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Mile-Long Art Project Weaves through MIT Campus

By Bushra Makiya

You may have noticed the many poems on colored triangles which have appeared all over campus recently. They are part on an art project by Aparna M. Das ’01, an architect major who put the project together for 4.302, Foundations of Visual Art. The class, taught by Wendy Jacob, is about art and architecture. The assignment was to create a mile long art project. No other guidelines were given.

After much thought, Das decided to use poetry as the basis for her project, selecting twenty poems which were personally meaningful to her, which she dedicated to her closest friends and family. Twelve hundred colored triangles, thirty rolls of tape, and many hours later, the project has come to the attention of many on campus, including some who followed Das as she put up some of the poems and many who have been moved by what they have read.

The project begins in the McCormick courtyard with a brief introduction saying, “how many poems does it take to measure a mile? ... I hope you lose count...” The first poem begins outside Kresge. It is “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, and is dedicated to Das’ mother. Poems by John Keats, E.E. Cummings, and Emily Dickenson are included, as well as others by less familiar poets including one by Das’ aunt, and one by Das herself.

Das also color coded the poems, using different colored markers for the poet’s name and title, the poem itself, and the dedication and comments she wrote for each poem. She said that one of the most difficult aspects of the project was trying to show how to represent the structure of the poem using only one line. But because it involved much of her own interpretations, it was also one of the most interesting and creative parts of the project. Das arranged many of the most inspiring lines to point upward and some of the more melancholy passages to curve downward. She said that many parts ended up looking like music.

The mood of each poem also contributed to Das’s choice of locations and was very important in the overall effect of the project. The poems were organized so that from the end of one poem, one could always see the beginning of the next even if they were not directly following one another. This way people could follow the entire mile and read the poems as Das had put them together.

All in all it took Das seventeen hours to make the triangles, twelve hours to get permission from MIT to put up the project, and twenty-six hours putting up the triangles. One of the most frustrating aspects of the project, according to Dal, was that despite getting permission, all the indoor triangles were taken down after the first day. Therefore the artist was never able to see the entire project up at once.

The project covers almost all the main areas of campus and is extremely visible. It stretches from the McCormick courtyard to the MIT medical center and from the Memorial Drive to the Alumni Pool. Das says it actually covers more than a mile, although she is not sure exactly how much. Once she started, she could not leave out poems which were so meaningful, and which she had already dedicated to people. These dedications, and the fact that all the poems were so personally meaningful, are part of what makes this project so important and fulfilling to Das. She said that she had never worked so hard for something in her life and that it was a great way for her to self-analyze and to reflect on what is important to her. Das said that although it was a very personal project, she was also giving something to others, “It was my project. I was giving it to someone else, like a gift.”

While most of the poems were extremely personal, a couple also had political significance. One example is “Freedom,” by Shamsur Rahman, a Muslim poet. Das, who is Hindu and Bengali, said that the poem refers to conflicts between India and Bangladesh and is about uniting people. She said that regardless of religion, people all have common experiences which bring them together and that so many conflicts are fueled by religious differences even if it is not the direct cause.

Another poem, “Sonnet to Science” by Edgar Allen Poe was dedicated to the MIT public. Das says what she really wanted was for people to get something out of the project. But although her project was very visible, many other projects were also done for this class which were either off campus or less visible. One student put together a row of street signs along the Esplanade with sarcastic messages such as “close your mind.” Another girl drew chalk drawings along the street which were about her experiences and how they have affected her. In a third project, someone took large black and white photos of her friends and put them together on a display on wheels which she rolled around for a mile. But if you happen to notice any bright colored triangles left around campus, stop and read them. You might get a lot more out of it than you would think.