Circulus

Circulus was an installation designed and built by Sam Starr as his final project as a Fine Arts major at Pomona College in Los Angeles. The project took roughly two months to build and was on display for the first two weeks of May, 2010 on the Pomona campus inside Seeley Mudd Library.

…a movement may be very fast, but that does not give it speed; a speed may be very slow, or even immobile, yet it is still speed. Movement is extensive; speed is intensive.

– Deleuze and Guattari

Circulus is an installation and performance, a miniaturized bicycle track designed to fit inside the decommissioned Seeley G. Mudd Science Library. The track offers a circular trajectory for a cyclist to circulate the room once every five seconds. As a spectator and participant, I’ve often been mesmerized by the intense, aggressive movement of riders around these large, elegant ellipsoid structures. Circulus transforms the library into a velodrome, an arena that houses a bicycle track, juxtaposing the intense movement and noise of the bicycle and rider with the silent reverence implicit in the library space.

Like any athletic track, a velodrome is a strategic response to the problem of static spectatorship. As in Muybridge’s early photographic studies of equestrian gaits, the track allows a repeated cycle of movement to confront the viewer, translating the athlete’s linear, expansive trajectory into a contained cycle. The limits of spectatorship are imprinted in the track and embedded in the very shape of the sport: the cyclist must circle to fit within the building. In turn, the sport inscribes itself on the track. Velodromes distinguish themselves from other architectures by formalizing the suggestion of bodily trajectory. While the majority of our built environment is designed to withstand force along the gravitational axis, the track must also contend with the demands of the circulating body. The cyclist’s circular motion introduces a new inertial strain on the structure as an angular appendage to gravity. The ground plane is no longer enough to support the rider. Banked at 45 degrees, the track surface re-orients itself to this new bodily vector, defying classification as wall or floor.

Centrifugal: from the Latin centrum “center” and fugere “to flee”. The cyclist flees from the center like a satellite, held in orbit by the track surface. The track becomes a container for a centrifugal force-field—a radial architecture—that is fundamentally different from the gravitational architecture of the library. It also forms a bridge between the circulating rider and the static spectator, inviting the viewer to experience space through this spectacle of angular movement. By following the circulating rider, the viewer watches and feels a trajectory. Though the rider circles, it is the viewer that experiences dizziness; she is pulled into a world where lines no longer converge, where perspective is limited and fleeting, flat. Indeed, the horizon inside the track is obliterated, the floor becomes wall, the path doubles back around on itself.

Does this not evoke the habitable space of the printed word, the realm occupied by the mind as it reads, the two-dimensional reality of volumes? Even the architects of the Seeley Mudd Library assigned floorboards and carpet to vertical surfaces. I can remember leaving this library after hours of studying, dizzy from re-entering the third-dimension. Though the library encourages static quiet, it also accommodates a catatonic focus of study, where thoughts become a blur. “Movement is extensive; speed is intensive.” Though the rider rushes around the track, he goes nowhere. The viewer, the reader, standing still, move.

Sam Starr and Sara Kendall

All Photographs by Lisa Anne Auerbach

To see the L.A. Times coverage of the project click here.

Generous funding through the Pomona College Art Department and the Flintridge Fund have made this project possible thanks to Professor Michael O’Malley, Professor O’Malley has been the project’s most crucial and dedicated supporter. William Ransom, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Mark Allen, Sara Kendall, Becca Lofchie and Oliver Hess have also contributed to the project as invaluable technical and conceptual advisors. Steve Comba, Gary Murphy, and Joe Brennan helped me pull together my presentation and set-up. Also special to thanks to all of my kind friends for volunteering their time to keep me company or help build: Adam Long and ‘prospie’ Paul, Carl Norlen, Skylar Boorman, Nell Baldwin, Elliot Dumont, Ariana Mohr-Felson, Sam Lewis, Elissa Leonard, Danielle Joseph, Lucy Bosche, Robin Margolis and John Mering. Sara Kendall stayed up many nights with me until dawn (the dawn of insantiy), keeping me company and keeping me motivated while she wrote about borders. Additional contributions were made by Without A Box and The Motley Coffee House.

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