Rod Dickinson and John Lundberg are artists whose practice includes making crop circles.

'Genuine art' was first published to accompany 'Infinity Focus' an exhibition of work by Rod Dickinson and John Lundberg at the IAS Gallery in February 1994.

'Genuine Art' by Jim Schnabel

 

'The great thing about art,' the critic John McEwan mused a few years ago,'is that no one can define it, even if we all know vaguely what it means.' McEwan, who was writing in the crop circles enthusiasts' journal 'The Cerealogist,' asked that the circles be admitted to this vague realm of art, since 'whoever or whatever madethem is an artist of genius'.As someone who considers himself an ordinary bloke, I can seldom be bothered to argue with the pronouncements of art critics, but at thetime McEwen's argument appeared in print, in the early summer of 1991, a part of my mind was inclined to rebel against the notion of crop circles as a form of artisticachievement. The phenomenon, though tainted by occasional hoaxing,seemed fundamentally 'genuine'. To equate it withart, however abstract and benign the intended equation, was to undermine its mystery, its resonant significationof something unknown. Art was for artists and for human,overt artistry. Crop circles, and related anomalies suchas unidentified flying objects, belonged to scientists and the realm of objectivity. My own 'scientific' chauvinism, ironically, was mirrored in the mainstream artworld, where, according to a disappointed McEwen, the circles 'have met with scepticism rather than rejoicing. They should have been the object of an exhibition by now...'

 

Two and a half years on, as just such an exhibition gets underway, it seems obvious that crop circles, UFOs and their associated cosmologies can be objects, or products, of both art and science. Indeed, the boundaries of'science' appear to be as vague as those which delineate 'art', however much the sceptics would like to qualify anomaly-research as pseudo-science - andhowever much the anomaly researchers would like to be esteemed as scientists. The concepts of art and science,like those in any other area oflanguage, knowledge and culture, do not reside in something universal, 'out there'; they are grounded locally and socially - they are, for better or worse, what we say they are.

 

DNA Double Helix

East Field, Alton Barnes,Nr Avebury,Wiltshire.

Formed 17th June 1996.

Like the descent into an LSD trip, where the filters of ordinary perception are removed and every dew-drop, every phrase, floods the mind with its fulsome infinity,the journey into the heart of an anomaly can teach one the ultimate precariousness,everything can be seen assomething else. I remember that when I first entered the world of crop circles, every summery wheatfield was a potential landing zone for a whirling plasma vortex, or god knew what. Upon entering a crop formation, I tended to imagine the sudden, nocturnalfall of luminous circlemaking-stuff, the hissing rush of ionized air through stalks,the moving edge of bent grain as the vortex rapidly etched its strange patterns, andthen the evanescent gasp as it spent itself and collapsed intn the dark quiet of a country night. We who had gathered to capture,or merely to celebrate, this remarkable phenomenon, were like an anointed elite, uniquely able to grasp the importance of what, incredibly, seemed invisible to the rest of the world.Of the myriad shapes found in the fields, some were assimilable into the framework of the plasma vortex theory; others, from the insectoid to the alchemical, implied a more intelligent authorship. As the latter increased in relative frequency, and accounts began to circulate of hoaxers seen here, heard there, my perception of this phenomenon began a dramatic shift. The occasional messiness of circles became due notto the dumb haste of spinning plasma, but to the inexpertise of humans. Nor, now, wasthe symbolism of the shapes accidental; indeed, it seemed as though the hoaxers were paying a great deal of attention to the predictions of the circles enthusiasts. Similarly, the enthusiasts' gatherings beganto seem like convocations of the religious faithful, with the odd eaves-dropping hoaxer thrown in.

As I began to make circles myself, I noted that my own mistakes, or unconscious idiosyncracies, were transformed magically by cerealogists into special accomplishments that no human could possibly duplicate. A standing stalk in a circle of felled wheat, missed by my garden roller as a lawnmower might miss a blade of grass, was seen as a cerealogical miracle. A pictogram, fabricated with the aid of several pints of Guinness and a wood-and-rope stalk stomper, was later alleged, with the most sensitive instruments, to be buzzing with radioactivity.

 

At times it seemed that we hoaxers, rather than the crop circle phenomenon itself, were invisible to ordinary mortals, who could only see what they were programmed tosee. I once lost a stalk-stomping implement, and learned later that it had been discovered by circles enthusiasts who assumed it to be some other researcher's measuring rod. A policeman, asking during a 3 am stop check why I had a garden rollerin the rear seat of my car, was placated by the shrugged, nervous answer that it was'just something I carry around.' Ironically, even rumours of hoaxers weren't always what they seemed; circlemaking friends would report having left a certain field at three, while the relevant farmer, presumably anxious to forestall religious pilgrimages through his crops, would produce a detailed account of having seen peoplecarrying poles and garden rollers from the formation at five.Alas, the cerealogical motifs that had been so mesmerizing I now saw to be closely constrained by the available tools and techniques of circlemaking. The formations themselves were resolved into the evolving but familially-recognisable artistic preferences of separate circle-making groups. Perhaps the most poignant change was the one which transformed my first innocent enjoyment of the crop circles phenomenon: now on the summer occasions when I found myself driving through agrarian countryside, I saw

each wheatfield not as the shimmering site of a future visitation from the unknown - in the form of plasmoids or flying saucers or winged seraphs - but as a potential canvas... upon which I and others might give life to our own mysterious creations.

© Jim Schnabel 1994

Jim Schnabel is a freelance journalist and the author of 'Round in Circles,

Poltergeists,Pranksters and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers' and

'Dark White, Aliens, Abductions and tbe UFO obsession.'

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