Confluence - Objects of Study
November 2017
View this email in your browser
It's shocking, and joyful, to recognize my own ideas in artifacts from distant times. Or so it seems. Doing research in Dumbarton Oaks' library, I came upon this photo of a Roman memorial. The text is a chatty complaint about the difficulties of building an aqueduct, but what impressed me was the combination of a local story and first person narrative in a modest and enduring monument. Add that one must walk around its sides to read it and it is just the kind of thing I'm aiming for by installing texts along the sidewalks in Reno and elsewhere. With gratitude to Henry Maguire for help with the Latin; for a translation, try
man walking in water
What typesetters call 'rivers' are the vertical gaps between words running down a page. (Thank you, Inge Van Bruggen and Amy Thompson for that term.)  When we borrow a description like 'river', and apply it elsewhere than the waterway, riverness might flow both into the new context and backwards into our sense of rivers. I copied this from Gemma Jansen's book on the plumbing of Roman cities. The plumbing of this page is all riffles and pools.
A roadside Gully Trap, viewed in section, the curbstone on the left; from Aitken, 1900, Road Making and Maintenance. Geologists place gullying between rivulet and stream channel as a step in the long process of valley-making. Hard to imagine that our river valleys started as inconspicuous tilts in the land. A Gully Trap though, is meant to arrest that process: by containing and redirecting water's erosive flow, the potential gully is trapped in the pipes, a genie who must be freed somewhere downstream.
Boards with paper notes
A library represents only a fragment of scholarship and experience. But exactly that reduction slows and allows access into the folds of thought and era.

From one of those books, Utilitas Necessaria, sistemi idraulici nell'Italia romana. Possibly the first photograph made inside a Roman aqueduct.

man walking in water
Is there an illustrative unconscious? This depiction of a method for finding water brings other thoughts to mind.

We are patterns peeled from randomness, resisting absorption into smaller and larger patterns - yet dependent, down to the last virus and protein, on those patterns as well. I stumbled onto the work of Liu Dan while researching a different object among Dumbarton Oaks' folios. Classical Chinese garden culture revered the frothy chaos of certain stones, so much that they would bore holes and pickle them in lakes for years before retrieving and displaying them as exemplars of natural process.  I sense a fierce wink behind these stones, a half-hidden pride in the capacity to recognize - or invent? -  the workings of matter.

In my next newsletter I'll return to work I started eighteen months ago focused on the watersheds used for drinking water in the San Francisco Bay Area. For a preview, check out the pink and purple linework in my spring 2016 post.
To subscribe, or for previous newsletters, CLICK HERE
For more on My Work, see
For an introduction to the Confluence projects, see my page at

All images by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

If you know someone interested in these reflections, Please Forward!
Copyright © 2017 Todd Gilens, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp