Monday, 30 November -0001

Aliens or Art Fakery ?

A new exhibition celebrates that very English phenomenon – the crop circle. Sam Taylor remembers making one

Written by Sam Taylor
Depending on who you listen to, crop circles have been appearing in grain fields in the English countryside for either hundreds of years or since 12 July 1990 when a 600ft-long pictogram appeared overnight in the East Field, Alton Barnes, in Wiltshire.

Intricate, complex, with a series of symbols that may or may not have been some sort of code, what is undeniable is that it was this one that caught the public’s imagination and moved what was a subculture of secret ‘croppie’ watchers into the mainstream. It was also the one that Led Zeppelin chose to reappropriate for an album cover.

CropCircles-Jul10-03-590Stonehenge, July 2002

Twenty five years on, a new multimedia exhibition is about to open, featuring images and information about this most English phenomenon. Glorious photographs of some of the most complex and intricate circles will be on show, along with visitor interactive maps and talks about the theory of where they come from. And here’s the rub. The real question: Where do they come from?

I once made a crop circle. Not alone (that would be impossible), but with the aid of a friend and two avant-garde artists who still wish to remain nameless. It was 1999 and we paid a farmer to cover the cost of any losses before setting off in the middle of the night, aided by a full moon and several 3ftlong planks of wood with rope ‘handles’ attached to each end. The artistic duo had previously mapped out an intricate design and in this field, we set about pressing it into the grain by foot, just on the rise to Avebury.

CropCircles-Jul10-02-176It was impossible to see what it looked like until we returned the next morning to view our handiwork. It was impressive – I can take no real credit for that – but also startling to see the crowds who had already gathered at the farmer’s gate.

This was when the internet and social media were in their infancy, so most of these visitors had heard by word of mouth, through someone at their B&B, or the publican at the croppie’s pub where bulletins of the latest circles were posted almost hourly. At the heart of the season, it is estimated that there can be upwards of 100 circles over the summer – most of them centred around Wiltshire.

Initially, the farmers were as intrigued as the visitors, with stories, handed down through recent generations according to Monique Klinkenbergh, the curator of the exhibition, with many farmers taking the opportunity to place ‘donation’ boxes at the gates to their fields – the farmer I worked with did this and gave the money to the National Trust. But as their popularity grew, so did the toll on the farming communities, with some farmers starting to cut or deface crop circles to protect their crops and their privacy.

In a bid to keep all parties happy (crop circles bring in thousands of visitors), the exhibition will also herald the launch of the Crop Circle Access Pass Scheme, an initiative set up with local MP Claire Perry, the NFU , the Wiltshire Constabulary and cropcircle researchers.

The Crop Circle Access Pass Scheme will allow English farmers that have crop circles on their land and who make them accessible to the public, to be automatically eligible for compensation raised by visitor and supporter donations. This means that future generations will be able to stare in wonder and ask: How did they get there? In my case, I knew the answer. It was me, I said repeatedly to the visitors staring at the one I had made the night before. But they didn’t all believe me. You just think it was you, one man said. ‘Aliens visited you in the middle of the night and told you to say that.’ And who knows – maybe he was right.

An Era Of Crop Circles (11 July to 28 August), St Peter’s Church, High Street, Marlborough, Wiltshire: 01672-511453, www.stpetersmarlborough.com – for further information on the Farmers’ Crop Circle Reimbursement Fund: www.cropcircleaccess.com 


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