WHEN DESIGN KOMPANY landed in Phnom Penh in March 2014, something incredibly magical took hold of me. I still remember the photo: I’m on a tuk-tuk, looking out at what was the Independence Monument, though I didn’t know it at the time. We’re rounding the circle, I’m staring. I’ve got one hand clutching the open-air tuk-tuk’s column, it’s like a movie, or a dream. After trying to put the experience of being here into words (my best shot, in Breakfast in Cambodia), I want to share with you the pictures and drawings of the aesthetic that moved me so much, in that first week, that I pressed for our team to stay here for a while. A flat to let. That turned into one year, then two, then three. It’s now almost been four years, and it’s time for me to look for the next place.
But before I go, this is the last dance. ‘Phnom Penh || S P A C E’ is the chapbook, a visual summary of some my finds when exploring the aesthetic of Cambodia. I didn’t train fully in art and design, I was an engineering major, and I spent my time abroad in Kyoto. But coming to Cambodia made me question this. Why wasn’t Phnom Penh an option when it came to where to study art, design, the ornament, ritual, symmetry, these kinds of things? When we were students, it was all about Florence. New York. London, Tokyo. But now, you can go anywhere. You can study anything. This was my self-designed independent study. I had no idea it would last more than three years.
What is Beauty? Who gets to decide? Here, in this place, it’s quite miraculous; never taught to us in art schools, but of a quality and temperament that only by being here, in situ, for a time, and absorbing, can you really feel. It’s not easy to articulate, but the pictures, I hope, and the drawings, will tell this story to the world, from the perspective of Atelier S P A C E. Can you dig it?
Free digital copy for those who join S P A C E in September.
AN 8-WEEK or 12-WEEK online programme that prompts you to ask questions designed to elicit self-awareness. Reflection. Connection. Discovery. It’s a 1:DK conversation that is exploratory and emerges, week over week. You’ll be able to choose-your-own-adventure as we go, selecting from the grab-bag of more than 100 prompts that DK have built over the 2014-2016 period when we had hosted something else, called the ‘cojournal.’ Discover and share, co-discover with us. By invitation only.
A NOMADIC EXISTENCE has begun.
AS: What is it about?
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.