Circling the Image

Circling the Image | 2009 | DV | Loop 


Circling the Image brings to life the structuralist film Alexander Keewatin Dewdney has always wanted to make.

Critical Discourse

Circling the Image: Sharing π with A. K. Dewdney

Leslie Supnet, “Circling the Image: Sharing π with A. K. Dewdney,” where the senses fail us Catalogue (Winnipeg: Gallery 803, 2009).

Alexander Keewatin Dewdney, a Canadian mathematician, computer scientist and philosopher, was an influential experimental filmmaker in the 1960s, during his time as a bored graduate student in the US. “There has to be more to life than math and science.”((Wheeler Winston Dixon, The Exploging Eye: A Re-Visionary History of 1960s American Experimental Cinema, (State University of New York Press, 1997), 49.)) While completing his Master’s thesis in mathematics, Dewdney began experimenting with rapid-fire moving imagery and single frame animations. He made six films during this time, including the pre-structuralist The Maltese Cross Movement (1967) and Malanga (1967). While Dewdney’s filmmaking career was short, it left an indelible impression in the history of independent American cinema. In Wheeler Winston Dixon’s survey of American experimental cinema, The Exploding Eye, Dewdney discusses how his teaching career in computer science left little room for him to pursue filmmaking, as well as an idea for a film he never completed:

The movie I always wanted to make, but never did, was an animation involving real objects. Take a circle. You can find circles in a lot of places, like hubcaps, shower heads, pupils of eyes, door knobs and so on. Shoot, say, two frame of each circular object and make sure that each new subject has its circle in the same place (or nearly so-therein lies the art). The effect would be stupendous!((Ibid..))

Circling the Image, Enns’ new animationuses Dewdney’s original idea as a starting point, creating a hyper-fast work which plays with Galileo’s idea that “Where the senses fail us, reason must step in.” Since our eyes cannot keep up with the speed of the imagery, our brain must fill in the data.

Much like Dewdney, Clint Enns began his experimental film explorations while a graduate student studying Mathematics at the University of Manitoba, which he is currently completing. Enns made his first experimental film in 2007, and since then has created over 20 short films and videos, and has screened his work internationally at festivals, galleries, and microcinemas. Specifically, Enns is currently working with video from a perspective coined by John McAndrew as destructural video and defined as “ an art movement of video and moving image artists who aestheticize the exploration of medium specific flaws which perpetrate themselves as visual and/or audible glitches in their work.”((John McAndrew, Destructural Video (2009).))

“His piece, entitled Circling the Image, was inspired by the words of filmmaker Alexander Keewatin Dewdney, and is both hypnotic and chaotic. Finding circular objects of colourful things like labels, logos, dials and even a clown’s face, Enns sends them all flipping passed at lightning speed in stop animation form.” – James Culleton, “Mathematics is the Universal Language,” The Uniter (January 13, 2010).

Imposing order

Sandee Moore, “Imposing Order,” Uptown Magazine (December 21, 2009).

A mathematician and a print maker have an art show together. It’s not the set-up for a joke; rather it’s the result of an insight into the role of reason at work in both Clint Enns’ and Jeanette Johns’ artistic practices that led Gallery 803 curator Kerri-Lynn Reeves to this unusual artistic pairing. 

Johns’ maps of ancient Lake Agassiz are literal treasure maps, embellished with crinkled skins of gold. The prints trace the profile of the lake as it expands, shrinks and distorts over the millennia. 

Her gilded maps mark for us a spot long since vanished. For Johns, it seems, map-making is about the unique visual order maps impose upon the world, rather than the need to create useful and coherent information. 

A straightforward reading is further frustrated by a swarm of orderly slashes, joined by more slashes and some dashes. Together they create interlocking triangles and a dizzying optical effect – the pattern arranges itself in rows of triangles that mysteriously shift to become umbrellas, stars or cubes. The printmaker’s craft reveals no stray lines, no poorly matched corners and no gaps in this ordered meeting of lines. 

Despite its regimented neatness and sharp corners, the pattern seems too perfect to be man-made. It’s as if the pattern has made itself, replicating itself across the terrain of the paper. Miraculously, the composition never appears haphazard or crowded. 

The clinical effect of all this geometric precision is mediated by meandering contour lines and a light wash of a particularly ethereal shade of azure. (I noted that the cushions on the sofa in the furniture show room that doubles as Gallery 803 were gold and pale turquoise.) The overall effect is tranquil – the way each map creates and restrains disorder – with a touch of glacial chill. 

There is a large work, splotched with transparent colours, by Johns on another wall, but it is anomalous to the series and better left undiscussed.

Enns’ energetic video Circling the Image can be found at the back of the gallery, its strobing images wisely not allowed to intrude on John’s dainty cartography. 

A mathematician and self-taught new media artist, Enns’ body of work also displays a fondness for an orderly, system-based approach to art-making. 

Following master filmmaker A. K. Dewdney’s prescription for the film he always wanted to make but never did, Enns has created an animation focused on geometry.

The concept is one of elegant simplicity – photograph circular objects so that they always appear the same size in the same area of the screen. Two images should be placed side by side. 

The result is a fascinating slice of our visual culture. Twin images appear for fractions of a second: a blue painted manhole cover, the lid to an Aquafina bottle, an ashtray. The mundane is suddenly fascinating – the uniqueness of each object underscored by the common motif of the circle.

Again, the theme of ordering the world around us emerges, proving that where the senses fail us is not such an oddball matchup after all.


October 14, 2020. Experiment 120: cinéma, jeux et objets (Cinéma expérimental pour enfants), le lieu unique, Nantes, France. Curated by Marie-Pierre Bonniol.

November 29, 2009 – January 30, 2010. where the senses fail us, Gallery 803, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Curated by Kerri-Lynn Reeves.