In many ways, Circles Cycles Circuits is the culmination of Dunja Jankovic’s attempt to communicate everything simultaneously. When I speak of an Immersive style of comics art, I point to Jankovic and Juliacks’ work as perfect examples of this sense of not just merging text and image on the page, but of the attempt to viscerally immerse the reader into their point of view. In Jankovic’s earlier comics (Department of Art and Habitat), she allows the reader to hold on to a sliver of narrative as a way to navigate her world. In this book, the reader is on far shakier ground and must either attempt to negotiate and engage the images as they are or else abandon the book. It should be noted, however, that these aren’t simply abstract images. Through the use of distortion, repetition, and distinct symbols in her comics and photo collages, Jankovic explores concepts related to embodiment, disassociation, ritual, the mundane, and very specific aspects of femininity. Jankovic uses these distancing and somewhat abstracting techniques to get across ideas that are clearly personal and even intimate but filters them through a sort of synaesthetic net that attempts to explore the simultaneity of sensory experience and the ways we can and cannot filter out our perceptions.
The book is roughly divided into three separate story sections. The first opens with a sheet of tracing paper with a hole cut out of it in the center prefacing a series of images of a diving woman. Her back is turned to the reader and her head is tucked into her knees as she dives into what seems to be the void of space. Each successive page contains a single image of the woman that is further distorted against a background that turns the white dots into white lines that eventually coalesce into classic psychedelic patterns. The more the body of the woman is distorted, the more intense the pattern becomes until the page explodes into a cacophony of diving images and lines strewn across the page. The focus then turns to an illustration of a man staring at something under a microscope and another page with a hole in it, this time observing a series of women. Jankovic once again mixes media, repurposing what look like photos of models from fashion magazines with her own drawings, patterns, and spot colors. I’m not sure if the man with the microscope is supposed to represent the male gaze, but this section is a bizarre lampoon of fashion by way of sci-fi ideas and diagrams. For example, the first image is of “Loretta” who is “using a “baerbacle gland. It’s a 3-leveled gland with high impact on invisible brain, or so-called ‘the 3D eye.’ It disperses the accumulated mental mist which then you can remove.” The accompanying photo of a woman sticking a bizarre, tentacled object into her nose looks is made to look like something out of Cosmo.
Each subsequent page talks about consciousness and the attempt to exist “in all dimensions simultaneously,” which is what Jankovic is trying to portray here. It becomes impossible to really perceive what is referred to as consensus reality in such a state, and Jankovic flips it around so that the reader is having trouble perceiving the characters who are in that state. Hence the different levels of existence in the form of photos and drawings, psychedelic fields, etc. This process isn’t without humor, as Jankovic portrays the attempt to “mold one’s consciousness into a perfect shape” as a kind of Bundt cake. The next section contains a number of photos of models altered to look like they’re wearing some kind of tribal/ritual mask or face paint, their bodies fracturing into multiple iterations that once again reflect this impossibility of perceiving another consciousness in both time and space. Jankovic once again hits on a synaesthetic approach by telling the story of a tribe that plays musical instruments to create this kind of collective sound whose purpose is “to unite the universe,” removing distinctions between one and many through that vibration. It’s a literal transformation that has certain Buddhist qualities, as the effect only lasts as long as music is being made (being apart from the everyday world). When it’s over, people go back into the world in every sense.
The final story is the most fascinating and intimate. Jankovic tells of a woman who becomes fascinated with holes left after facial injuries, connecting those holes with “endlessness and eternity.” The character starts cutting holes into her body, with the goal of “destroying my given identity to get closer to the universe.” She starts putting electronic chips and metal plates into those holes, the pain bringing her to orgasm as a kind of cybernetic entity. From there, she starts to get off to the hum of microwaves until she hooks herself up to the internet, using computer commands to involuntarily move parts of her body. The accompanying photos of disembodied eyes, mouths and breasts are unnerving but also reassuring given the text. The end of the story cycles around to the beginning of the first story, as she merges with the internet, realizing, “Internet is universe. I’m the universe. I’m everything. I’m happy.” It’s a recapitulation of the recurring theme of wanting to escape from one’s own body and consciousness, of reconciling the sensation of being embodied with wanting to be part of the infinite. The book ends with a further recapitulation of these ideas through a series of images of women transformed in a number of different ways. This is a fascinating, challenging book that demands a lot from its readers, but winds up revealing much about its artist and the ways in which she perceives reality, aesthetics, and culture.