UFOs Land in Detroit: Art Scene May Never Be the Same

If New York is where art goes to make its fortune, well then, Detroit is where art comes to make its friends. Lucky for all the creative stuff out there that the UFO Factory is head of the city's welcoming committee.

A three-person outfit who's M.O. is simply, "to do cool stuff," the UFO Factory supports art for art's sake, not for profit or PR. Take their installation currently holding court over at MOCAD's "Considering Detroit" exhibition. With nothing more than cardboard walls, silver paint, and a disco ball, they've created a space where art is free to hang out—and play nice with others.

"UFO Factory is like the adult Zoot's," says Dion Fischer, one third of UFO. He's referring to the days of the old coffee house on Second where he met his other two partners in crime. "It wasn't about the moneymaking," he says. "It was more about the glory of art in the '90s."

For all three members of the factory, that glory is what still keeps them coming to "work" 10 years after the Zoot's era ended. Dressed in different colored "factory-issue" jumpsuits complete with a UFO emblem, they approach their mission with both a sense of duty—and comraderie.

"Dav (Brainard) is head of engineering, I'm the science officer, and Warn (Defever), well he's in charge," says Fischer of their respective red, blue, and brown uniforms. "The worker bees, they're in navy blue."

The group and their "bees" buzz around their temporary MOCAD space putting the finishing touches on black, cardboard clouds, UFO art and a homemade disco ball. The space even has a makeshift kitchen. All made out of cardboard, of course. It's just the kind of set-up that makes you wanna stick around and hang. Maybe even throw up a few of your own cardboard creations.

As the room grows warmer with paint and purpose, Warn Defever, the boss in brown, brings out a small wooden block with flattened metal keys. It's an African kalimba, or thumb piano. They've made hundreds of them. They've had performances based on them. They've even been teaching DPS students how to play. And, it's as far from any big money music scene that you could get.

"Nobody's good at it" says Defever, laughing. "But the edge is if you're good at sending text messages."

Bringing UFO to market

Even though the UFO Factory is holding court at MOCAD through the end of July, the real factory is housed in an Eastern Market warehouse on Division and Russell behind a purple door. It was born after a friend's going away party last July.

"Once the silver paint was up, everything fell into place," says Fischer. And similar to the space it occupies for the summer, it's part gallery and part live venue. "This is UFO uptown," he says, motioning around to the MOCAD space. "It focuses on details and has no doors. The real UFO Factory is downtown…and has no admission," he explains. "But both, they're made of cardboard."

He goes on to say that they're enjoying being over at MOCAD (if not in part to the free utilities) and will be putting on some 10 events scheduled summer Saturdays.

Look for the "Infinity People vs. Frog people vs. Forest People" show coming up, and a closing show on robot art and paintings appropriately named: "Robot Heart."  At the end of July, too, expect a bit of field trip when the 15th year of NOISE CAMP sets up over at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit (CAID) space on Rosa Parks. "It's like camping. Only with cardboard trees and electronic noise," says Fischer.

So even though no one is addressing the UFO building and the conspiracy surrounding the secret back door in both of their spaces, you get the feeling that these three long-time friends really just are concerned with wanting to do cool stuff. And in the process, they are, very ironically, giving the city something that's easily identifiable—a sense of inclusion in a traditionally exclusive scene.

"The UFO Factory will continue til the jig is up," Fischer says, continuing to cut out UFO-shaped stencils. Then he breaks a smile. "Which might be tomorrow, so we've gotta keep working."

Visit www.ufofactory.com or www.mocadetroit.org for more info and a schedule of upcoming summer events.


'UFO uptown"

Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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