“Outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.”
—David Hammons, artist
Poems act as intensely crafted and curated conduits of culture and history. These conduits are person-, place-, memory-, and time-specific. However, poetry, and the humanities at large, are rarely approached as research tools for design topics. The pedagogic approach in this course was to engage meticulous graphic, structural analysis of poems to find the poetics that hold them together. This allowed a new approach to recognizing and reconnoitering the structural, material relationships that exist and emerge between measure, detail, accent, rhythm, repetition, breath, symbol, sign, cultural meme, and meaning. Landscape topographies and surfaces emerged in the iteratively constructed, lofted linear analysis of a poem.
Through methodical analysis and graphic translation of contemporary Chinese and English poetry, students sought the structural, systematic, and quantifiable correspondences that could be visually articulated between the thing measured and the measuring system at hand. These studies then translated into selective and student-significant correspondences later performed in Tower Grove Park, where subjective emotional registers emerged from encountering site-specific history and culture through a poem.
Committing the poems to heart and memory, students performed recitations, graphically notated features, and found the re-lines that run throughout. After thoroughly analyzing the rhythms and measures, students descended into Tower Grove Park at night wearing reflective tape along the flanks of their arms, legs, torsos, and feet. There, they repetitively performed one “dance move” that emerged from their analysis. Each student’s movement became a divining rod, a scientific instrument engaged in the generation of mapping that corresponds to the relational contract of body, place, ground, and gravity.