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Confluence - Risk and Certainty
June 2018
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In David Pye's The Nature and Art of Workmanship he contrasts activities where the outcome from moment to moment is uncertain such as in sports or woodcarving, with the certainty found in fully automated processes where there is neither doubt nor variation in the result. Most human artifacts have some of each quality, if only because materials themselves are imperfect. In biological systems much the same is true: genetics, temperature, gravity, all constrain life expressions within gradually shifting ranges.
 
Saturated with habitat opportunities, this is Chilnualna Creek in Yosemite, which I photographed in 2016. Worn, irregular objects are often more attractive than new ones. Perhaps that's why irregularity feels more vital than exact geometries. For more on stream variability see my August 2016 post.
 
This spring I have been looking into the phenomena of stoichedon (grid writing) in ancient Greece, which represents a kind of limit of order in written language. I am curious about the convention of writing in straight lines and discovered the marble stele in the image above as the subject of an essay by Patricia Butz. She calls the style 'offset stoichedon'.

Speech is performance and circumstance, whereas writing, if only a single example, restricts speaking's breadth but speeds and disperses its communication. Handwriting may fall between speech and printing: it fixes momentary expressions and pushes reading closer to the pace of listening. In this c.490 BCE memorial to fallen Greek soldiers, speech is formalized and carved in stone - its own sort of performance. Excavated and made public again in 2006, communication is renewed but received by an entirely different audience.
 
I was at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory in 2015, and made a group of drawings exploring the relationships of image, language and meaning. The drawings point to the "somewhere between...," where most experience falls; and it is a pleasure to now find that the format I used had been invented 2500 years ago. Ecologically, variation may appear lively, yet too much of it can be chaotic and destructive. Play and constraint combined make the conditions for continuing play. (For more on these relationships in the biological world, try Jablonka and Lamb's excellent Evolution in Four Dimensions.)
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All images by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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