Alphabets transform momentary speech into durable signs; they’re modified and personalized as we write, and they’re both threatened and enhanced by keyboards and digitization. Handwriting – based on an ancient, evolving model – treads between collective ideals and local, personal expression. Cities are built up collectively, and we use them in personal, conditional ways too. But what is the root of the physical language of a city? Prompted by the meaning of Belfast as ‘approach to the sandbank or ford’, I’m working to recognize its unique inscription on the land. Natural forces over millions of years determined the character of rocks and vegetation, the courses of rivers and shifting sands. And though human industry rearranged much of the landscape, it is done in response to given structures. The city is our collective hand, uniquely expressed here in this place. For this project at DAS I am researching and writing about the hydrogeography of the Lagan valley in respect to urban processes of Belfast. Neither scientist nor resident, I write as a curious outsider, discovering what I can through the opportunity of the DAS residency. But just as a city must be founded on a place, my writing will have its own underlying structure. At Digital Arts Studios I will transform the handwriting of Belfast-born writers into digital fonts. And by keyboarding – in their hand –I will describe my own discoveries of Belfast. My aim is to accomplish printed pieces in varying forms - poetry broadsides, personal letters and expository pieces – that will test the fonts against our intuitive sense of written words. I expect that through the combination of subject, the flow of script and the invariability of digital fonts something uncanny will emerge.
Todd Gilens is a visual artist based in San Francisco, California since 2002. During a previous fifteen-year period of work in Philadelphia, he created seminal site-works addressing industrial history of leftover land and abandoned buildings. His curatorial projects included the 1996 “Prison Sentences” in which site-specific artworks interpreted a historic, abandoned prison, establishing both the site and its arts program which continue today. In 2002 Todd received a masters degree in landscape architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and practiced as a landscape architect from 2003-2010. He was invited to the international science conference “Resilience 2008” in Stockholm, Sweden, to create a temporary installation and since that time has focused on building lay perspectives of science knowledge into place-based artworks. He is currently adjunct faculty in the department of landscape architecture at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
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