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Think Spots: 'Rorschach tests writ large across the landscape.'


Marine Doppelganger

At last week's City Council meeting, the city's REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY made a public presentation of their plan to build a MARINE SANCTUARY EXPLORATION CENTER at the site where the FUN SPOT skateboarding park is currently located. It's a relatively small (two stories, 15,000 square feet) and decidedly adorable project for which the city won't pay a dime out of its General Fund. Instead, the $10 million price tag will be covered by money from the feds, the COASTAL CONSERVANCY and the city's Redevelopment Agency.

Watching the presentation, Nüz felt an overpowering sense of déjà vu, as if we'd already been some place in Santa Cruz with exhibits detailing the biological abundance of the sanctuary, as well as some of the areas of research in progress. Wait--now we remember--it's the SEYMOUR DISCOVERY CENTER at the LONG MARINE LAB.

As it happens, reps from the Seymour Center were there to talk about the potential for conflict, since both centers would be competing for the same pool of visitors, donors and exhibits. Architects and managers for the proposed new center quickly diffused such concerns, apparently eager to collaborate with the Seymour Center, while citizens and councilmembers alike hazarded suggestions for linking the two centers, including a train or trolley to connect the centers, as well as ongoing collaborative exhibits.

The current two-story design for the proposed center is appealing for the views of the bay it will afford, and the view of the historic trestle bridge that it won't block. TIM FITZMAURICE and ED PORTER gushed their support for the project, but Mayor MIKE ROTKIN made sure to get in a little jab about some councilmembers' tendency to wait too long to come out against a project (Coast Hotel, anyone?).

"I think the councilmembers today should be clear about the scale of this project," says Rotkin. "If you don't like it, speak up now, or I'm going to heap contempt upon you at some later date ... if people come back and say, 'I never realized it was such a tall building,' or something."

Incredibly enough, none of the usual suspects who oppose the Coast Hotel expansion--and often cite traffic concerns as a reason--showed up to oppose the new marine center, even though it doesn't offer any on-site parking. Planning director GENE ARNER said the situation will have to be studied, but that parking mitigation isn't necessarily necessary for the project to be approved. EMILY REILLY pointed out the proximity of Boardwalk parking lots, but the FRIENDS OF THE LONG MARINE LAB president PETER PRINDELL had his own idea.

"In terms of parking," said Prindell to the council, "I'd propose that you could have a satellite parking lot out at the Seymour Center with a shuttle that could take you down to the [Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center]." How perfectly convenient.

A Sense of Where You Are

Somehow, in some people's heads, the mystery of crop circles--those beautiful geometric impressions supposedly made by extraterrestrial crop-ruining technology--remains ... well, mysterious. Apparently, large-scale design projects can only be achieved by some higher form of intelligence capable of comprehending strange, otherworldly science known as "geometry." Humans have yet to understand geometry's inner workings, which is why freeway cloverleaf interchanges and city grids are all designed and created by staff aliens working for CALTRANS. Right? Right.

So when Nüz saw the cover of the S.F. Chronic last week, which featured a large color picture of a gigantic spiral drawing in the sand of Ocean Beach, we figured the crop circle-making aliens had finally left the English countryside for the warmer climes on our West Coast. Closer inspection revealed that the striking design was simply raked into the sand by local artist (and Gabriella Cafe's head chef) JIM DENEVAN, who periodically beautifies the beach near the mouth of the San Lorenzo with his unique sand drawings.

So, instead of making the long-distance call to SETI to find out when the alien takeover would begin, Nüz decided to track down Denevan (www.jimdenevan.com) to find out what he could tell us anything about his alien friends who taught him his craft. He couldn't. As it turns out, Denevan taught himself to draw in the sand.

"My drawings are drawn freehand," says Denevan. "They're not created beforehand or measured--for me it's just much more interesting to do that way." Denevan says what he does is more akin to a dance or an athletic event than any engineering project.

"The athlete is conscious of the space they inhabit. When they make their move, they're not measuring things out."

No yardsticks. No measuring strings. Just Denevan, a rake, the sand and an idea--very different from the way that crop circles are created.

"Crop circles are done on Illustrator," says Denevan, whose correspondence with noted crop circle-maker ROD DICKINSON informs most of his judgments about the so-called "mystery" of crop circles.

"[Dickinson] sent me an email that said it's bloody amazing, what I do," says Denevan. "and that the biggest difference between what he does and what I do is, I'm out in the warm California sun and he's out in the middle of night in the freezing cold English countryside."

On his website, www.circlemakers.org, Dickinson and others teach you how to make your own crop circles, but they also explore the artistic and cultural value of the phenomenon.

"For us the circles are Rorschach tests writ large across the landscape," writes Dickinson. "Beliefs are projected onto them. Here we chart some of those beliefs--specifically their flaws and falsehoods, revealing how the mechanics of the contemporary legend that we inhabit spreads and replicates across the globe."

To be fair, believers cite many differences between human-made crop circles and the other kind: namely, that the stems of plants in "real" crop circles aren't broken, but bent--a phenomenon that suggests to some exposure of the plants to something called "heat," which aliens use to soften plants up before bending them down.

Also, crop circle-makers love to tell their own experiences of weird things happening while they're out in the fields. ROBERT NICHOL's new documentary film, STAR DREAMS: EXPLORING THE MYSTERY OF CROP CIRCLES, explores the weirder side of this fringe cultural space.

Nichol hosts a Q&A after the screening of his film on Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10-$12.

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From the March 16-23, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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