Confluence - Representation
February 2018
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screen printing
I am impressed every day in the news how accuracy and omission are so deeply connected. All information, it seems, leaves out most signals to focus on a few. These selected signals are meant to point back toward the whole, but whether they do or not, they are usually taken for it. Meanwhile the choice of how to focus is often unwitting: exclusion is itself obscured.
mixing printing ink
Since returning from Dumbarton Oaks and working on a broad historical study of water delivery systems (see my posts from October and November), I have been working on a set of silkscreen prints based on the watersheds that supply drinking water to San Francisco Bay Area cities. My process is to select the areas of streams that feed the reservoirs, from a database of the surface waters of the United States. The data is all latitude and longitude points, to which I assign a width and scale and convert them into a digital image file.

Mixing paint for the prints, monitoring the color effects of cool and warm blacks, pale pink, greys and faded yellows, I am inside a whole other register of representation: sensation, feeling, mood, and reference, contrast and ambient light. Color is lively, unstable, yet stubbornly specific too. Sensations are themselves abstractions, excerpts from roaring processes and glimmering light. Such proxies do indeed reflect the places we inhabit, if only because that is all we have to work with. And they may be 'true' in a broad ecological sense too, assuming our fragments remain tuned in time with the rest of the players.
screen printing at Kala
The prints were made at Kala Art Institute, a community-focused fine art print studio in Berkeley, working with staff printer Ben Engle. Ben also happens to be a resolute fly fisher, intimate with the ecosystems of Sierra streams since, to fool a fish with an imitation fly, one has to know the insect seasons, their look and behavior. We had a phone date once to discuss the project and Ben picked up saying "Hang on a second, I'm fly fishing in the Bay."
streams print in metal leaf size
A set of prints was made using a milky glue instead of color for the lines.
applying silver leaf
One of the advantages of screen printing is that anything viscous can serve as ink. The glue dries, but keeps its stickiness for hours, allowing me to apply silver leaf to the lines.
silver leaf
Gently brushing away the extra silver, the lines of the streams remain where the metal sticks to the glue.
Pardee Reservoir watershed screen print
In an uncanny way, the silver flashes back whatever light is in the room. This print shows the Mokelumne River with Pardee Reservoir in the foreground - the source for East Bay cities' water. Over years or decades the silver will slowly oxidize through orange to smokey grey. Just as rivers entwine with their places in space and time, the physical and visual dialogue between these prints and their environment recapitulates the dynamics of what they represent: artwork is a microcosm of its subject.
Hetch Hetchy watershed screen print
Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor and Cherry Lake reservoirs and the streams that lead into them, on the drying rack.

If you would like to purchase prints, please contact me. The ink-on-ink edition are $700 each from an edition of fifteen, and silver-on-ink prints are $1100 each from an edition of three. Sales help me continue to extend and deepen this work.

And a special THANK YOU to the City of Berkeley Civic Arts Program, and to Kala for their support of this project.
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All images by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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Copyright © 2018 Todd Gilens, All rights reserved.

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