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Untitled (“Belloli” Space Churn)
America in the sixties provided a wealth of material for an artist interested in movement. The increasingly ubiquitous automobile, the highway boom, and travel into space embodied a culture obsessed with movement and a desire to break free from norms. The recent invention of the Portapak, a small, relatively cheap, and portable video camera, allowed many to even produce their own moving videos. This culture looked radically to the future, but still remained firmly tied to its roots through a respect for nature and the physical splendor of the land. Both the culture of the 1960s and America’s roots in nature were present in Rickey’s work, which utilized geometric forms and the machine aesthetic of contemporary commercial-fabrication techniques, while recognizing nature as a source of motion.
The widespread desire to portray motion can be seen in Rickey’s Untitled (“Belloli” Space Churn), from 1964, a sculpture that resembles a planet with concentric rings. Rickey had completed his first recorded “space churn” in 1953, but his interest in the form resurfaced in the sixties, when it would evolve from small models into large-scale outdoor works increasingly complex in their movement. His expansion of this theme coincided with the first manned space travel: in 1961 the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin traveled into space and fulfilled what seemed, at the time, an impossible yet ultimate movement. Rickey’s 1964 piece is cut from sheet metal and is an early model to test the form and motion of the space churn—a sculpture incorporating multiple rings, each with its axis set off center so that they would circle at different speeds and in varying patterns. The balance and weight of each ring affects the others, keeping the spinning motion captivating and dynamic. Rickey’s earliest space churns were operated with a hand crank, but he added flat vanes to the outer edges of later sculptures to prompt them to move with the wind.
from Kephart, Passages of Light and Time: George Rickey's Life in Motion (Notre Dame, 2009)