Confluence - Writing in the Field
July 2017
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Iranian bowl with psudoinscriptions and fish
A few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York I photographed this 13th C. bowl from Kashan, Iran. Two rings of faux-writing and brushstrokes of deep blue glaze descending the bowl like water encircle ten fish at the bottom. See my earlier post for Han Yu's bowl-as-ecosystem poem; for mysterious lettering on objects from Islamic cultures, click HERE for a brief and fascinating review. That article ends: " we would do well to remind ourselves that what we may not understand is not, by consequence, meaningless."

What is the field that supports language - and what is language that it inhabits, articulates and acts on that field? Writing, a particular case of language, requires a surface or 'support' such as a canvas, page, wall or weaving. Ideal letter shapes adapt and evolve through use. Unique or extreme examples may indicate how language in general inhabits and modifies its environment
Storm inlet with Drains to Ocean marker
Ecological scientists are challenged to define a unit of study, since parts of systems are necessarily connected - just think of having to breath every few seconds. I suppose writing also exists in an arena of shifting boundaries, influencing readers and also being modified by the context in which the writing is set. Robert Bringhurst somewhere observed that looking up from a book while reading is how language, thought and living converge, that what I might interpret as distraction may signal a wider kind of dialogue: one relating page and world.
Boards with paper notes
Invited by a chink in the boards of a rustic shed on the Point Reyes Peninsula, visitors have embedded wishes, and also the wish to leave something of themselves behind. In the beauty of this gentle landscape, light and weather enfold visitors and their offerings through the contours and durations of wood, paper and emotion.
Notebook with handwriting, markers and eraser
While based at the Yosemite Field Station last August, I summarized my experiences with stream scientists in two sketchbooks, made to my specifications at Berkeley's Pettingell Bindery.. I designed them as scale models, to test my idea for installing texts on curbs. (See an earlier post Writing in Place.) Two pages represent the amount of words a person on a sidewalk could read from a standing position before distance makes the text illegible.Turning a page corresponds with moving along the sidewalk to read another section, binding sentence cadence to pedestrian movement. I'm editing them now, but lightly, as every erasure requires a similar insertion.

Like organisms and ecosystems, language requires both stability and adaptation across multiple ways of meaning. Good writing and healthy ecosystems have in common that underlying structures (grammar, spelling and letterforms, landscape connectivity, change cycles), and particular expressions (typefaces, sentences and paragraphs, organisms and populations), are consonant, that they sound together. Particulars point toward underlying principals, while fundamental structures suggest the range and perhaps limits of possible expressions. When fundamentals and particulars move too far out of step with each other, starvation and gibberish, and perhaps new kinds of organization and meaning may emerge.
If you know someone interested in these ideas, please Forward!

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All images by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.
Copyright © 2017 Todd Gilens, All rights reserved.

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