Physical Ideas – By Todd Gilens

I love the physical qualities of just about everything but there is a special tension in language as printed or sculpted letters and words. It’s as if thought, which feels so internal, is taking place among plants and sidewalks, canyons and roadways. Through writing, something as fluid as speech becomes durable, sometimes for millennia. My ambitions aren’t so grand but I do wish to be part of the art of writing and language, exploring ways to make and to place texts so that new relationships emerge in the reading. (Photo: Konah Zebert)

Last week I had the opportunity to try out some material on a curb-top in Downtown Reno.  ATM200 is a temporary traffic-striping tape with reflective glass beads and a sticky back. Clovermill Graphics in Southern California cut a twenty-three foot phrase I’d written using a cursive font made from the handwriting of WR Rodgers (more on that in a future newsletter). Assisting with the installation, Mahedi Anjuman plucks the centers out of the letters’ loops.

Myself, along with Depaul Vera, Mahedi Anjuman, and Konah Zebert (photographer), young artists and students in the UNR MFA program, applied the text in about an hour and a half.

The first step was to choose how the phrasing would break at the concrete joints in the curb (top photo). A blue plastic backing was then peeled away from behind the letters; the strip was flipped and pressed against the concrete using a roller cart and two-hundred pounds of weights (this image). Then the material around the letters was removed. Photo: Konah Zebert

The whole text reads:
If sidewalks are riverbeds for feet we may feel all the shapes and experiences of stream life as we tread the water’s channel downhill.

But it is not possible to read the twenty-three-foot-long sentence on the sidewalk without moving your body, or as you’re now doing, scanning back and forth with your eyes while sitting quietly with a screen or page. Walking and reading, thinking in motion, alone or with companions, alongside traffic and with the sound of the Truckee river rushing by behind you, a statement about feet and streams may fragment and combine into new connections between people and materials, places and ideas.

All images are by Todd Gilens unless noted otherwise.

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