The Art of Deception (A Crop Circle Maker's Ideal Home)

By Simon Creswell, 10 March 1996

art review

There are many sites on the internet's world wide web devoted entirely to crop circles. New web sites with a paranormal theme are being created weekly, but there is one crop circle site that offers something different from the usual new age mysticism that surrounds the dozens of crop circles that continue to form every summer in Wiltshire and Hampshire. This site is hosted by artists Rod Dickinson and John Lundberg. On it they explain how they and their clandestine network of colleagues are currently responsible for most of the crop circles that appear every season. Everything here has been written by circlemakers, offering a insight into the motivations for their strange activity.

One page has been dedicated to the original crop circle hoaxers Doug Bower and Dave Chorley (now both in their seventies). It explains how Doug and Dave, also both artists, inspired Dickinson, Lundberg and their colleagues with their original endeavours to expand and continue this nocturnal ritual that stretches back at least 20 years.

Just to annoy those that continue to believe the circles and pictograms are the result of a 'mysterious force of nature' the site also contains a step by step instruction manual called appropriately 'A Beginners Guide To Crop Circle Making', which explains in dry tones exactly how to set about doing-it-yourself.

It must be clear to all that after so many years the business of creating crop circles goes well beyond a prank. Lundberg and Dickinson regard it alongside their other work. It has become a part of their art practice. As circle maker and author, Jim Schnabel writes in the text 'Genuine Art', it seems obvious that crop circles, UFOs and their associated cosmologies can be objects, or products, of both art and science. Are these more properly the object of sober scientific investigation or of artistic criticism? Both of course - the UFO phenomenon in all its intense scope provides material for exobiologists, physicists, neurophysiologists, psychologists, sociologists, historians, folklorists, literary theorists, artists, and perhaps - when it comes to drawing of alien abduction scenes and faked (or not faked) UFO photographs - art critics."However both artists are fully aware of the differences between their activity and conventional art practice. In contrast to most artworks crop circles are created anonymously and clandestinely. In order to be interpreted as a paranormal phenomenon crop circles are dependent on their lack of human authorship - which is why the particular formations they have made is a closely guarded secret.

Dickinson and Lundberg are no strangers to the internet. Their names have been regularly appearing on various internet UFO newsgroups, usually speculating about their involvement in the recent (hoax) film of an autopsy on a dead alien.

George Wingfield, correspondent to the Flying Saucer Review web site and editor of the crop circle enthusiasts magazine the Cerealogist, has accused them both via bulletins on the internet of having helped make the fake alien autopsy. He claims that their background in making special effects models, along with their hoaxing experience and their belief in 'the paranormal as art' put them in the right place at the right time with the right motivation. He goes on to speculate that their art practice involves an unspoken ideal of creating icons for the true believer.

They both deny having had anything to do with the film, but certainly it is difficult to assess exactly how far their hoaxing activities extend, particularly as neither artist will accept that activity of circlemaking constitutes a hoax. In fact both artists claim to have seen some kind of unidentified aerial phenomenon, perhaps UFOs, on several occasions whilst actually creating crop circles. Their web site devotes several pages to these and other sightings, including some intriguing photos of aerial disc like objects over crop circle sites that Dickinson has taken.

As well as creating crop circles both artists have exhibited their other work in various London galleries. To date John Lundberg's art practice has centred around his collaboration with various UFOlogists. He has exhibited the resulting research material and artifacts using standard museological presentation methods, text boards, vitrines etc.

Recently Rod Dickinson's solo show at the Cabinet Gallery included the photographic analysis of one of his UFO photographs. This was a sequence of digitally rendered images. Sections of the original photograph had been colour reversed, enlarged, enhanced and digitally filtered, a procedure often used by researchers to 'authenticate' UFO photographs. Apparently Dickinson's photos passed the test, yet like all UFO photographs the image remained fuzzy and mysterious.

Presented in the Gallery space the UFO photograph appears almost as a readymade; generic and familiar - but this is no ordinary readymade for it retains the possibility that its focus; the UFO it originates from outside of human cultural production. Literally not of this world. This is, of course exactly the sense that one would have, accidentally discovering one of the crop circles. It is also why crop circles are categorised as a paranormal phenomenon rather than pieces of land art. Also included in Dickinson's show was a large painting of a generic alien. Represented as a rorschach, painted in ivory tinted translucent layers of wax the almond eyed spectre loomed out of a black stained ground, somewhere between ectoplasm and X-ray. This painting, like the UFO photographs, and the crop circles articulate the same point: To the viewer it is always ambiguous whether these are representations and artifacts derived from outer space or inner space. Do they originate from within or without the human imagination?

In many ways it is possible to view this work as the immersion, and possibly exploitation of marginal areas of belief, where credulity is stretched to the limit. This was particularly evident in the other paintings in the show. These were monochromatic diagrams, on canvas that dissected various bar codes and their corresponding binary sequences to reveal, inherent and hidden in their structure the occult number 666. This absurd thesis was graphically realised by endless rows of binary sequences annotated to show the 'secretly coded' sixes. This could have been some kind of mad surrealist strategy, except that it was not one dreamt up by the artist - Many right wing religious groups believe that the 'Mark of the Beast' is omnipotent in contemporary society, digitally coded into a variety of technological tagging systems; bar codes, i.d. cards etc, and signalling, metaphorically or otherwise that the End Time is here.

Whilst surrealism sought to sabotage reality by re-inventing it, these artists seek out beliefs and artifacts where that sabotage has already taken place, either importing them into the gallery or recreating them. Their artworks are the paranoid delusions of a digital age, where folklore and myths are transposed onto contemporary culture and technology.

The circlemakers []Flying Saucer Review []

Rod Dickinson exhibited at the Cabinet Gallery from Oct 20 to Nov 18, 1995

Simon Creswell