ropes, cords, wooden structure, steel cables, audio
dimensions ca. 14 x 14 x 3 m
At first glance, the installation Circular Ruins evokes a hanging system for garments in the changing room of a coal mine. Such a room would once have existed at Le Grand Hornu, this work’s commissioner, a contemporary art museum in a post-industrial space. The work consists of an arrangement of concentric circles, 12 metres in diameter, with lengths of hand-knotted ropes hanging almost to the floor, like curtains. The viewer can walk amongst the hanging ropes absorbing their inherent smell and tactile appeal and the variation in the patterns of the knots and the types of rope and cord used. The scale and shape of the sculptural installation are at once imposing and intriguing and the pattern of knots suggest a code to be cracked. A male voice can be heard reading from Borges’ enigmatic short story, The Circular Ruins (1940). The knots in the ropes represent Tan’s translation of Borges’s words into numbers. Her use of knots is inspired by khipu, a system of intricate knotted cords used as recording device, mnemonic or partial language system by the Incas. Khipu has been interpreted as a proto-computer programming system and it uses a base-10 numerical system like Paul Otlet’s Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). Tan’s wider research into Otlet and his use of circular diagrams are another source of inspiration for this work. The eponymous ruins in Borges’s story are a circular enclosure in the jungle destroyed by fire and once used to worship gods. For Tan, Borges’ circular narrative can be seen as a playful questioning of all artistic endeavour.