters – real or imagined.

The titles of Boreham’s works describe the object as detailed by the eyewitness, such as Bright Elongated Cylindrical Object, Taumarunui. In so doing, the viewer is invited to imagine foreign and fantastical objects appearing in the photographs’ open skies. This imaginative projection upon the images is central to their operation, opening spaces between the seen and unseen, the fixed and fleeting, perception and conception, the known and unknown.

Disco Volante is the Italian translation of ‘flying disk’. Appropriating this term reminds us the UFO phenomenon is a universal one, with numerous sightings recorded worldwide which are interpreted within diverse yet specific cultural and historical frameworks. Boreham’s gesture at once evokes the exoticism and otherness of these encounters, while foregrounding the local in their interpretation.

For English speaking audiences, this term may further evoke images of a disco, an uplifting and ecstatic ritual of dance, music and light: a more inviting prospect than an experience framed by fear. The mysterious lights described in some of Boreham’s titles suggest an experience of ‘first contact’ more aligned with the infamous sound and light show depicted in Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

There appears to be no direct translation for the terms ‘flying disk’, ‘flying saucer’ or ‘UFO’ in Māori, though a Māori history of UFO sightings is an intriguing prospect. The closest term is Pākehā, meaning ‘alien’ or ‘non-Māori’. This is a telling reminder of the prism of colonisation through which the imagined figure of the extra-terrestrial being recurs in popular media representations. The dark legacies of colonisation haunt these representations, re-inscribing colonial narratives of genocide and oppression.

While the realm of popular entertainment frames and dominates public perceptions of this slippery subject, an ugly culture of stigma is brought to bear on individuals who entertain the possibility there may be a reality to the phenomenon. This, for example, despite the cultural legitimacy attributed to the scientific search for extra-terrestrial life embodied in the work of NASA.

1 Carl Jung, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1959), xiii.

Boreham’s silent backdrops offer respite from these pervasive media representations, the product of the Hollywood machine in particular. In contrast, her images offer open and beneficent possibilities. Her landscapes are stages for imagining ‘first contact’ microhistories from the cultural and psychic margins. Grounded in the present, the photographs construct local theatres for our contemporary projections, and create safe spaces to engage experiences we cannot explain. A quiet yet remarkable feat.

Emil McAvoy