En-Gulf—Ecopoetics of the Gulf and Bay

Honor Award 2017

en/gulf:

[en-guhlf]

  • the liminal space between water and land
  • the Gulf of Mexico and its environs
  • an abbreviation of the above
  • an ecopoetic (nonhuman-centered) expression
  • a verb: affirming complete surround and wholeness
  • a verb: threatening total immersion and destruction
  • a collaboration between poets and graphic designers

The exhibition En/Gulf: Ecopoetics of the Gulf and Bay represented the culmination of a semester focused on the ecology of Galveston Bay. The collaboration brought together students of poetry and of graphic design to research and experience the environment and transmit their discoveries through “ecopoetry.” Local and national experts advanced student knowledge through primary research—kayak tours, birding, trawling, videography, and ship channel tours— coupled with secondary research. These investigations of the marshes, bays, and beaches of the Galveston Bay Estuary culminated in poetic, graphic, and three-dimensional interpretations of Gulf ecologies. The expression of place was nuanced through the elements: earth, air, fire, water.

As a representation of space and time, the gallery provided an immersive multi-layered experience. The En/Gulf exhibition was comprised of three primary components. The main focus was a collection of “samples/specimens” housed in 70 glass jars (10 per team). The jars provided a consistent, neutral and repetitious format to serve as both container and surface. Less about collecting actual specimens, they represented gained knowledge, experiences, and an expanded understanding of place. A collection of video poems was exhibited in which spoken word, typography, footage and abstractions merge to expand the notion of poetry and locality. And lastly, a series of letter-pressed broadsides were displayed.

The University of Houston’s graphic design students provided the identity and branding, exhibition graphics and floor plan for the En/Gulf Exhibition. The gallery’s 35-by-11-foot windows showcased the identity and an interpreted map of the area. The 12-by-32.5-foot gallery space was divided into night/dark and day/light—dark for the series of videos and light for the specimen jars. The dividing wall highlighted a series of letter-pressed ecopoetry broadsides. Specimen jars ranged from environmental topics such as by-catch, air quality, oil versus water, toxic dump-sites to bird sightings and how wetlands work. This information was not presented purely in a didactic manner but “poetically”­— through the interpretation of language, formal juxtapositions and materials.  

Three components were to be incorporated in the En/Gulf exhibit. For part one, each team wrote, composed and designed a poem based on the investigation, research and experience of Galveston Bay and the Gulf. The eight poems, designed as broadsides, were each letterpressed by the students in a bound edition of 300. The books were donated to an area non-profit that supports Gulf coast ecologies.

In part two, the 70 glass jars, while they referenced scientific collections of specimens for research and conservation, were meant to expand the visitors understanding of these locales and share personal newfound experiences. Additionally, each team connected their installation to an element (earth, air, fire, or water).

For part three, each team created short video poems based on an ecological aspect of the Galveston bay/gulf area using typography mixed with imagery and sometimes spoken word. Live footage was required, but was layered or presented abstractly in some cases.  To add to the mood and pacing of the video poems, the audio component was critical. For the installation the designers developed a consistent system for the titles and credits.

Although the students are surrounded daily by an environment of bayous, wetlands, bays and estuaries, this deeper immersion greatly expanded their understanding and empathies. The multi-layered exhibition opened a range of interpretive opportunities. As students just beginning to learn about environmental graphic design and its potential, the exhibition was a useful tool. En/Gulf: Ecopoetics of the Gulf and Bay was a well-attended exhibition. 

Jury Comments: 

"Put aside the knowledge that this a student submission. This achieves a level of intrigue and impact that professional exhibition designers have a hard time achieving. En/Gulf quickly sets the scene of a local ecology in crisis with powerful poetry, maps, illustrations and specimen jars."

"It’s rare—and wonderful—to see such a delicate and thoughtful outcome from a student project. The combination of video, installations and posters combine for an impressively sophisticated result."

"The purity of this exhibition, film and branding breathes air into us all by evoking the primal and visceral elements of nature. It’s light, lyrical and certainly poetic while expressing a powerful message. Beautiful typography, palette and layout—executed with incredible care and sensitivity."

Client: 

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston

Project Area: 

390 sq ft

Open Date: 

December 2015

Project Budget: 

$9,000

Photo Credits: 

Studio 302 (photography), Yoko Kristiansen, Matthew Oakes and Elisabeth Park (videography)

Design Team: 

Cheryl Beckett (Faculty, University of Houston, School of Art, Graphic Design), Martha Serpas (Faculty, University of Houston, English Department, Creative Writing)

University of Houston, MFA/Ph.D Creative Writing student Poets: Melanie Brkich, Erika Jo Brown, Dana Kroos, Georgia Pearle, Martin Rock, Nathan Stabenfeldt, Luisa Muradyan Tannahill

University of Houston, BFA, Graphic Design students: Candice Cantu, Daniel Cardoza, Joe Castro, Jose Diaz, Roxy Dominguez, Aggie Forouhideh, Enrique Garza, Grace Gossen, Matt Hughes, Raafia Jessa, Yoko Kristiansen, Bill Meck, Helen Nerio, Tracy Ngo, Matthew Oakes, Jesus Palacios, Paulina Papke, Elisabeth Park, Nguyen Pham, Vanessa Ros Sosa, Thi Tran

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