“I had composed my first live outdoor event, Labyrinth, 1960, after a tornado blew through our fragile cottage in Illinois, bringing down trees and raising mud, dirt, and rocks from the streambed. Friends were invited to follow instructions written on cards to crawl, climb, and interact with the landscape. The passage was initiated by my cat walking through a smashed kitchen window, in acceptance of this altered space. As a landscape painter, I recognized this gesture as breaking the traditional frame, which would soon lead me to develop movement principles within the Judson Dance Theater.” [credit]
Category Archives: Labyrinths and Mazes
Athena Tacha, Double Star: Antares (1987)
Richard Long, Connemara Sculpture (1971)
On a small headland near the town of Roundstone, it was comprised of beach pebbles. Map makers Tim Robinson (1935 – 2020) and Máiréad Robinson (1934 – 2020) sent a map of this work and others by Richard Long, who protested their recording of the sites. Robinson replied, “…once the artist has made an intervention in the landscape and left it there, it contributes to other peoples experience of place, which may well be expressed in someone’s else work of art.” He goes on to write, “…your marks on the landscape will have a career of their own; they are no longer defined by their origin in your creativity.”
“A work whose presence slowly becomes an absence performs a special type of work. The pattern of beach pebbles continues its conversation with the winds and the rain—the pebbles are there, though the sculpture may not be. Connemara sculpture has now become a form of signage pointing out its former location: “This is the place where Richard Long’s Connemara Sculpture once was.” The stones will inch away from each other without concession to any human intention other than the one that views all human aspirations as vanity.”
Lakshmana-mandal (date unknown), Sitimani, India
A little known and poorly documented stone labyrinth in the village of Sitimani, India is known as Lakshmana-mandal and was c.20 metres in diameter.
The original village of Sitimani, and the Lakshmana-mandal labyrinth, is now submerged beneath the Almatti Dam, completed and flooded in 1996. After consulting with a village priest who had walked the labyrinth, he shared that the local tradition was that Rama and Sita had built it when they passed through the area, thousands of years ago (unconfirmed). [credit]
Dan Graham, Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth (1994-96)
- Designer: Dan Graham
- Location: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, part of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
- Date: constructed 1994-1996
- Size: 7.5 x 17.15 x 42.3 feet
- Materials: stainless steel, glass, arborvitae
“Relating both to landscape and corporate architecture, Graham’s pavilions sometimes create a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic experience relating to “child’s play,” recreating apparatuses for children in a playground setting. Graham says, “my use of two-way mirror glass in pavilions is not a critique of the alienation of the corporate building; in many ways the work I do tries to create a kind of pleasure area in relationship to the corporate office building, or to use Foucault’s notion, my wish being to create a kind of ‘heterotopia.'”
Dan Graham (1942-2022) was born in Urbana, Illinois and grew up in New Jersey. Since the 1960s, Graham’s work has explored the meeting between architecture, pop culture, and our built environment. Celebrated for his glass and mirror pavilions, Graham also considers himself a writer-artist paramount to his practice. His work incorporates criticism, photography, video, performance art, as well as influences from music and magazine pages. … One of the most important quasi-functional works that Graham [did] was a design for the mezzanine section of the Hayward Gallery in London, involving displays of classic and contemporary cartoons for children and adults of all ages. ” [credit]
Richard Fleischner, Chain Link Maze (1978-79)
Chain Link Maze, 1978-79 (destroyed), Galvanized chain link fencing, 8′ x 61′ x 61′, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
“Adjacent to the University of Massachusetts football stadium in Amherst stands an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence encompassing an area some 60 feet square [by Richard Fleischner (1944-)]. …
The work sits, as do most of Fleischner’s projects, delicately on its terrain—it does not so much structure the natural, open site as it asserts itself discreetly, sensitively on the slightly rolling topography as a neat, geometrically concise object. Once through the corner entryway, we are confronted with a long corridor, the beginning of a path that winds, multicursal, toward a central inner chamber. Decisions must be made, and confusion is possible as we look through the wire grid at spaces beyond our reach. Both entry and path are ample, affording no sense of claustrophobia. One is struck instead by the open, hospitable feeling of the first corridors as they trace the perimeter. Comfortable strides are possible within the labyrinth; one can even turn or stop easily. It is not long before one of several decision points is reached—several paths can be taken but no great mistake can be made. It is as if the artist wants to coax us gently through this experience. There is no threat here but instead a fuller, more rewarding task of finding one’s own way. We are separated spatially but never visually from the outdoor environment as we can almost always see shimmering details through the various layers of mesh.
As one traverses the walkway, patterns of light reflect off the metallic walls, sometimes creating moiré-like surfaces, at others seeming almost flat and mat-colored. Fleischner has given us a visual labyrinth as well as a participatory maze. In no other maze are almost all the parts visible even as we are confined to a specific track. Depending on how many layers of chain link we gaze through (and this can vary from one to almost a dozen), details of the environment and other figures in the maze fade in and out of our sight. This seems then the perfect visual accompaniment to the fugitive spatial experiences we all undergo within a labyrinth.
In Chain Link Maze, Fleischner uses intuition to achieve his means—physical, optical and psychological experiences that depend on carefully measured spaces. In a broader context, a work like this directly engages some of the notions, particularly American, of the unbounded, natural environment. Fleischner works directly in the landscape, sometimes using concepts from rarified historical traditions. He has reasserted his ability visually to grasp the given landscape in a particularly American fashion, while simultaneously structuring situations within that landscape derived from conventions of garden design, architectural history and spatial perception. —Ronald J. Onorato ” [credit]
Baltic Wheel Labyrinth
“The type Baltic wheel is an own form of a labyrinth, for some strict experts it is even none. Since it often has branching paths and a second one, mainly short path from or to the middle. And often at that an outer path with more choices.
The best historical example is the Rad in der Eilenriede in Hannover (Germany).
And the restored Wunderkreis of Kaufbeuren (Germany). Others have not survived and are only known in literature. There is an affinity with the Indian labyrinth (Chakra Vyuha), because it is based like this on the triangle as a basic pattern.
Here I present a sort of prototype with a dimension between axes of 1 m which is so rotated that the central axis runs by the middle of the widening in the inner part. The eight circuits are surrounded by an outer ring and embedded in a circle with a total of 22 m for the diameter.
The whole is scaleable, that means the dimensions can be changed proportionally by multiplication with a factor. Every measurement multiplied by say 0.5 generates a labyrinth with a diameter of 11 m and a dimension between axes of 0.5 m and cut in halves all radii.
Best of all one starts in the middle and fixes at first the main axis with the points M1 and AX1. The remaining centres M2 to M4 are defined by intersecting the distances from two different (predetermined) points. M5 lies rectangular to the centre M1.
Then the axes of the different limitation lines are specified in their designated area starting from the precedent fixed centres of the circles. The different arcs follow each other freely of crease, because they come together in the common tangent vertically to the centre. This sounds more complicated than it is.
Here all measurements in a design drawing: see, copy or print the design drawing as a PDF file” [credit]
Indian Labyrinth (Chakra Vyuha)
“This labyrinth has a triangle as a basic pattern. It is as easy to construct as the classical labyrinth. We do not know by whom it was invented. We also do not know whether his origin lies in the Indian cultural space. Often it is called Chakra Vyuha, a strategical battle formation which plays a role in the Hindu Mahabharata.
It has only two turning points and a centre that looks like a spiral (but however is not a real spiral). Variations are very slightly possible. Then one must add only some more sections to the basic triangle. Or form the centre a little bit differently, or make it bigger.
We begin with an easy implementation by dividing the sides of the triangle into 4 equal segments.
We start at the top and connect arched-shaped point 1 with the free end 1 of the line below.
Then we connect step by step from the left to the right in same distance every free end of a line or a point round the before drawn line from 2 to 6. The result is a labyrinth with two turning points and 5 circuits.
The exact centres and radii can be taken from the following drawing. The labyrinth is built by different arcs with different radii and different starting and endpoints. However, they stumble freely of crease each other. Thereby harmonious lines arise.
This labyrinth has another “feeling” than the classical 7-circuit labyrinth. One notices this if one is walking the labyrinth. This can be done really or with the eyes, e.g., here on the screen.
But typically as with all “real” labyrinths is, that from the beginning one turns immediately inside, goes back and outwardly and arrives unexpectedly suddenly the centre. This is also expressed in the path sequence: 3 – 2 – 1 – 4 – 5 – 6. Here you will get the drawing as a PDF file to see, to print, to download, to copy it.” [credit]
“Chakra means “Spinning wheel” and Vyuha means a “Formation”. The ancient symbol of the Chakravyuha dates back to the Manu Samhita, Pancaratra Agamas and the Great Epic of Mahabharata. There is much mystery surrounding the meaning of this universal form, which has been found in all corners of the World. Practically in every known civilization and pre-civilizations.
The most commonly known in Eastern Cultures are the Vyuha symbol (wheel-battle formation) and the Abhimanyu Yantra (classical labyrinth). They have appeared in Temple architecture, artistic & geometric scuplture reliefs, tantric drawings, charms, korowa tattoos, ‘Kote’ or ‘Fort’ board game and Lambs & Tigers board game of the tribes of Nilgiris, as offerings to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Rice, as sacred stones (Mahadeo) embedded in the ground throughout the Subcontinent.
Prehistoric examples of labyrinths are thought to have been used against bad spirits, trapping them within the winding walls. Many are found as petrographs, drawings carved into rocks and cave walls. In today’s subcontinental culture it is embraced traditionally by Women in the artistic forms of Rangoli and Kolam.
A Labyrinth is unicursal, one path winding back and forth, round and round to the centre (or exit). The journey may not be physically difficult to navigate but it it is not the physical that is important with labyrinths. Allowing entry to its knowledge only in ‘the correct way’, and through initiation, once all our old ideas and preconceptions have been discarded.
The word ‘Labyrinth’ is a pre-Greek Minoan word for Double-Ax (the Minoan Palace was called House of the Double-Ax). The Labyrinth has a special connotation among the Celtic Druids of Ireland and Scotland. They consider it be an epitome of spirituality, that one can master in revealing their true Self. In-tune with the Cosmic Forces that reside in everyone and everything. The number of Prehistoric Labyrinths and their effects are innumerable in the Land of the North.
Similarly, the spiritual and vast treatises of Ancient Eastern Cultures consider the different forms of Vyuhas as the divine instruments to realise the God-Self within. In it’s manifested form, every household or township or a Fort has these symbols either painted, carved or decorated.
One important aspect of this revelation, unknown for ages is that of Tirumala Dhruva Bera. Thirumala Dhruva Bera is the name given to the deity of Lord Venkateswara (VISHNU) in Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh India. Considered to be one of the oldest places of active piligrimage in the World.
The principal priests in this Millenia old Temple, are known as DRUHYU ARCHKA
and the Vittala Temple priests are known as Parichalaka Archka. Today, the strangest resemblance ofcourse is to the Celtic Druid Priests or even Catholic Archbishops and the Patriarch lineage of Vatican Priests. The Stonehenge, a pre-historic monument of the North was considered as a Sacred Sun-Worship site by the ancient Druids. The blue-print of the stonehenges are in congruence with a Labyrinth design. Even the Horned God Cernunnos found in Denmark, has an uncanny resemblance to the Badadeo (Pashupati) of the Indus-Sindhu Valley Culture in Hadappa.
Chakravyuha/Labyrinths are temples that enhance, balance and bring a sense of the sacred – a place where we are in unity with the Cosmic Reality, Brahman. Awaken our Prana or Life force by elevating to Chitta, pure Intelligence or Consciousness. These structures are space/time or yogini temples where we can behold realities that oddly enough transcend space and time. The orientation, form and geometry have symbolic as well as spatial importance. It is a mirror for the divine, a place to behold the beauty of it’s own nature.
Spiraling inward and out, this serpentine flow is the most generative form of subtle energy. The process of moving through the pathway unwinds this stored energy, releasing, magnifying, and ultimately harnessing the Flow. Working directly in conjunction with the human energy fields this spiraling flow interacts with the Kundalini energy coiled at the base of one’s spine converting the subtle energy into Life Force itself. This uncoiling of the Kundalini vitalizes through a process of unfolding both upwards and inwards, an exhalation and ingathering of energies known as the cosmic dance of creation or Dance of Shiva.
Many such Sacred Dances are symbolically represented in various cultures such as the “Crane” dance recounted in the pre-Greek Cretean legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Labyrinths are found throughout the ancient European cultures of the Scandinavians, the Vikings, Druids of Ireland & Scotland, Arctic Russia, Bulgaria to the Mediterraneans, the ancient Egyptians in North Africa, Nubians, the fertile crescent of the Near East, in the South Asias to the Pacific Island Cultures. Also on otherside of the Globe in cultures of Pre-Columbian Americas the Mayans of Central America, Incas of Peru, Hopi Indians of North America.
Ancient Padmavyūha or Chakravyūha mentioned in the Epic of Mahabharata, a military formation, is like a HURRICANE or a TORNADO. It sucks in and eats up everything on its path and before the enemy realises it’s effects, the human vortex shifts in opposite directions and brings in a newer battling force. Thereby tiring the opponent to an utter psychological, physical and resourceless defeat. The Mahabharata and the Manu Samhita list by name and formation many vyūhas (‘battle formations’)” [credit]
“The Scandinavian Troy Towns are very old classical labyrinths in the shape of stones laid out in free field. In Germany we have still 4 historic labyrinths (Graitschen, Steigra, Hannover, Kaufbeuren), in England there are 8.
There are about 300 historic, passable stone labyrinths in Sweden, and therefore most of them worldwide. Maybe they are amongst the first in history that could be walked. It is difficulty to say something sure about their age and meaning. Some are probably more than 2000 years old, many 500 years, and some only 100 years. But nevertheless all of them are older as the new labyrinths built worldwide in the last 20 to 30 years. So we may look at the Scandinavian countries as the home of the labyrinth.
In the following you will see the Swedish labyrinths with the eyes of a surveyor and civil engineer. I am interested, where exactly the labyrinths are situated (by GPS), how they are looking like nowadays, which is the pattern and geometric design behind them. Maybe one could call it the search for the ideal line.
Then I think about how to make one with simple measurement methods. Probably they have been built this way. All you need should be some pegs, a ruler, and a rope.”
Predominantly Scandinavian “Troy Towns” are labyrinths with a comparable design, but were built by arranging stones on the surface of open fields. The name references the Troy Game, “A solemn ritual performed at irregular intervals by the ancient Romans to signalize their alleged descent from the Trojans: notable for the interweaving labyrinthine maneuvers executed by youths on horseback,” although scholars cannot confirm the true meaning of these sites, some of which date back 2500 years.
Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth (early 13th century)
- Designer / builder: unknown
- Location: Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France
- Date: early 13th century
- Size: 40.3 x 41.3 feet
- Materials: stone
“Built during the height of Gothic expression in France, the various architects of Notre-Dame de Chartres sought to make this cathedral “higher, wider, and lighter than all previous churches, and in this respect they certainly succeeded.” In comparison with other cathedral-building projects, Chartres was built relatively quickly, with construction beginning in 1194 and finishing in 1221. It was toward the end of this period, between 1215 and 1221, that the church’s labyrinth was placed within the nave. Because of the cathedral’s impressive size, the labyrinth itself would be equally grand, attaining a diameter of 12.85 meters, making it the largest church labyrinth ever constructed during the middle ages. While perhaps not the most embellished or ornate of labyrinths, the one found in Chartres is arguably one of the most famous in the world. With its rounded sides and eleven concentric circles, any labyrinth using this model has come to be known as a Chartres-type recreation.
Unlike the ornate mosaic labyrinths which are found throughout much of northern and central Italy, there are no images or allusions to the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur from Greek mythology. There has been some debate on whether or not there was an actual depiction, with some arguing that a bronze plaque once graced the center of the labyrinth until 1792 when it was melted down by the city in its efforts to build cannons for the newly founded Republic. This argument is based off of Charles Challine’s (1596-1678) observations. However, Hermann Kern, who devoted much of his career studying the labyrinths of Europe, disagreed, and argued that there was not enough physical evidence on the pavement to suggest a plaque had ever been placed in the center.
Whether a central plaque existed or not, the labyrinth’s center is surrounded by a six lobed rosette, which was an ancient symbol from the east and was used to portray the nature of God in Sumerian, Babylonian, Jewish, and even Roman art. Craig Wright argues that this depiction is being used to point towards the “new God,” in this case Christ. If, as Wright argues, that the labyrinth is connected to Christ’s Harrowing in Hell, its placement within the nave creates a stunning visualization which pulls together numerous beliefs and fuses them into one. The cathedral itself is a celebration of geometry, and taking the celestial implications made by both its location and its central rosette, one can expand the symbolism of the labyrinth further, tying it in with Chartres’ great rose window that depicts the Final Judgment. An eschatological history lesson is being taught. Christ suffered on earth (the nave) and then descended into Hell (the labyrinth), but he defeated death and ascended into heaven, where one day he will judge all of mankind. Accordingly, the labyrinth points to the moment that the “new God” saved humanity, but when connected with the rose window, it represents a call for repentance.” [credit]
 Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior: Symbols in Architecture, Theology, and Music (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001). 39-41.
 Ibid. 39.
 Ibid. 44.
 Hermann Kern, Through the Labyrinth: Designs and Meanings over 5,000 Years (Art & Design), (New York, Prestel, 2000) 143; Louis Charpentier, Les Mysteres de la cathedrale de Chartres (Paris, 1966).
 Wright, The Maze and the Warrior, 44.
 Kern, Through the Labyrinth, 143.
 Wright, 43-44.