Hello Adrian, can you start by telling us a bit about your background and its influence on your practice?
Hi! I’m originally from Minnesota but spent my whole childhood constantly moving around for a number of different reasons. I was always “the new kid” and the pressure of constantly having to make new friends developed my sense of humor and my skills as a performer. My first real artwork was probably a magic show that one of my elementary school teachers let me do for my new class called “See The Magic of Adrian!” shortly after we moved to Maine. I performed a series of bizarre tricks that I had made up, including one where I hammered nails into a carrot under a tablecloth, pretending it was one of my fingers. For my final trick I had a friend tie and chain me to a board and then I miraculously “escaped” using a lock that I had rigged so that it wouldn’t really lock. I was wearing a tophat that I borrowed from my grandpa. I have the whole thing on VHS.
Around the same time my mom went through a New Age phase and I went with her to events where we would build crystal wands or do group meditations to find our spirit animals. She also raised me on B-movies (Ed Wood is a lifelong inspiration), Twin Peaks, and Laurie Anderson CDs, so I’ve always been interested in the paranormal and dream spaces.
These days I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a kid I dreamed about living in the desert and I still think it’s my ideal environment.
Can you tell us about your alter ego Dr. Howard and his YouTube series Alien Hour?
Dr. Howard is a veterinarian and a ufologist, and also the world’s only paranormal veterinarian. He is a true believer and he allows me to experience the paranormal from that perspective. Howard preaches a more empathetic and gentle form of ufology. Because of these perspectives he has had a lot of people reach out to him over email or through his DMs to share their personal experiences with him.
Howard’s personality is built from a mixture of people I’ve met at UFO conferences, B-movie characters, and obscure weirdo public access content. I’m also half Mexican and one of Howard’s biggest influences is Jaime Maussan, the famous Mexican ufologist and TV personality. Maussan has a performative quality to his reporting that is missing from a lot of other paranormal media personalities. Actually Howard is more based on an impression of Maussan that my older brother Marc used to do when I was a kid.
Dr. Howard got his start as a media personality with his public access show, Alien Hour, an experimental show that allows Howard to address both traditional UFO topics and his own thoughts and experiments -- everything from telepathic communication with cats to field trips to the Roswell UFO crash site. Alien Hour then became a YouTube show which you can find at https://youtube.com/alienhour
Go check it out and smash that subscribe button! Dr. Howard is on a brief sabbatical right now, but there are a lot of exciting changes and new content coming soon.
You have a background in Botany and ecology before you encountered the paranormal community. Dr. Howard used to be a veterinarian before becoming a ufology public persona. Can you talk about this parallel between you and Dr. Howard and how ufology connects with other disciplines?
Both my parents are veterinarians. My mom worked her whole career as a practicing vet and my dad worked in large animal research, specifically in microbiology. I spent a lot of time as a kid either hanging out in the breakroom of the clinic where my mom worked, or in the lab at the University of Minnesota with my dad. He used to pay me to fill pipette boxes, one quarter per box. Once I had enough quarters I’d go down to the vending machine and buy some twizzlers.
When I was creating Howard I knew that he had to be a doctor of something. Because there are no official credentials for paranormal researchers they frequently point to some kind of external credential to validate their research. I settled on veterinary medicine because of my own experiences with it growing up and because I believe veterinarians would make great ufologists. They have a unique combination of empathy and the ability to communicate with nonhuman lifeforms.
My research into the paranormal is a continuation of my background in ecology. Paranormal events are very tied to our experience of landscape. I think a lot about what I call the “paranormal landscape” or “mythological landscape” which is a landscape made of our stories about places that exists as a projection over the physical landscape. This projection affects our relationship to our physical environment. My research has changed from ecology of the physical environment to an ecology of this psychological environment made up of experiences with the beyond.
Studying plants prepared me for imagining extraterrestrial life, and Howard uses his experiences working with other terrestrial species as a veterinarian to inform his attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial life.
The paranormal as a subject can be seen by some as entertainment, but it actually touches many subjects that are crucial to the human experience; such as spirituality, politics, history, and even the meaning of life. How do you approach these subjects in your work?
Experiences with the paranormal are incredibly personal and full of the experiencer’s fears, fantasies, political views, beliefs, and repressed memories. I’ve come to see things like UFOs, aliens, and Bigfoot as one part of a larger set of symbols and ideas that exist in a dreamspace and communicate directly with the unconscious mind. With my more recent work I’m trying to use this language to talk about my own anxieties, beliefs, and feelings.
In 2017 I attended the International Bigfoot Conference and it was one of the most religious experiences of my entire life. I wasn’t raised religious and the Bigfoot conference was the first time I felt like I truly understood religion. There were several hundred attendees at this conference and there was this electric energy running through everyone. We all shared this common belief in something beyond the human experience and we all reinforced that belief for each other. I remember feeling like I was levitating off the ground from the energy of our shared belief in Bigfoot. During those two days I was positive that Bigfoot is real. The feeling stayed with me for the entire flight back home and then disappeared almost immediately when I stepped off the plane. It was kind of terrifying, but I’ve also been craving that feeling ever since.
How did paranormal theories and conspiracies evolve throughout the past few decades under different political climates and technological achievements? How does it affect your practice?
UFO sightings always increase during times of political turmoil. The first major spike in UFO sightings in the US came as we transitioned from WWII to the Cold War and its very different set of anxieties.
Ufology has gone through a few major cultural shifts in the US, and is always a reflection of the times. Its origins in the 1950s were much more utopian and usually involved individuals being contacted (but not abducted) by extraterrestrial beings with information or technology to share, usually with the goal of helping humanity. Ufology began taking a darker turn in the late sixties with the publication of The Interrupted Journey, the book detailing the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill. But it was really Whitley Streiber’s 1987 book Communion that popularized the idea of alien abductions where the abductee is subjected to painful and bizarre medical experiments. The painting on the cover of Communion actually triggered many abductees to suddenly recall repressed memories of their own violent abduction experiences. This darker, more paranoid vision of aliens and government conspiracies continued through the 90s, gaining more traction through the X-Files and the alien autopsy tape that aired on FOX in 1995.
The most recent surge in interest in conspiracy theories and UFOs is directly linked to the proliferation of smartphones and YouTube. In the same way that many many people were radicalized by the right on the internet, ufology was also radicalized in the last few years. I’ve been really bummed out about this latest development.
One of my goals is to use my platform to present an alternative path for ufology, and to imbue it with my beliefs, hopes, and dreams.
What are the main concepts and ideas behind the work you created during the residency at De:Formal?
It has been very difficult for me to watch the paranormal and UFO world spiral into alt-right, QAnon, and anti-vax conspiracy theories. I actually got really depressed about it and it made it difficult for me to make work for a few months earlier this year. Initially I wanted to use this residency to confront this development and its history within these communities, but I honestly believe that speaking the names of these groups or repeating their ideologies gives them power, even when it comes from a place of critique or parody. Those communities thrive on attention, good or bad. They get to live in our heads rent free and don’t give a shit what we think about them.
After a lot of thinking I decided to focus on the Reptilians, one of the species of extraterrestrial life that is widely accepted within the world of ufology. The Reptilians have been a longstanding villain in ufology and feature heavily in the work of right-leaning conspiracy theorists like David Icke. In the pursuit of my gentler and more empathetic vision of ufology I wanted to create a character who is a Reptilian but who I empathize with, which is how I ended up with Terry the Reptilian. I wanted to reclaim the Reptilians from right wing conspiracy theorists and show them in a different light.
Dreaming of Alpha Draconis became a character study for an individual Terry the Reptilian. Terry is trapped in a dystopian corporate world of Dilbert comic strips tacked to cubicle walls and blinding overhead fluorescent lights. Conspiracy and corporate worlds collide in the form of a corkboard with strings tying together bits and pieces of Terry’s personality. On the board we also see his journal entries and his dreams of his home planet, circling the binary star system Alpha Draconis. Terry is an individual who wants to break free from the world of true evil -- the mundane, everyday kind of evil -- as much as I do.
Have you encountered paranormal experiences yourself? What were they like? Do they inform your work differently than other people's encounters?
YES. It’s very important to me that people understand this about my work. I’m not just a paranormal tourist. All of this exploration is very personal to me.
The house we lived in when I was in middle school was haunted by a very aggressive ghost, and for a long time I was really afraid of ghosts. My perspective on ghosts changed after my dad died. He died in his bed after a long struggle with cancer. I took care of him during the last year of his life and was with him when he died. After watching him die and watching his spirit leave his body it was hard for me to see life as purely biological. One moment he was my dad, and the next moment he was not. Whatever had made him my dad was gone, even if all the physical components were still there. A few days after he died I heard someone stomping around upstairs, back and forth through the hallway outside of his room. At first I was afraid, but then I realized that the ghost must be him and actually felt comforted by his presence. I think it’s important to realize that if ghosts are the spirits of the deceased, then every ghost out there was once someone’s mom or brother or pet dog.
My entire life I’ve experienced sleep paralysis, exploding head syndrome, and out of body experiences -- sometimes up to several times a week. I’ve seen everything from ghosts to shadow people to Greys during these episodes. During grad school I underwent regression hypnotherapy to explore these episodes as possible alien abduction experiences and lived through a very intense alien abduction scenario while under hypnosis. I have also definitely seen several UFOs while living in New Mexico, but they’re always testing weird experimental military stuff out here in the desert so who knows.
Because everyone’s encounters are so personal I would not make work directly about someone else’s encounter unless we were collaborating on the project.
What are your favorite books and media on ufology and the paranormal?
It’s so hard to pick. I have a huge collection of books on UFOs and the paranormal and I love them all for different reasons. One of my favorite books in my collection is also one of the rarest: UFO Crash at Aztec: A Well Kept Secret by Steinman and Stevens. It covers a lesser-known New Mexico UFO crash and in many ways is the ultimate UFO book: self published, full of xeroxed FOIA documents, and full of drama and name calling between rival ufologists. It also has really amazing illustrations and photographs of UFOs and alien bodies.
Another favorite is Projections of the Consciousness: A Diary of Out-of-Body Experiences by Waldo Veira. Veira was a Brazilian dentist and doctor who became interested in the paranormal and eventually went on to found a spiritual movement. The book is exactly what it sounds like, his diary of his experiences leaving his body and exploring the astral plane. I’ve never read anything else like it. It’s kind of like Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino but weirder and more personal. The book really represents everything that keeps me coming back to the paranormal over and over again. It’s kind of a rare book but I was lucky to find it at a thrift store.
My favorite TV show with paranormal themes is People of Earth. It’s a very smart, funny, genuine, and empathetic look at the UFO subculture. Unfortunately it was cancelled and ended on a massive cliffhanger. I recommend watching it with the disclaimer that the cliffhanger is brutal and will likely never be resolved.
Before the lockdown I used to hit up my local thrift stores at least once a week to look for books related to the paranormal. It’s a ritual I really miss.
Have you seen, read, or heard anything interesting lately that you would like to share?
For everyone who is interested in UFOs or paranormal subculture I suggest checking out this list of antiracist UFO resources put together by my friend Oliver (link HERE). Oliver is one of the only other artists I know who is trying to address some of the problematic aspects of UFO culture and present alternatives, so definitely check out their work!
Do you have any bad habits? How do they affect you and your work?
Facebook. I don’t spend very much time on it anymore, but I consider the fact that I still spend any time on it in 2020 a bad habit. There’s almost nothing on there I enjoy anymore and I rarely ever post anything. It’s a wasteland populated mostly by people I barely know anymore, but I still religiously check it every day. Part of my brain feels like some of my good memories are locked up in there and fears that I’ll lose touch with myself if I delete my account. Looking at it always puts me in a bad mood and makes me think about my own mortality in a dark way. It feels like a haunted space. Cursed. I should just delete it. Everyone should delete it. But I won’t.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Any facts our readers can learn about you?
Dr. Howard is currently on sabbatical and not posting content, which has been very weird for me. But we were accepted into a really cool mentorship program earlier this year and have been hard at work behind the scenes improving his show. Please go check out Dr. Howard on YouTube and Instagram and smash that subscribe button. There won’t be any new content for a couple months, but it’s going to be worth the wait I promise!
View residency digital installation: deformalgallery.wixsite.com/adrian-pijoan