For some an essay has to be in words, lineated, topical. For others, an essay can be a building, a typography, an ephemeral drift around an island. Some define the essay as Montaigne did, as “an attempt” while others say that an essay, instead, is “a discovery or a turn.” And some add that the essay is “an experiment.”
Instead of using any single definition (no matter how open the term), a homology of multiple possibilities, a rhizome or network of choices, “an invisible, elastic net” to crib a phrase from Virginia Woolf, is likely more useful in the densely interwoven contemporary moment.
At the start of DI 2014, I would create a visual, open-ended map of what an essay can be. Once posted in the DI house on Vinalhaven, DI participants will use this map as a prompt or a kind of launching place for their own accessing of the essay, or for using the essay as a shape for accessing the world, or for allowing an inter-accession between design and essaying and visual art making.
Throughout the conference, work and thoughts, artifacts and notes and the like will be situated onto the map in relation to their point of access for the essay. The map itself, then, will become a collaborative visual/literary essay on access, essays, design, and on the experiences of DI participants.