WAS IT YESTERDAY? Yes. I said I was going to redesign the entire zine. It’s done. The 8-pager is going to be printed later tonight, or tomorrow. This is a sneak peek of the cover drawing, by Dipika Kohli. This will be folded into the 8-page zine format you may have seen if you were at ‘Remarks on Noteworthiness,’ or ‘Excerpts of Note’ in London, or if you were at ‘Origin’ in Phnom Penh or Hanoi. The idea of a simple folded thing that you can just put in your pocket works well, for this particular one, which is S P A C E || Battambang. Going to print just 8 copies, to distribute to the 8 guests who will take part in Atelier S P A C E || Singapore from 10-12 November.
Simple collection, limited edition. Distributed P2P, with kindness and love, personally shared by hand. Isn’t that where the magic is? Person to person, eye to eye? Let’s *make* something. Let’s play. To the journeys! —AS (PS Digital copies of S P A C E || Battambang are going out this coming Tuesday, in S P A C E.)
THIS WEEK AT DK WORLD HQ in Phnom Penh, we printed a zine. S P A C E, the first one that’s not digital. Just one copy. To look at it, to see how it feels. Stick it on the fridge, ‘live with it.’ And you know what?
A total flop.
OK. Now, perhaps, you’re thinking, What? They’re writing about their terrible flop?
The answer is yes.
The answer! Is yes.
Let me get a little bit nerdy here, now. About design. About quickly mocking something up and flying it by a few people and seeing if there is something there. Magic, that’s what I’m looking for in this kind of experiment. Does it have the magic in it? Is it really going to do something *cool*? You know the experimenters who design science [experiments] and stuff, they have hypotheses and that’s great, and they use these methods to discover things like The Uncertainty Principle and the Copenhagen Interpretation, which is marvelous. Because science matters, and the approaches it takes towards discovery are *awesome*. But! We are not scientists. We are designers. And our approaches are different. Our approaches start with throwing something together quickly and testing it, FAST. Fail fast, they say. The innovation people. The design thinking ladies and gentlemen. The ones talking about ‘Human Centered Design,’ which, let’s be honest, is just Good Design.
Isn’t that obvious?
No. It’s not. People aren’t used to testing things quickly, they don’t want to run it by someone and look stupid. They don’t want people to say, ‘Hey, you know, you spelled that wrong, dude.’ Because why? Because people take things so personally! You know, you gotta lose that if you wanna invent something cool. You have to just go, ‘What do you think of this crazy little prototype thing that I just printed, and I thought it was great, when I was laying it out, on InDesign, but you know, once I printed it, ooooh. It’s just sooooo off the mark. OMG. But that’s okay. That’s just my personal response. What do you think? What does this thingy do for you? Does it move you, in some way?’
So of course I took it along last night to my first social outing since 2001. Okay, I’m kidding, but you know. Going out for a drink, seeing what’s going on. Making smalltalk, my least favorite thing to do. And enjoying it, somehow. But also, sharing this little printout. Does it move you, in some way? There were a few people that seemed to be interested, to be intrigued. Watching how they responded, that was cool. I learned something. The things to note, I noted. Put them in my heart, let them sit for a night, see how it feels the next day, when I start all over, with a new file, and totally rewrite the damn thing.
Prototypes and improvisations
BEBOP JAZZ artists and improvisational theater people are probably the ones who get this idea, the most, when I start to go there, in that direction of… well, whaddyou think? I dunno. Because we are jamming. You have to have some creative confidence around this, sure, I get that. And it’s like this, a chicken and egg thing, because how do you get confident about a thing if you never actually get in front of anyone to talk about the thing that you are making? Jeez! Again!
And so, this prototype is a fail. It’s okay. I’m cool with that. I’m just redesigning, like mad, today. I’m happy. It’s gonna be better, as a result. Whatever is the point of printing anything if you never test it first? I see the ego in the vanity publishing industry and I feel sad that so much paper is getting wasted. People give me the books that they have written, and this normally would have seemed like, you know, a thing that would make me go, ‘Wow. You published something.’ But you know what? I didn’t read their books. I quietly left them behind, wherever I was. I gave them away. I wondered if those people I forwarded the books onto have read them. Bad writing? Maybe. That’s some of it. Ego? Sure. I hate the idea of self-publishing, mostly because it means you never collaborate with anyone, you just sort of do it anyway, all your way. [Uh, like blogging here.] No offense to our team members here who are self-publishing just about everything. But not printing it, mind you. They’re not printing because the life of the story is still in prototype phase… people are still reading, and sharing their thoughts. There is no final final yet, to anything we are making here, not yet. We’re not that old yet. We can take our time. This is fine. Go slow. Enjoy the journey of discovering your way towards something that is better, even better, than what you have just printed.
Yesterday, this printout.
Tomorrow, the world.
(Or, at least, a more thoughtful, more human-centered, better-received printout. Yes?)
Next in S P A C E
LET ME PUT some links here someday. Things like ‘innovation,’ ‘design,’ ‘chance encounters,’ ‘ideation,’ ‘systems thinking,’ ‘validate your ideas,’ ‘get to 50 ideas first, please, before you go and do the second one, by Akira Morita‘, et cetera. I need to finish writing my checklist-book, ‘The Quality of Space,’ and make it more of a how-to because the doing is what makes design interesting and good, there should be design doing seminars not just design talking or design thinking, but the budgets are for people to make design thinking seminars and not zine ateliers (which are really just mini moments of experiencing the design process, you see? By hand, in real life, in person, with HUMANS). Oi.
But you know what? First I have to get back to this S P A C E zine. I have to print it. I have to get it looking and feeling right, before I take it to Singapore, and hand out 8 copies to the 8 people who will together, with me, make the next S P A C E. Some of you reading this online in other parts of the world might also be curious about becoming part of our S P A C E programmes. Check out our calendar, if yes. Prototyping a few other kinds of things, there. Exciting stuff.
Now, that doesn’t seem so strange, does it? Except, this:
I had no idea that I could be in America again, the year after leaving for ‘the practice of the known, the uncertain, and the different…’ it wasn’t a tour, it was an experience, made on the fly in south and southeast Asia with neither income, savings, nor a plan. Could it work? Yes. But I didn’t know that. How could I? Fretting, fussing, moving around because of visas coming to an end, et cetera, we found ourselves as a studio in the emerging city of Phnom Penh. Which had a kind of magic to it, an anything-can-happen sensation. Things are built, things are taken down. Stuff goes up again, wham. Fast. This is different from what I’m used to. It’s intriguing, it’s new. But… California? That wasn’t… part of the plan. Or was the plan not having a plan? And that’s how we landed in S P A C E. Okay, wait. Bangkok, Hanoi, Vientiane, Gangtok, Delhi, Amritsar, and somehow, Phnom Penh. Where we are still, almost four years later. If it was March, already, it would be 4 years. Four years in Cambodia? What?? A long story. Let me break it up with subheds.
A tree I found in California
HERE WE GO. Right before I go to California, I’m in Phnom Penh, and I don’t know a soul. What do I do? Go on twitter, of course. Put together a quick call for interest for a tweetup, #pptweetup, through which I meet VJ and GB, and soon, EC. Along with a handful of new and different others, and we are in the swing of it. Talking in real life, showing up. The magic of this moment, however, isn’t clear to me, yet. (Back then, it’s still about ‘networking.’ It’s about ‘finding gigs.’ Oddly, a gig did happen, through this, but that was just a footnote, it turned out.) Another twitter contact led to a person far away, YZ, in California, who asks me to come and join a 9-week programme to get people talking together in new ways, reflecting on their purpose. Sounds lofty, but great. I say yes. The brief is vague, but I have an open hand. So I do the thing I can’t help but do. Like the tweetup, but different. An unconference. I get us talking together. In circles. At places like this:
ON THE LAST DAY, one of the participants wrote a very sweet, colorful card, in which she said:
‘My favorite part was the tree place.’
‘The tree place’ became a place. You name a thing, and it has value. By noticing it, you give it something different. That was the beauty of this whole thing. Not the setting nor the discussions, but the noticing of the tree, that she had noticed it, and that was cool. I know this is already getting kinda… whooo, but you know? You know what I mean? Here is where the bright note of conscious awakening slammed its feathery light upon us, and said, ‘Spacemaking is not about a *place*, it’s about a *feeling*.’ When you feel like you’re in a space, it’s space.
So, yeah. We did the whole thing in Palo Alto as an unconference. Let’s name it. Let’s call it S P A C E.
SUMMER, nice weather. I’m meeting people from the deep past. People I haven’t seen for five, nine and 20 years. It’s neat, it’s remarkable, and what do I do? I invite them, of course, to walks, concerts, and to S P A C E. Be part of it.See what happens. BO’K comes, magically appearing out of the aether after 20 years of not seeing one another. I follow her to the cafe where her friend, a landscape architect who’s come along just to see what this is all about, and I sit and listen to music for two hours, talking about the price of real estate and things that four and six-year-olds like to do. It’s simple, it’s life. It’s where we are at. But the noticing… did we notice it? Yes. YES. We did. I go to her house after things are done with my programme, catch brunch. I meet some more people. They give me their cards. They ask me what I do. I have no idea, really. My house and life is in Phnom Penh (did I say that, to them, out loud? Huh…) and, uh, this is a side tour from a side tour, and yet…
I say something.
For the first time, it sounds super cohesive, it strikes a note, for me, the high note.
I don’t say, ‘I’m a journalist’ or ‘I’m a writer’ or ‘I have a design studio.’
None of this is relevant to me, all of it is just the past, and incomplete, each idea. So I say this.
I say, ‘I’m a spacemaker.’
And it sticks.
Discovering the Art of Not Knowing
I GET BACK FROM PALO ALTO totally jazzed and then I design a mini-tour. To Bangkok to make SELF. To Singapore to see what the Singapore Writers Festival is doing, to see EC off before he goes to Los Angeles or somewhere and does some computer work far away from us in Cambodia. In Singapore, I get a press pass and pop around to Paul Muldoon‘s ‘Art of Not Knowing’ workshop, in which we are playing the game Exquisite Corpses. Then I notice it. We are in a circle. Like the tree place.
I meet people at my left elbow, my right elbow. It’s like school, but much funner. This is like the lawn, outside, in the picture above? See it? Of course I made the unconference stuff happen outside. Why wouldn’t you? Air and light, breeze. The story to emerge, outdoors. Outside the box of stuffy academia. Man.
The sharing and the circle and the unexpected in the Art of Not Knowing reminds me of the summer, just gone. I think about the music I heard, the people I met, the space that we made, together. We go into the interstitial, and it gets dreamy and wide and vast. It’s intimate but it’s not… too much, too soon, too fast. You don’t have to be anything. You just show up, and you automatically belong. In the AONK workshop, I make a quick note about a Grecian urn, because I remember that from English Lit, even though I wish that it had had more Asian Lit in it, and not gratuitous if you know what I mean. Somehow, someone later mentions Keats. This is dialogue. This is sharing. Someone right up front suddenly falls asleep: is it narcolepsy? We don’t know. It’s kinda fun, funny, light, and relaxing. This is how I like it, too. Same vibe. As what we did in Calif., with S P A C E.
I get back to Phnom Penh and the winter passes, but it’s sunny, so I hardly realize it’s already turned 2015. What will I do in 2015? I will finish Kanishka. It will be published in a serial format in English, for the magazine that hosted me for the residency program while we were ‘out there’, on the road. Days and months and people who show up when you most are in need of encouragement, a warm bed, a hot meal: these are the people whom you will never forget, and whom you will list on every acknowledgements page you write for the next five years.
In Phnom Penh, I will go to the same cafe pretty much every day and order the same thing, I still go there and they just nod and I get the same thing, and this routine makes me write Breakfast in Cambodia in the meantime while I’m trying to ‘figure it all out.’ What am I doing in Asia, anyway? What the hell is next? Where and how will we manage to pay for all this? Meantime, DK is starting to get a little known. AM is networking, this time. Used to be me, now I’m a hermit. But so? Weirdly, it doesn’t even matter about me being in hibernation. Gigs are coming, anyway. People are asking us to do things. Think about how to think about a thing: a project, a design, a story. It’s magic, again. It’s spacemaking. I’m not sure where things are going to go, but they go to: London, Copenhagen, and Battambang. They go to Kampot, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. They go around and around in circles and I’m there, I”m listing to the ambient note, that is playing, playing very softly, but is resonant. Something is there. In the aether. Like BO’K coming out of the internet and meeting me in real life, eye to eye, smiling and laughing and talking like we’re kids again in Kyoto, and wow, it’s there. All of it. The journey is not the journey. The work is not the piece. The here, right now, is the whole of it. The infinite vastness, the big black empty, the deep and mysterious magic of just being here. How did that happen?
A new physics of space
I’M GOING HOME. I’m going home. Which is what? Which is where? Phnom Penh. Home is now a little apartment. Now it’s flat. Now we’re moving to Toul Kork. No, no. Not it. For two months, I explore Hanoi. I get to know the places. I draw, write, think. Make poems. I meet SY, she is a poet, too. We are lost in the ‘out there,’ together. In Battambang I meet Y. He is on the verge of tears. I try not to get too involved, because, to get involved is to end the journey of noticing the *magic* of *simply being*. I go esoteric again, write a website about relational aesthetics. I share essays with a very small circle of people who read what I say and respond, in something called S P A C E. Of course it’s called that. What else would it be called?
Later, much later, and nearer to now (yesterday), I will email VJ and say that business, for the writing, is slow. I’m quitting. I don’t want to quit, but I can’t do it, now. The writing into the void, without feedback, is killing me. I don’t want to do it. I much prefer the forums. I say some of this, but incoherently, because I’m just not a line-by-line, develop the story kind of a person. I know that this is how you communicate, though, and so, I’m trying to learn it. It’s slow. I’m fine with going slow. Meantime I’ve become a very different person from the one I was when I was frustrated that ‘no one understands this!’ because, hey, you have to know a thing intimately yourself, first, if you want anyone to give a damn about it.
So yeah. I accept it. Writing what I want to write in the way I want to write it isn’t going to foot the bills. But AM, my partner at DK since the 90s, reminds me not to worry about that, to push the thing, to make it better. Make what better? Make it better: solve the problem that you are designing a solution for. He sounds different. The time apart, working separately, has evolved us in different ways. He is prototyping. I am playing. We move along the diverting paths of the fork. It’s good. It’s healthy. I finish writing Breakfast in Cambodia. I do Q&As with people who talk with me about ‘starting to start’, people I meet online, or how bitcoin works, or their own take on explorations of venturing into the unfamiliar, and how we trust the process. That stuff.
Figuring out there’s nothing to figure out
EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, I take a mini-vacation. Solo. I put all these thoughts away and sometimes take some small pages, and put them in my back pocket, and consider them, alone, for a week. Offline. Deviceless. Then I come home. Once, I redesigned this entire website. Now it’s Atelier S P A C E. Lately, I’ve recruit people to help me share about it, spread the word, since I’m so… esoteric. Noted. Sure, I tend to get lost in the corners, go into the philosophical, stop and not think about how does this communicate? Because you know why? People want a ‘topic sentence’ and a ‘developing paragraph.’ But the world of physics that I love and adore (quantum, fuzzy logic), is not concerned with linearity. Or proving something. There is the uncertainty principle, of course. staring at us. Why don’t people respect it? Why do they insist on boxing the answer, proving it until death, submitting to academic journals ad nauseous, making us think that yes, this is a thing the we need to swallow, wholesale. But I don’t believe it just because you typed it. There are 10 dimensions, right? Or 11? What’s the latest research on that?
The next journey
LOTS HAS CHANGED since 2014. I’m no longer writing for the people who have the gigs to give me, because I don’t want the gigs. I want the stories, the collaborations, eye contact, the in-the-box conversations that go places, that move an intrigue. I want real life. I want a shared experience of beauty: that which we see, when we are in person, noticing one another. Together. Am going to make Atelier S P A C E because zines! Zines are light, fun, simple, tangible. You cans ee them. You can hold them. You can know where a thing is going. It’s a kind of container: what goes in it, how that happens, where we discover that which we’ll share is all an open question, but the box is there. That is the space. We already have the form. The work is in the going and discovering, now. I have to go and do that. I have to. It’s just not going to be okay to stay in one place and keep on writing into the void, in private page posts for myself, no matter how romantic the life of a recluse might appear to some (Y, I’m talking to you… remember that thing I said: find out what turns you on! Then go and offer that to people!), no matter how much I want dot hide in this box forever, I’m ready now to stop it. To get out of Phnom Penh, and make stuff, with others. Out there.
In the world. Can you dig it? Let’s do this, then. Let’s make something. In real life, together.
NEXT STOP, Singapore. Talking with people in design, publishing, writing, photography, illustration, networking as much as I can right now (online) before I get there (early November) to *make it happen*. I’m really looking forward to making a go of this, it’s been a long time in the works trying to discover how to get people connected, engaged, and talking together. In London, I stayed at this place where a young lad came up to me and said, ‘I heard you were going around the world meeting people.’ I was like, ‘Ummm.’ But that’s it. I am. But it’s not just about the ‘going around the world’ part that’ interesting, or the ‘meeting people’ part. It’s about connecting and inviting and discovering and most importantly, inter-relating people in new and remarkable ways. Where is the joy, otherwise, if we’re not really looking at each other? Who cares about e-lationships? I want real life.
I realize that a very short deadline, tight-run, and succinct programme would be a fun way to try something, in real life, together.
What do you think of this programme? Suggestions for making it smoother to read, and understand are welcome. Anyone who is a member of S P A C E is more than welcome to join me at this, for free. If you are thinking about being in S P A C E and aren’t sure about what the benefits are, here’s the thing. No one knows. Just like ‘N‘ and other things, it’s about *showing up*. I find that the magic moments happen when we make the choice to do that, and see who else has made the same commitment. Is it weird? Is it working? Is it overly ambitious? I am writing and wondering, out loud, as I do.
I’m only sharing this quietly, today. I want to stay connected and in conversations, so just add your comment, critique, or sideline soliloquy in the form below? I would use comments but if I do they start getting all spammy and it gets totally out of hand. Mostly, what we are all interested here at DK is designing space for us to really collaborate. If we’re not working together well, we’re not doing anything interesting. Did you notice? Look up. See all those people in their computers and phones? Me, included. We are losing the magic of real life, by showing up together, and noticing one another. Eye to eye. All very esoteric, this kind of talk, but you know what I’m talking about, right? You know.
Let’s converse? It’s all open space. And I’m listening.
Here’s a form. This could lead to all kinds of cool conversations in real life. It has, and does.
MEET DESIGN KOMPANY this week to get a copy of our new chapbook, Phnom Penh || S P A C E. It contains some of the highlights from our 2014-2017 series of images. It gathers select short, quiet moments in a new collection, which has not been shared elsewhere outside of our online community, S P A C E. Many of these will be unexpected images: this isn’t what the ordinary passerby will make a note of, we are certain of that. Only by staying still in one place for a time can you really start to finally see it. Which means, of course, recognizing that you can never see a thing fully, no matter how long you look or how much you investigate, unless you see it clearly, with your heart.
‘How arrogant it would be for me to write about Cambodia,’ I said to VS yesterday, an earnest young man who, after working in international development, is freelancing as a translator of English to Khmer, his native language. He tells me I should write a story about __. I say, ‘No. __ is not mine. __ is yours. These are not my stories to write: these are yours. What I can do is show you the viewpoint I have, as a person who sees space in a very particular way. This story, this visual communication, without too many words that can clutter meaning, this is what the Phnom Penh || S P A C E chapbook is about.’ Curious? Get it when you join S P A C E this month.
DK: ‘A Nomadic Existence?’ asked one of my longest-term mentors. ‘What is it about, exactly? Can you name that? Can you paint a picture of what it IS? In other words, what is the content of your forum?’ Let me answer that. What IS it about. It’s about lots. It’s about the things that happen, magically, when we simply make *time* and *space* to converse, together.
AS: How does it work?
DK: I post on Mondays. We have a week to write a response. Then, on Sundays at 7PM ICT, I respond and craft the next day’s post. It’s emergent, one step at a time. It’s N+1. All of this is behind protected-page posts on this blog. Those who are taking part in the online forums are participant, see, and I truly mean are participating in the making of the content, as we go. We don’t have to know each other for a lifetime, heck we don’t even have to know one another for one hour. Or ever have met in real life. But… we show up together, and there’s a pattern of how this works, and what we can do with it, and you know? It’s a kind of community, without all the weird things that some communities turn into… I believe that this is a conversation space, and it’s also an exploration. I don’t know why I’m going into this much detail. Because I care so much? Because I lack editing skills? That’s where you come in, A. Thank you.
AS: Why is it interesting? What makes it different?
DK: We are looking for the a-ha. It comes, at times. I believe there is a way to design space for meaningful, magic moments. Connexion. Real connexion. I believe it has to be designed for, this kind of quality of truly well-collaborated, well-made space. There is design, but design is useless if it’s not inclusive and inviting and welcoming and made-by-the-collection of those who are there.
IN RECENT MONTHS, parts of DK have been regrouping on the road, while some of us are in Phnom Penh. We are trying to sketch out the ‘why’ of DK. The purpose, the whole thing. I know we’ve been ‘at it’ since 1994, in various ways and shapes, but now, it’s for real. Why? One reason.
The world needs artists.
Okay, maybe not ‘the world.’ Maybe… humanity. We need artists. Artists see. They see, and they interpret. They share the form of the essence of something, and when it’s good, it’s because that form is something that we can all resonate with; there is resonance because there is some kind of universal… hm. Not ‘truth,’ but… something. Something that we go, ‘Yeah,’ when we see it, and when we see it, we see it with more than just our eyes, we feel it.
Here’s an example. Music. Music does this brilliantly. In Wholeness and the Implicate Order, David Bohm (a physicist I learned about because of his dialogues with J. Krishnamurthi, just google it) talked about music and the universal. I had shared about these conversations in the 2016 series of our online webzine, S P A C E. Proceeds from subscriptions of S P A C E, and our other programmes, make it possible to maintain this blog. (And keep designing, on the road, one step and one designful conversation at a time. Next in the 2017-2018 sequence here in S P A C E, this is the plan: Discovering and including and shining a light on voices that for some reason the mainstream media just ignores. Fortunately, we have a rolodex this time, and a good batch of past programmes that we’ve prototyped, too.)
It’s been wonderful being in Asia for these four years and learning just how very vacant Big Media is, truly, in its overlooking and excluding of so many fantastic voices. I think that is a vision that is coming forth now more strongly in our new programmes and the designs ahead; we want to be more clear about this, more intentional: we want to discover new people and new stories, not just pander to what’s already popular. Because what’s popular isn’t really what’s… well. It’s personal taste, right? But… to me, it’s not interesting. What’s interesting is what we can learn from one another, in real life, when we meet and connect. Which takes showing up, but also curiosity. I believe we still have this… curiosity. About one another.
Synthesis is a kind of art: and this comes from engaging, connecting, and learning from various input sources. That’s the kind of resource-collecting we just have to have more of, now. It takes… work. Going out of the boxes, making it uncomfortable for ourselves because we have to go where we don’t know where we are. Otherwise, stagnation. Boredom. Ennui. Bad art.
We need thinking. We need it to happen when people connect with those whose paths wouldn’t have crossed. So that we can… do things better. More… collaboratively. For dialogue, for sharing. For collaboration. So we have to do something. We have to change it up. This is how.
Competing interests. Times that you were starting to do something, and then you didn’t, because… what? Distraction. Something came up. Something that you thought was going to happen didn’t, because of… what? Lack of commitment. Lack of conviction. Something else popped up on the other end. No worries, nothing gets done, time goes by, nothing gets done, because… why? Lack of commitment. Lack of showing up. Not caring enough about doing it, because you are too busy considering other options. Paralyzed into inaction because of… what?
‘You know. Getting you to write down what you want to do this week. And then asking you if you did it.’
‘You said you wanted that, right?’
‘That was like, half a year ago!’
‘Yeah, sorry. But. I’ve gotten some other things going that reminded me of how it’s important to check in and stuff. And so I got back into it, not because, you know, it was highly urgent or anything, it’s just that, I know how to do it, at least. I have a hunch. A minimum viable thingy. But yeah. I think this will work. Mechanically. You know. Automating, but not getting all carried away with figuring out code. I’m not a code guy, you know that.’
‘I think sometimes people like to overdesign the tools. The tools aren’t important, though.’
A NEW BOOK is going to launch on 1 September. It’s called Nostalgia Ca Phe. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one go out into the world. Not your usual kind of book, Nostalgia. It’s a nonlinear interactive experience. I know. That’s weird. (But… if you are smiling, then this was written for people like us.) Science fiction, third-person narrative. Set in Copenhagen, Hanoi, and… outer space.