Two crates of grapefruit.
Five groups of five people, (one group includes DI Vinalhaven regular Obi, a white standard poodle), convene to venture answers to one of five queries: How might “Quo” feel to the touch? What might “No” smell like? At what rate of frequency do the words “No Quo” need to be repeated in order to invert the syntax to “Quo No?” What materials, shapes, elements would comprise a No Quo uniform? Finally and importantly, What’s for lunch? (Obi is in this group.) The inquirers discussing the first question stop abruptly, finding themselves at an impasse. Two people adamantly hold that Quo’s tactile properties resemble that of velvet, plush, or faux suede. Another person in the group insists that Quo feels neither soft nor is pliable, but rather, is bumpy and rigid. The two others say that it feels like an orb laminated in sandpaper. Group members reluctantly agree to start over.
The person seated at one end of the long table dishes scrambled eggs onto his plate from a large bowl, then passes the bowl to the left. As the second person repeats this action, the first person forks some bacon onto his plate from a full platter. The two people pass the bowl and the platter to their left in concert. While the second and third persons serve themselves, the first one scoops a spoonful of warm apple betty onto his plate. The progression proceeds smoothly as bowls and plates and pitchers are passed along: whipped cream, butter, grated gruyere, sliced brie, chopped scallions, marinated tomatoes, wilted spinach, baked garlic, orange wedges, yogurt, banana slices, raisins, almond slivers, barn-made bread, honey, halved grapes, salt, pepper, hot sauce, grapefruit juice. Each person accepts a portion, however small, of everything served. Otherwise, the chain would break. Once the twenty-fourth person receives the final link, everyone eats. Thus a day at the barn begins with an exercise in coordination.
Two dozen people sit side by side on the rough wood plank floor. They encircle piles of stacked paper. Each person poises a stick of pastel chalk just above the floor, except one among them who raises a metal pot in one hand and a heavy ladle in the other. At the clang, each person draws a slight arc from left to right and terminates the line at the starting point of the next arc. An imperfect, relative roundness emerges.
At 3:21 p.m. on Tuesday the jet printer, seven computers, a coffee pot, the oven timer, a cell phone, three pens, and a breaking dish sound all at once. Simultaneous beeps, pings, chimes, buzzes, clicks, and clatters remind us that music, which typically permeates the barn, is not playing. A meditative silence follows.
Participants often utter the words “design” and “Design,” expressed variously.
During the 2.1 mile walk from the Poor Farm house to the Sparrow Farm barn, seven Design Inquirers chat about their expectations for the day. They have attended DI before, and know that Friday night arrives quickly, especially when it’s already Wednesday morning. The Inquirers slip into the barn through netting hung across the gaping double doors, (installed to deter mosquitoes), still gesturing and chittering. They greet the others who are talking quietly or arranging pieces of ephemera or reviewing composed pages. One of the seven skips to the chalkboard, erases last night’s dinner menu, and, drawing the ideas into the barn from the path outside, jots down each one hastily:
…template > noquo < system
…anybody here know Latin?…
…sense box & altruistic aperture
…name agitations: intersect >< infect
Just as everyone finishes dinner in the barn, someone steps up onto one of the tables. She stands there quietly waiting for the thrum of conversation to dissipate. When only the music can be heard, the woman speaks. “Do any of you know Latin?” People look to each other, shrug shoulders, shake heads. Obi appears from under the table, perhaps having caught the elusive scent of “know.”
A design inquirer glides back and forth on the swing inside the barn. She counts out loud when each arc terminates. She is at one-hundred-twenty-two. The swing—a wooden plank knotted onto two thick ropes that hang from the rafters—is one in a series of production stations. Everyone else draws, tapes, glues, cuts, prints, folds, trims, sews, and so on. When the woman winds down to reach two-hundred back and forths, (her elected count), she will step off of the swing to join the others as each person moves along in the production line. The next one to follow her will announce his chosen number of back and forths and will hop on the swing.