Reinventing the Wheel

A wheel is a wheel is a wheel. Oh, no, it was the rose that was a rose is a rose. But it could be the wheel. We could reinvent the phrase for the wheel.What goes around comes around; and now it’s coming full circle. Ever since the wheel was invented 6,000 years ago, it’s been reinvented again and again.The wheel is an important spiritual and cultural metaphor. The Sanskrit word for circle, mandala, is important in Hinduism and Buddhism, for focusing attention or for meditation.

”… progress owes much to the concept of ‘reinventing the wheel,’” writes Jeff Nathanson, executive director, Arts Council of Princeton, in his introduction to the catalog for Reinventing the Wheel: a Spin on Marcel Duchamp and Charlie Chaplin.

”The wheel has been around a long time and it has been constantly reinvented ever since a log rolled under a heavy load,” writes John Goodyear, sculptor and Movis member who organized the exhibit.

   Movis, a collective of Princeton area artists, formed about three years ago when Rutgers University Art Professor Emeritus Mr. Goodyear and his wife, Anne, encountered artists Margaret Kennard Johnson and Eve Ingalls over lunch at Bon Appetit. The conversation proved so provocative, the group decided to meet again, adding pianist-composer Rita Asch, photographer Frank Magalhaes, and artists Marsha Levin-Rojer, Susan Hockaday and Berendina Buist. Ms. Buist came up with the name Movis, the frequency of the meetings was stepped up to weekly, and others joined.Mr. Goodyear, whose work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian is a fan of Dadaism, Marcel Duchamp and Alexander Calder, all of whom took a stab at reinventing the wheel.A clip from Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times (1936) is a reminder of “the wheel as a symbol of the evils of the modern industrial age,” writes Mr. Goodyear. “Paradoxically, we now look back and see the beauty of those wickedly turning wheels…” Next to a portable DVD player showing the clip is one of the original cogs from the set of the film, in the collection of Bruce Lawton, film historian who will be screening several short films related to the theme June 3.

The Duchamp concept of the readymade manifests in many forms here : in a miniature replica of his 1914 bicycle wheel on a wooden stool. (Ironically, Ji Lee’s 2009 interpretation of this classic, “Duchamp Reloaded,” a bicycle wheel atop a wooden stool that uses a bicycle lock to attach to a post when exhibited in public spaces, was vandalized when exhibited in Albert Hinds Place at the Princeton Public Library across the street as part of Reinventing the Wheel.)

”Ashtray” made from a miniature Goodyear tire with a glass plate in the center is another readymade. And at least two artists found their subjects readymade.

Ms. Levin-Rojer makes mandalas, and had taken out a spool of wire to begin forming one. She stepped away, and when she returned, the wire had coiled itself in just such a way that perfectly fit the theme: it had reinvented itself.

Ms. Johnson had gone to the hardware store to get aluminum mesh to work on her contribution. She is particularly interested in the moire patterns formed by overlapping mesh. She, too, found that the mesh had formed its own wheel when she left it to its own devices.

”It’s important to know when to stop,” says Mr. Goodyear.

Ms. Hockaday worked with a hubcap she had found along the side of the road, greasy and black. She brought it home, polished it to a shine that Martha Stewart would envy, and added spokes made from plastic bottles and circular cutouts of photographs of soda bottles under water. Ms. Hockaday is concerned with plastic things that never break down, and yet she creates objects of beauty while making her statement.

Ms. Buist has used glass beads suspended from wire to form the word “dot,” but it is more about the shadow of the word formed on a white pedestal, she notes.

Inspired by Duchamp, Mr. Goodyear put a galvanized metal bottle holder atop a stool to create “Kinetic Sculpture.” Eve Ingalls created a map with circles and arrows, cut into aluminum, suspended over buses made of abaca; shadow plays an important role in this work, as well, casting a circular grid over the buses.

Ms. Asch composed a round using traffic sounds from a roundabout. Photographer Mr. Magalhaes took it further, using the international traffic circle symbol to create animation for the music.

In his own work, Mr. Magalhaes used a photograph of a wagon wheel from a Vermont friend’s barn. The pixels were turned into letters that tell the history of the wheel.

Collage and book artist Sarah Stengle has put together a handmade handbook on “how you can quickly master the basic coffee ring technique and move on to producing your own historically accurate coffee rings.”

”Do not get discouraged if your initial results are somewhat unexceptional, mastery takes time,” she writes. In chronicling coffee stains on artwork, 1896-2006, she gives a sort of concise history of 20th-century art.

   Joshua Kirsch, a Montgomery resident and recent graduate from the School of Visual Arts in New York, is the wunderkind who created the interactive donor sculpture in the Arts Council’s lobby. Visitors can type in a name and the wheel will spin and light up on the name of that donor. (At press time, a sign on it read “temporarily disabled for routine maintenance.”)Created while Mr. Kirsch was still a student, the wheel nature of the work inspired the exhibition’s organizers to invite him into the show. Mr. Kirsch created “Oculus,” a 7-foot-by-7-foot aluminum wheel-like contraption that a visitor can grab by the handle and pull to make different contortions.He had “no idea it would look like a giant 18-legged spider” before he started, he says. “It was an interesting surprise.”

Mr. Kirsch is a fan of radial symmetry. “Circles are inherent in all my work,” he says. He also makes jewelry and silkscreen prints on the circle theme, and recently fabricated a chandelier for a New York designer.

While working on the donor wheel, he was very aware of the circle theme in the Michael Graves-designed Paul Robeson Center: the circular rotunda. Also fitting in with the theme is the Chakaia Booker Sculpture on the Michael Graves Terrace, made from cut-up tire wheels.

Rounding out the wheel theme is a poem by Paul Muldoon, beginning and ending with “a hand-wringing, small, grey squirrel” plodding along in a treadmill. Round and round it goes.

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