Confluence: the meeting of two rivers, perhaps of thought, or words, or ideas.
Language and communication have always fascinated me. How do we transfer our dreams and perceptions of the world to others? What is lost during that translation? Perhaps by sharing our thoughts, we may gain connections, create societies, and generate futures we can sculpt, hopefully for the better.
In Visual Arts professor Joe Scanlan’s VIS222 Sculpture class, our second assignment of the term was to create a “Schrödinger’s Cat” box from a piece of 4 feet by 8 feet AC plywood with a partner. Professor Scanlan showed us numerous slides of boxes that explored the idea of uncertainty. One box-like building exhibited uneven windows, revealing nothing about the interior space. Another box had suspended boards that clustered in the air to create inner and outer spaces. We also viewed images of George Vantongerloo’s boxes, which have many overlapping cubes with architectural qualities.
Sabien Taylor ’24 and I decided to tackle the challenge together. Over FaceTime, we brainstormed ideas. We first asked, “What is a box?” and we decided that they were protectors, secret holders, and time capsules. I suggested we create a box containing thin sheets of wood that would resemble two human heads, which would fit into each other when opening and closing the box. Sabien suggested we create a maze, so we combined our ideas.
We built a 1 foot by 2 feet two-layer box: the first layer would have two heads and a complicated maze between them. A person would tilt the maze to get a marble from one head to the other. Upon completion, the player would lift off the first layer to reveal an image in the second layer: the same two heads, but closer together, and the path between them would be straight. The two layers would represent the time and effort we invest in getting to understand and trust another person, and how gaining that trust makes communication easier. We named our box “Confluence.”
When we presented our idea to the class, professor Scanlan noted that we had created a one-way narrative in which the communication between two people would always be maze-like at first and then a clear path after time. In the spirit of Schrödinger’s Cat, professor Scanlan advised us to combine the two layers, creating a superposition of possibilities. There would be a straight path from one head to another — between people, the connection is sometimes instantaneous — but there would also be the maze surrounding the path. If the marble missed the straight path, it would need to navigate the entire maze: sometimes conversations with close friends take time and effort, too.
Sabien and I eagerly accepted the idea, and we expanded our sculpture to be 2 feet by 4 feet, which meant that two people had to navigate the maze together. Professor Scanlan joked that we could use our sculpture to play matchmaker between two people: will you two be able to achieve instant connection? Play with the marble to find out!
In the weeks following our proposal presentation, Sabien and I worked hard on our project. We simplified our grid design. We made a to-scale foam model of our sculpture. When we couldn’t find a marble, we revised the entire internal design to fit a golf ball instead.
While working many long hours together, we used a myriad of saws, rulers, clamps, and screwdrivers to shape our plywood into our box. To stay on the same page, we communicated often, shouting over the buzzing saws and our earplugs. We would restructure the paths of our thoughts, find better ways to express our ideas, and come to an agreement before making the next move. With Sabien’s clarity of thought, patience, and attention to detail, I felt our own connections start to straighten, strengthen, and become clear as we inched our way towards completing our box.
On March 3, our class gathered in a dark theater, where all the groups displayed their boxes on long tables. Sabien and I put a lid on our box, which made it unassuming. Our classmates made interesting pieces: one box was made of the space between other boxes. Another box was made of loose pieces that we could assemble into different shapes. Most boxes were interactive, and one was even smashed to pieces with a sledgehammer as a performance element.
Sabien and I went last, and when we unveiled our maze, our classmates expressed their excitement and delight at the complex structure. We invited pairs of participants to play, and many people were able to navigate the golf ball from one head to the other with some effort. We even put the lid on the box, and two of our classmates were still able to complete the maze in under a minute.
I found it fascinating that some pairs completed the game with few words: seeing first-hand the clear importance of physical communication intrigued me.
Through communication, verbal or otherwise, we lose the fuzziness of our thoughts and gain clarity of understanding between people. We align with a common goal in mind, creating art and connections that are beautiful.
The author wishes to thank professor Scanlan for his guidance, Sabien Taylor for being a wonderful partner, Orlando Murgado for training the class on how to use power tools, and Ash Albeser for helping create their box and taking pictures.
Audrey Zhang is a Contributing Writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @shimmer_the_powerful on Instagram.