The analogy between meteorology and physiology in the frontispiece to Philipp Jakob Sachs von Lewenhaimb’s Oceanus macro-microcosmicus. The two engravings, fittingly placed in circular frames, show how the Sun and Moon propel water through a circular system of rivers and “subterranean canals”, just like the heart drives blood through arteries and veins. Sachs von Lewenhaimb (1664). Wellcome Library, London. From Hopwood, N., Müller-Wille, S., Browne, J., Groeben, C., Kuriyama, S., van Der Lugt, M., … & Fifteenth Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences. (2021). Cycles and circulation: a theme in the history of biology and medicine. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 43, 1–39.
The project Cycles of Circulation is an inter- and trans-disciplinary collaboration between the practice-oriented fields of Critical Media, Art and Design, and the scholarly pursuits of History and Philosophy of Science. Cycles of Circulation examines and revitalises the essential yet challenging aspects of cyclical thought and practice. It aims to shed a more focused light on cycles and their circulation and emphasises the role of metaphors, political visions, and practical applications in normalising ideas about life and planetary existence. In autumn of 2024, Critical Media Lab Senior Researcher Jamie Allen will undertake a visiting scholarship investigating cycles and their circulations with the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.

Ours is a time of failing linearities in crisis: extractive material and capital accumulation; paradigms of unchecked, unidimensional economic growth; colonial territorial expansion and land use; masculinist dominance, control and compartmentalisation of nature. Cycles, circulation and circularity and the histories, practices, cultures, imaginaries, images, principles and beliefs they bring to bear could be of no greater contemporary relevance. In invoking more sustainable and timeless relations and orientations, the idea of an entity, being, substance or system which ‘returns’ in portion or totality has been a stalwart fascination and characteristic of progressive and regressive movements in Western and Eastern philosophy, cybernetics and systems thinking, ecological agricultural and industrial reform, critical feminist and indigenous approaches to modernity, to name but a few. Throughout the development of our understanding of life through the biological sciences, the metaphors of cycles and circulation have been enduring themes deeply rooted in ancient religious and philosophical traditions, often part of definitions of life itself, often gendered as female or feminine. In Geology and Earth Sciences, the idea of planetary material circulation brought about a paradigm shift in our comprehension of how landforms, the lithosphere, and the hydrosphere form, interact and dissolve. This, while contemporary environmental science critically self-examines the over-wrought and often inaccurate proliferation of cyclical models.

These metaphors and realities have strong connections to nature/culture conceptions and histories of diurnal and seasonal changes, and the movements of celestial bodies. Circles, as symbols of perfection, are an “aesthetic necessity” and “canonical icons” (Gould 1988; Hopwood et. al 2021), conveying a sense of being both initial and never-ending, carrying ethical implications and an inherent desirability that remains forever elusive. Human efforts to deliberately bolster or interfere with ‘natural’ cycles can and have had deleterious effects, through attempts to harness their efficiency. Critical examinations of the use and abuse of cyclical metaphors, systems, narratives, forms and projected beliefs are extremely pertinent as anthropogenic climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental pollution signal the apparent exhaustion of linear status-quo paradigms, epistemologies, economies, and practices.