Design Inquiry 2012 Journal as Postcards
DI on Vinalhaven, ME
Getting to Vinalhaven was no easy feat. My journey involved two planes, a car and a ferry. Yet the time it took to arrive on an island with virtually no cell reception and little access to the internet provided the perfect frame in which to think about the week’s theme, >>FastForward>>.
There are 24 people and two dogs, about 1/3 of us have never been to DI. As our dinner of homemade pasta is prepared we cocktailed, talked about our plans for the week, our lives off the island and set the table.
The scenic landscape of Maine is beyond stunning. The tide rises and falls twice a day and I hear seals live in the harbor. After dinner, a brief history of Design Inquiry and a rundown of the “not-the-schedule” I’m still not exactly sure what I’ve gotten myself into…
This morning’s presentations have helped me understand why we are all here, and what we will, or not do, during our stay. Each person’s presentation style is as different as his or her interests, and are loosely formed around the concept of FastForward – how we experience time, what the future could look like, remnants of humanity’s material culture, and on. Some presentations ask of us a task, some require thinking, others have physical components and material outputs.
Among the tasks we have been assigned are creating new letterforms, mapping the process of drive-thru design, building – or subtracting – monuments, creating objects from scavenged or salvaged materials. We’ve also been asked to weave, mindlessly or mindfully – depending on the situation. Making mini textiles turns out to be the crack of the design world and evidence of growing addictions lie scattered about, threads of yard, duct tape needles, 2x4 inch tapestries, index-cards-cum-mini-looms.
This morning I presented, the feedback was great and it seems that my post-apocalyptic theme has taken off. As a group we’ve tried to further sort out the idea of a PA world – the aesthetics, the causes. The remoteness of the island also aids in the contemplation of PA scenarios; the barn, lack of communication with the outside world, heavy fog, barking dogs… Further defining a term I’ve been using somewhat willy-nilly is tremendously helpful in thinking about design.
In the afternoon Giana, Emily, Linsday, Ben and Blake experimented with zip ties, braiding cords and neon tape to make jewelry. I’m intrigued by their habit of constantly creating – often without direction or goal. Unafraid to make mistakes or be a bit silly their constant puttering helps them work out ideas, like material brainstorming. As a historian, this way of working is alien to me, but I join the fray anyhow.
Today I overheard Ben, one of the DI board members, refer to our group as "the Inquirers". Thought the term makes total sense it also makes us sound like a cult. The exhibition we plan to mount on Friday will help negate this idea – for the island’s population of 1,200 this exhibition will be a chance to learn about what we do.
Ben and I visit our exhibition space downtown and spend a good chunk of the afternoon with Allison, our store-owning friend, talking island life. My desire to learn about the organizational and systematic design of the town stems partly from recent PA conversations. The island has two ambulances, one school with 180 children and tons of volunteer firefighters. There is a Lion’s Club and a Grange. Childbirth here happens frequently in homes, though an emergency plan, fishermen providing transportation to the mainland quickly, is commonplace.
Still obsessed with PA, I continue to reference Lost, The Walking Dead and The Hunger Games. The other Inquirers surprise and share with me their PA revelations, tangents and antidotes. Andrew gives me a list of everything that reminds him of PA; a monument to Communism in Bulgaria, the “Rupocolypse” from Rupaul’s Drag Race, Costco food storage shelving, The Cabin in the Woods.
In the afternoon a few of us head to the quarry, spending our time rolling on and off the giant log floating in it. The beauty of the location continually amazes me. We talk about an imaginary contraption called WineSips and I find myself getting into the inventive spirit.
Dinner was roasted veggies and BBQ chicken. After the sun sets, we attempt to inspire mechiomimicry (the imitation of machines by nature, and yes, we made it up), flashing headlights at fireflies, hoping they will respond with extra flurried bursts of light.
Tonight’s exhibition turned out better than I could have ever imagined. The doodling, crafting, weaving, printing, drawing, braiding, video and audio recording and photographing from the past five days are put on display. Some objects are more finished than others, but together they are a collection of the work and ideas that have consumed our time here. Rebecca’s weaving project is featured prominently, functioning as a measurement of time. Slideshows on iPhones show the transformation of the barn from Maine rental property to messy design lab/think space and videos of wildlife and pinhole camera portraits loop. Our many conversations about >>FastForward>> have transformed into tangible objects.
And then the celebration: the quickly deconstructed exhibition had been resurrected even faster in the barn. A wagon of lobster circled the picnic tables. Homemade whoopie pies elicited squeals of delight from James. And for the finale, Gabrielle’s MiniCooper was backed into the barn, causing a massive dance party.
This morning I left the island. As I say goodbye to my newfound colleagues and friends I am reminded of the summer camps from my childhood. This week I’ve heard almost everyone say that DI is impossible to define. It’s not a conference, but not an anti-conference either. It’s not a think-tank or a residency. Though it seems unfair to call DI a camp, because it’s not, for me it conjures similar feelings of wonder, adventure and nostalgia.
Kids go to camp to experience new things, make new friends, and get out of their every-day environment. Miles away from Chicago, work and school I’ve collaborated with people whose methods and processes, let alone ideas and interests, were totally foreign to me. Out of my comfort zone I was forced to challenge the way I think, to articulate myself. In an effort to avoid that familiar post-camp sadness, I’m already >>FastForwarding>> to next year.
Images in order of presentation:
Map of Maine coast, sheet-cum-projection screen – the heart, and physical center, of our workspace within the barn. Inquirers presented their work, showed photos and watch horror movies late at night here.
The projector and presenter’s laptop sit on lobster trap furniture – classic Maine style.
An icebreaker of sorts, we each picked a date in the future and added an adjective that describes us at that moment. Each person said out loud their year and word, sometimes with explanation, sometimes without. Morgan, 2072, settled.
View of the barn to the bay – sunny day. Our remote location proved highly influential in our experience. The lack of cell phone reception and internet forced us to interact with each other– especially on the first day when a newcomer’s instinct may be to send text or emails to those back home.
Scene of the constant playing, creating, making and remaking of objects with random supplies brought by inquirers. The small scale adornments made here evolved into larger conversations about fashion and eventually an impromptu photo shoot…
Blair Bowie – the seemingly silly moment of trimming Blake in pink tape, a “Blair Bowie” sign and zip tie jewelry reappeared as an exercise in exploring fashion in Giana’s presentation on fashion codes, and the method she devised to unlock and recreate them.
Produce delivered to the Sparrow Farm by a local farmer – many of the vegetables and animal protein (lobster!) we consumed during the week came from local farmers, bringing us closer to the land – and our topic.
Dinner each night was a big deal, a team of volunteers prepared the food, the rest of us set the table, and cleaned up, all ate together. Not only was each meal delicious, homemade pasta, homemade bread, roasted veggies and chicken, locally grown salad, but kept us together and focused, we spoke equally about our friends and families back home and about the mornings presentations.
James presenting his ideas on type in 100 years, thinking about the type that is still present in technology like Google’s Project Glass. Here he shows a computer program that creates letters based on a users facial expressions.
View of the barn – foggy day. The barn is much cooler on days like this, and we go through a lot of coffee.
View through the barn-swing. Teresa presents her ideas on time capsules.
Best-of photo wall. Sean’s photography project encouraged the user to think about what they want to capture, and how to frame the shot, using vintage Polaroid land cameras.
Close-up of best-of wall. Image of “Vinalh(e)aven” sign.
Sean then scanned the best-of images into a digital archive. Here, viewing the negatives on the projector screen some images appeared totally different than the photographs they produced.
Summer time balancing act.
Discover more about Design Inquiry