Circulations of the Circular

Gerhard Rühm, Installation View RUND, 195?/1998 Fotomontage, Collage on thin cardboard. Series of 24 works, each 29,7 x 21 cm Courtesy: Christine König Galerie, Vienna [The Museum of Rhythm, Taipei Biennial 2012] 

Some of the oldest uses of the word “Rhythm” indicate a pause or a steady limitation of movement. In 7th century B.C. the Greek poet Archilochos was determined to “understand the rhythm
 that holds mankind in its bonds." While the master of ancient tragedy, Aeschylos 
(525-456 B.C.), lamented in his Prometheus Bound, “I am bound here in this rhythm." Hence, rhythm is understood not as a condition of stillness per say, but as a social architecture of recurring time. As temporal phases that subject human as well as non-human bodies to factors of eternal recurrence, they play out as a dramaturgy of cycles—alternating between confinement and renewal. And it is within cyclical dramaturgies as such, that rhythm inscribes figure-ground relationship(s).

In RUND (195? - 1998), we travel from the moon’s surface into an escalator tunnel, James Bond’s gun barrel, a hula-hoop, an enormous leaking stomach, a tennis court and onward into what appears to be a mine shaft. Gerhard Rühm’s photo collage series made across five decades bears the sensibility of a graphic score that mediates conditions of “roundness”—articulations of circuits, cycles, spheres—and eventually, the status of thinking/making as acts of spinning “around.” 

The circle comes to serve as an elemental habitat but also a passage. A reminder that: the whole can no longer be portrayed as a large round whole. Instead there is an observation of the thing via circumambulation—since the empty center can only be conceived through remnants that surround it. Rühm’s dizzying arrangement generates a field of reciprocal belonging as surfaces pass through surfaces. As a founding member of the Wiener Gruppe he fundamentally addresses the erotics of language, here, as a relation between tensions. 

Roland Barthes has stressed: when writing is animated by truth, at a certain moment—be it as the deepest crises (or epiphany)—our relation with that instant is brought about by a change in the language of rhythm. Rhythmic tendencies de-center image-body relations in order to reproduce them as “new events”. As a constituting principle, rhythm maintains history as living form. Rather than a predominant pulse its truth is a shifting unity composed of something radically other. And this may be understood as the contiguity of fiction. Ultimately, rhythm is also an accretion— a phenomenon of endurance and arguably, endurance itself. 

Gerhard Rühm, Detail View: RUND, 195?/1998 Fotomontage, Collage on thin cardboard. Series of 24 works, each 29,7 x 21 cm Courtesy: Christine König Galerie, Vienna 


Curt Sachs, Rhythm and Tempo: A Study in Music History, Norton, New York, 1953

Roland Barthes, Critical Essays, Northwestern University Press, 1972

Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art, Developed from Philosophy in a New Key, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953, p. 126

Peter Sloterdijk, Spheres Theory: Talking to Myself About The Poetics of Space, see