Art, Poetry & "Momentum"

Posted by Liam Otten September 30, 2019

 

"I've been thinking about momentum."

So said Paul Tran, a senior poetry fellow in the Writing Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. This summer, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin invited Tran, a celebrated young poet, to compose and deliver a new work on the theme of momentum for Martin's formal inauguration Thursday, October 3.

"Momentum is not about going fast in any which direction," Tran observed. "It's about protecting a sense of self in the face of everything that would feel threatened if we succeed in being what we are and doing what we are charged to do.

"My family came to the U.S. as refugees in 1989," Tran added. "My mother raised me as a single parent working three jobs. Somehow, despite the odds stacked against us, I was first in my family to graduate high school and college. And none of that would have been possible without an inner sense of momentum.

"How can we—as individuals, as friends, as a community and families, and ultimately as an institution—nourish, fortify, protect, and amplify for one another a momentum that will render us unstoppable?"

Tran's poem is among several projects through which Washington University artists and designers will contribute to the inauguration ceremony and related events.

More than a dozen illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, and copy editors—primarily from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts' new MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture program and its undergraduate Communication Design program—will provide on-site reportage throughout the day. In preparation, the group—collectively known as Fox in the Field—is already fanning out across campus and St. Louis, sketchbooks and iPads in hand.

"If you haven't drawn on location before, you kind of have to get into shape," said professor Douglas Dowd, who coordinated similar reportage of the 2016 presidential debate and the university's first Day of Discovery and Dialogue. "The complexity of the world can be overwhelming. What do I decide to show? How do I establish a hierarchy of information? That takes practice.

"But it's also a great learning opportunity," Dowd added. He pointed out that Fox in the Field will present their work on the Sam Fox School's Instagram account and build slideshows for various campus locations, including the video wall in the Weil Hall Commons. "It teaches you to work in teams, to work under pressure, and to work within time constraints."

For artists, "the temptation can be to make some really polished, finished thing," Dowd said. "But the point here is to work quickly, to keep things fresh and respond to what you see in real time.

"That's what's compelling for an audience."