Manifesto of the Circle

Words by Tom Morgan & Endre Berentzen of ANTI Bergen
Illustrations by Nora Brech


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…our muse.

As soon as we made it there was no end, there is no beginning. 

The circle is not a journey to get to some place, it is a process which is in pursuit of a process itself. It is the ultimate creative quest. We are concerned not with the finishing line but with the path we take. We have discovered that all we design goes on designing. The way to design better is not influenced solely by what we have created in the past, as past journeys of creation. A Manifesto of the Circle cannot, therefore, be about how to create a perfect circle, rather it should be about what the circle is and why — a process of trial and error, reflecting on the journey we have taken to this point, so we may continue the cycle of designing the human experience of nature; from the concept of the circle. 

This is just one lap of the track, one round of the block, one spin of the wheel; only to return to where we started, some 175 words earlier at the start of this essay; it will stay constant, but we will have changed.

Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio [The Vitruvian Man] by Leonardo da Vinci (1490) is a drawing of a man in two positions, limbs apart, centered within a circle and a square. Two primary shapes with a man in the middle. An ideal form and proportion of the human body, outlined by the architect Vitruvius, this iconic image is an extraordinary example of our influence on nature, and perceived position within it; all through theory and abstraction.

We are the circle’s nucleus.

The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. 

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

This fact, as far as it symbolizes the moral fact of the Unattainable, the flying Perfect, around which the hands of man can never meet, at once the inspirer and the condemner of every success, may conveniently serve us to connect many illustrations of human power in every department.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, from ‘Circles’ [Essay] 1841)

A circle is a primary shape of pure geometry. It is the equal collection of points in a constant curve that is equidistant to one shared point, the center. The measurement between any point and the center is the radius, the measurement between opposing points through the center is called the diameter (radius x2) and the total distance from one point along the curve back to itself is called the circumference. The relationship between the circumference (C) and the diameter (d) is known as Pi (π). π is the mathematical constant 3.14159… which as a formula is π = C/d. π is the same regardless of the dimension of the circle. As a mathematical constant, it has been calculated, to date, to over 13 trillion decimals. A figure so extensive its only function is to confound and challenge us, to drive innovation and push us beyond what we thought we were capable of achieving. However, there is a fundamental part to the story of the circle that our arrogant genius rarely allows us to accept… there are no circles, only dreams of circles.

Our dream of the circle is more beautiful than any we will ever fashion.

It’s hard to think of our world when the circle didn't exist, a world where someone, somewhere, had to conceive of it; connecting the full moon to the center of a sunflower, and then to a washed pebble on the shoreline. Before someone made a leap of faith, connecting what was before their eyes, there were no circles — just chaos, endless variations of form.

The circle is therefore entirely ours; we created it.

It is our immersion in the circle that creates its poetry; while we made it we rarely see it, we look through it, around it, beyond it, we simply take it for granted; blind to the abundance of what the idea of this shape has allowed us to achieve.

We are endlessly reaching for that next circle, drawn in by its symmetry and functionality, symbolic of both our designed world and our pursuit of the unattainable. In essence, the circle is our pursuit of meaning. The circle is a shape of existentialism that tells us of our effect on the wild world, and on each other.

To understand the circle we’re required to look deeply at ourselves, the animal that designs; taming the chaos of nature, constructing a reality of order, defining form and function. The circle lives only in our idea of the world, a man-made world, so physically pervasive that our material and cognitive existence has evolved to exist purely within its artificial sphere; because sometimes the abstract makes more sense than reality.

We must accept that the circle was not a divine gift, rather a construct of neurons, pattern recognition of our environment, passed down through generations via language, tactile memory and artefacts for measurement. So ubiquitous is the circle to a newborn that it is as natural as the sun; but not natural in the divine, rather natural in our laws of design; our artificial nature.

As creative social beings, we construct our own realities and inform others. It is not just designers in the industrial sense but all thinkers; mathematicians, philosophers, architects, chemists, bakers, teachers. 

An original thinker of the circle, a creative soul who sought patterns in nature, was the ancient Greek mathematician, Euclid. Working in the Olympic era, it can be no surprise that the journey of the circle, of which we must try to start somewhere, begins in a time defined by mighty challenges and achievements; an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. 

In his work, ‘Elements’, Euclid created a deductive and logical system of geometry. He, and others, gave us a foundation from which to build the world in our image. A way to create order out of chaos, focusing our minds to open a world of endless creative exploration.

We are liberated in this knowledge, knowledge that the circle is just a rule, a guide for us to make sense of our world and make it the way we need it, or want it, to be.

We have moved on from Euclid and the legacy of other original thinkers to do more, to know more. Building on the circles created before us, to make more circles, better circles, different circles; from the wheel to the shield, from the gear to the CD. 

Inspired by patterns in nature, conceived by us in the entirely metaphysical realm of our imagination, used to construct a new physical world.

The circle is a creative muse that has influenced our technology, our language, and even our perception of what it is to be human. The circle is not just a shape, it is a shaper; a tool to inspire and influence.

A primary shape is unlike a primary color. All we can really claim as human creativity in the world of color are its names and meaningful ways in which we use them. With shapes – and perhaps the circle is the most special of all shapes – we thought of them, all by ourselves. There are no perfect shapes, there are no two circles that are the same; only in the obsessive perfection of our imagination.

Perfection is therefore a fundamental quality to this whole topic of the circle. An unattainable quality that fuels the furnace of the mind. Perhaps perfection for us is order; order in the Newtonian way of seeing the world. Universal principals that can be replicated over and over again; a comfortable place that has already been considered, the outcome predetermined. Rather like religious comfort; faith that the path is sealed before we even start. The circle exists to challenge us through our dreams of perfection, distracting us from the noise of reality, offering us a stimulus for the next thing. 

It is not just a physical shape but a metaphysical shape, a shape of how we communicate. From Socrates’ method of inquiry and discourse, the Socratic Circle, stimulating critical thinking and illuminating ideas. In the way we define the politics of our social systems; a journey on the circular path, either left or right, two paths that lead to the same two destinations, ‘liberty’ or ‘tyranny’. We use it to describe our social groups, where equality is the binding value; our networks of trust, empathy and love. Groups of shared responsibility and a mission from Arthur’s Round Table to the United Nations. We use it to keep magic secrets, to keep some in and others out. It’s neither good nor bad, like all things it is what it is; it’s how we use it that can be defined by ethics, ethics that can be disputed depending on if you're inside or outside of the contextual circle.

The circle is an influential figure in our practical and philosophical inquiry, experience and design, in Eastern and Western cultures, in both its symbolic standards of balance and equality.

In balance it is a form of motion and subdivision. It comes back to itself, it can repeat, it can transform, it can hold many things that together work as a whole. There is a harmony and wholeness that the shape affords us. There is a tension that holds firm, like the skin of a balloon or the rim of a wheel. As a journey, it is an experience in which we return to where we started, but in returning we are able to realize what we could not see before we had started.

The equality of the circle is found in the relationships within itself. The points that together make up the line, the edge, the boundary, and their relationship to the center. The rule of the shape that requires the distance to be the same. It commands order and gives it in return. We can read it, feel it, taste it, hear it; it is a full-bodied wine, velvety chocolate, a smooth coffee, the cupped hand around the surface of a pole, the calming base of another’s heartbeat.

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The circle is its own Manifesto.

A Manifesto for our curiosity and inquiry, our constant pursuit of betterment, our ideal of balance and equality, the fact that the abstract makes more sense than reality — and that our reality is a designed, artificial one. 

The circle is a pathway that leads us from the physical (natural) world, into the metaphysical (cognitive) world, and back into the physical (artificial) world.

We must remember the circle is ours, it is just a rule. We are the circle’s nucleus. 

It is just a rule but it allows us to dream, to do our best, to bring others in; it shows us that we design our own reality, we make our own circles.

The circle is…