Circinus evokes its namesake—a constellation in the southern sky—as it hangs, suspended in the viewer’s space; it is Lynda Benglis’s own constellation of materiality. The sculpture demonstrates the artist’s masterful use of materials, particularly of her innovation with metalizing processes throughout the 1980s. In keeping with Benglis’s penchant for the transformation of materiality, Circinus is a dynamic form in both its physical and visual composition. As Susan Krane, Director of the San Jose Museum of Art, indicates “Benglis’s metalized forms seem to germinate, to have a torque and pulse, yet simultaneously seem devoid of any interior… Seen silhouetted against walls and heightened by their deep theatrical shadows, the metalized forms appear disturbingly suspended in time, on a symbolic proscenium” (S. Krane, “Lynda Benglis: Theaters of Nature,” in Lynda Benglis: Dual Natures, Atlanta, 1990, p. 52).
Latin for “compass,” the complex linear force of Circinus presents the artist's alternative approach to drawing in space. The sculpture's elaborate form is simultaneously animate and inorganic, nuclear and imbalanced, foreign and intimate. This study of metalized processes is confrontational in scale, but could be imagined as a magnified, featherweight piece of aluminum—an allusion to the artist's frequent use of playful irony in her work. The seemingly organic configuration of the massive metal work is in fact layers of zinc and aluminum formed over a mesh skeleton. A closer look at Benglis’s celestial object reveals an almost silken texture, defiant of the material’s anticipated luster. There exists both violence and grace in the sculpture’s form. The folds throughout the metallic structure evoke Baroque fabrics of painterly tradition. The matte sheen of the worked metal's surface is nearly pearlescent. The texture of its surface is not only an intimation of fabric, it is a synthetic skin—solid, yet curiously vulnerable. The dynamic knots of compressed and twisted metal manipulated by Benglis’s hand take up the sculptural mantle carried by John Chamberlain, but retain the idiosyncratic mark of the artist and her ritualistic process. Rather than idolizing Chamberlain’s industrial behemoths, Benglis’s metal sculptures were a response to her own narrative as a feminine artistic force amidst the overwhelmingly masculine presence in the conversation of Minimalism. Benglis created Circinus as a singular object within a body of work similar in form. Some of the objects resemble strange, industrial flowers, hulking bows of metallic material and obvious likenesses to the female human form. While Circinus is more androgynous, its curving linearity is a subtle reminder of the artist's focus on femininity.