Poetry in Motion
A “slow media” installation allows visitors to interact with light, shadow, words, and the pull of the earth.
Time is an artificial construct, created by humans to meet our needs. Consumed as we are with how quickly it passes—and despite our determination to make it just another commodity—time defies our efforts to control it.
No where on earth is that more evident than in a small dome-shaped pavilion punctured by hundreds of quarter-sized holes that, depending on the time of day and year, harness the pull of the earth to reveal poetry in motion.
The One Day Poem Pavilion is Jiyeon Song’s graduate thesis project in the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
She began the project as an exploration of how shadow could be used as a communication medium. Song’s thesis advisors encouraged her to follow an open-ended, experimental research approach rather than one that would result in predicted outcomes, and so she immersed herself in an intensive study of shadow and light.
“One of my thesis advisors, Martin Venezky, gave me some very important advice,” says Song. “He told me that experimental study is a very rigorous exercise that allows a designer to confidently engage in work whose results are unpredictable. The process of experimental study has its own value no matter if I could deliver the final project or not.”
Song started with an exhaustive charting of sunlight and its trajectory throughout the day and year. She also studied the basic forms of objects to understand the characteristics of shadows, then integrated letterforms to learn how type can be shown as shadows.
Her work not only considered the physical characteristics of light and shadow, but also the emotional ones. “Though they always exist together, each has different connotations,” she explains. Shadows are used metaphorically and literally in various fields and applications to communicate many different things, from death (in literature) to dimensionality (in painting).
Song discovered that “Shadows afford moments of legibility, narrative qualities, and feelings, and can create multiple meanings in an object.” To harness shadow as a means of communication, she developed a new shadow “language” using what she calls experiential typography.
Her research ultimately found its materiality in a geodesic dome-shaped structure made of humble MDF. Using a protractor and 3D software, she calculated how sunlight would strike the shelter and constructed two layers of perforated arrays that, when sunlight filters through them, project parts of a poem onto the ground below (or on to a visitor standing in the shelter).
Song chose Sijo—a classic Korean style of poetry that typically focuses on bucolic, metaphysical, or cosmological themes about nature and human life—as the subject of the pavilion. The poem by Kim Ch’on-taek (1725-1766) is particularly appropriate because it speaks to the finite nature of human life.
She experimented with mock-ups of various shapes, sizes, and positions for the dome to test legibility and clarity of the text. For the full-scale version, three out of four perforated panels contain one line of the poem that appears sequentially according to the rotation of the sun. One of the panels shows two lines that appear one by one.
Using this “slow media” technique, the project demonstrates the poetic, transitory, site-sensitive, and time-based nature of light and shadow.
The time-based nature of the poem—and the visitor’s time-based encounters with it—allow viewers to have different experiences, either seeing a stanza of the poem or the entire poem. It focuses on individual experiences rather than offering the same experience to all visitors.
The pavilion is functional in that it provides shade, but it also demonstrates an experimental method of integrating a narrative into an architectural space. Though the pavilion was constructed with the help of machines (the MDF was perforated using a CNC router), the focus of the design is on nature as a medium.
New-school design thinking
The project illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary thinking, typical of the work of Media Design Program students, says Anne Burdick, program director. Grad students have thesis advisors from a wide range of disciplines, from architecture and exhibition design to industrial design, rapid prototyping, physical computing, graphic design, media history and theory, and interface design.
MDP students are working on a wide spectrum of thesis projects, ranging from how medication information is communicated in hospital settings to networked blimps that perform a synchronized dance based on cell phone input.
“The core of what we’re doing in the Media Design Program is dealing with emerging communication technologies and cultural practices,” Burdick explains. “We’re preparing students for a future in which you might carry your health history on your sleeve. In this context, the definition of ‘media’ is almost anything that can carry information.”
The most compelling aspect of Song’s thesis, believes Burdick, is that it is powered not by digital technology, but by physics. “Jiyeon has done an incredible amount of work with these precise calculations and she can now create site-specific installations like this one anywhere. She’s really created a new technology.”
Song’s research allowed her to explore questions that are critical to communication design. How do you communicate in emotional and poetic ways? How do you create an experience that is unique to every person who interacts with it? How do you convey a narrative using architecture? How can languages be embedded in architectural forms with narrative aspects?
Through the One Day Poem Pavilion, Song believes she has demonstrated how “slow media” can sensitive us to nature and offer meditative moments in a fast-paced culture.
“We rely on a concept of time created by humans,” she explains. “However, we are a part of nature and we have a finite life span, which we cannot control. There are many moments in our lives that we cannot recover if they pass—moments of loving, forgiving, and caring. It is very easy to forget those moments in our hectic lives. The One Day Poem Pavilion offers a moment to meditate and realize the importance of those moments.”
Song has graduated and is now working to have site-specific versions of the One Day Poem Pavilion integrated into architecture, parks, and other built and natural settings. Permanent versions of the pavilion will be made of more timeless materials, perhaps aluminum or steel. Her project website is at www.onedaypoem.com.
--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 21, 2008
“This project does and says it all. A seamless amalgamation of sculpture, graphic technique, integration with the elements, discovery, and poetry in both a literal and figurative sense.”
“When design meets poetry. Like a dream, it brings that old black magic through the precise perforations. The feeling of being alive. Perhaps the most inspirational entry.”
“This architectural poem is a magical combination of the digital and analog. Blending light with darkness and texture with type, this piece— while frozen in mid-air—is animated by both its environment and its visitors.”
ONE DAY POEM PAVILION
Location: Pasadena, Calif.
Client: The Art Center College of Design
Design: Jiyeon Song
Consultants: Anne Burdick (Media Design Program chair/lead thesis advisor); Lisa Nugent, Tim Durfee, Peter Cho (thesis committee); Leah Hoffmitz, Lisa Krohn, Peter Lunenfeld, Phil van Allen, Martin Venezky, Norman Klein (faculty advisors)
Fabrication: Wes Hanson (Art Center Technical Support Center), Paul Le Tourneur, Paul Saskas
Photos: Jiyeon Song, Yuseng Kim