The Art of Not Knowing

Art of Not Knowing by Dipika Kohli
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A NEW ESSAY COLLECTION, by DK’s Dipika Kohli. It’s about many, many things but most of it is about uncertainty. How we can’t possibly know a thing before we start, and how we simply must investigate our way towards what feels right, and how that even works.

First release will be 1 June for members S P A C E. Then, pre-orders will be released 1 July.

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Metaphilosophy and metaphysics, with clouds


Get together with a very small group of people to talk about things that feel more interesting than the usual drone of:

  • ‘How long have you been in Phnom Penh?’ (yawn)
  • ‘What do you do here?’ (Why? Are you job hunting?)
  • ‘Where are you from?’ (How about ask me where I’m local?)

The idea. After a series of four really amazing ‘Rooftop Philosophy in Phnom Penh’ salons, limited to just a few people and small and informal in style, we bring back Rooftop Philosophy in Phnom Penh, this time the #5 edition, by invitation only. Share your availability with DK by email and we’ll choose a date and time that works for most. Max 6.

Agenda. Guided, prompt-led conversation. No experience or expertise necessary. Proficiency in English is best, but all are welcome. Light, relaxed, nice view. How to design space for great dialogue? Conversations that, I promise, will veer far from the vein of the above. That is the work of DK.

Fee. USD $15 per person to participate. Free for patrons of DK. (Want to become a patron? Here’s how.)

RSVP through the form below. Details to follow.

Rooftop Philosophy in Phnom Penh
Rooftop Philosophy #1 – #4 happened here.

Seeking interesting people in Berlin and Hanoi


A short note.

About ‘onceness.’

And ’16N.’ I’m looking for interesting people to invite to a 16-way blind date. ‘Interesting’ has a lot of definitions, I’m aware. I guess for me, the kinds of people who would say yes and show up to something as wacky as an ‘N’ deems theme exceptionally intriguing. I can tell you now, why.

Making the magic moment *happen*

DESIGNING MOMENTS. Two years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Phnom Penh wondering if I would ever meet Person A again. The conversation had gone so brilliantly, but it was just a passing thing. Wasn’t it? Yes. That was fine. Not everything has to be eternal friendship. But… what if it could’ve been a different kind of setup? As in, the stage-setting for the two hours or whatever it was, so that the actual time together was *better*? That is the work of designers, isn’t it? To make things *better.* So I started drawing on a napkin, thinking about nothing. I made an ‘N.’ It was weird. I put a vector sign over the top. Now it was ‘N’ vector. What the? Geometry?

And then, weirdly, it hit me.

What if 16 vectors crossed just ONCE?

What if 16, which is a nice number, people who’d never met were invited to join in on a once-off conversation salon? Of course the theme would start with an ‘N’. The place? A venue with an ‘N’. In a city with an ‘N.’ Just for symmetry or maybe poetry, 16N events in 16 cities. Yes. That. That is how ’16N’ got dreamed up.

Salons on topics like BEAUTY, ORIGIN, and ENNUI from 2004-2015 in Phnom Penh, Seattle, and Durham NC have been experiments to discover what works, what definitely doesn’t, and how to enjoy gathering people in bounded boxes of temporal, ephemeral space and time. Skilfully designed. For highly present guests.

The first ‘N’ events were in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. (NORMALITY and NOW). Next was London (NOTEWORTHINESS). Continuing. Making it happen. Improvising as we go.

Can you help me discover people? New and different others…

The kinds of people who’d be open to enjoy a short evening of playful conversation, some improvisation maybe, and ‘let’s just see how it goes.’

Know anyone like that? I hope yes.

Introductions are very welcome. All the instructions and updates are on this page:

Discover more about 16N at this page.

Get more like this, and exclusive articles from DK

This post originally appeared in our online eZine, S. P. A. C. E. Get it and discover what people around the world are saying about their creative process, when you become a patron of DK.

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Magazine pieces

MAGAZINE PIECES. New works on paper, A4 and smaller dimensions. Cut and paste. Mixing it up. Discovering fragments, enjoying the play. Collection draws from magazines stolen in Hanoi, Kathmandu, Copenhagen, London, and especially Bangkok, which has the best oversize glossies DK has ever seen. ‘My process? Oh, yes. The instruments I use are extremely specialized. Scissors, for example. And glue.’ View the collection >

The beginning is half of every journey

I AM WRITING FROM MY ROOM, and it’s morning, and there is a rooster telling me so. Except that rooster isn’t the first one up, usually. All of the other people in the house are already out. I heard that there was going to be some commotion, later in the morning. That people would be coming by to pick up some stuff, and move it out. Somebody else’s stuff. That’s been here since before I was, because this is a new living space.

This is a new chapter.

I guess you could define chapters of your life in that way, huh. By places where you’ve lived. Not just cities. Cities are great, cities are fantastic, but cities, I’m realizing the more I write about the things I care about from them, are no longer the same places they used to be. For me. I can’t speak for everyone, and I certainly can’t pretend to know something. But my particular experiences have led me to see that the city isn’t where, long term, I personally want to be. I think I had a hunch about this in New York City in the late 1990s when I was looking for the big road to the gold and the art world. Just writing that now seems funny and strange, and a little bit embarrassing, too. Growing up on the East Coast, though, New York was ‘it.’ Where you wanted to be if you wanted to be anybody in the arts. That was the programming. That was the conditioning. And now, I think about all that and pore through the pages of The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, which my boss loans me, and points out the stories that are very good (‘Did you read “A Dog’s Tale?” Did you read “Is He Living or Is He Dead?” I go and read IHLOIHD and I laugh out loud and then blink: it’s the plotline for Posthumous! Then I read ADT and absolutely cry of indignation. I burst out my most bursting-out voice and the boss looks at me, and this time he blinks. Slow. ‘Some rich people are good,’ he says, sagely. That is the thing about bosses. They just know things, somehow.)

But the changing of chapters is where, I think, the good stuff is. Was it on the internet, or in a QM book, where I read: ‘Life happens on the edge of a change of state.’ Like, water boiling into gas, or gas turning into ice. Change of state. Transition. Life happens there. I remember being in Japan, this would also be in the 1990s. When I was studying in Kyoto. I remember Japan, because it was before New York, and I had never even been to NYC before I’d been to Tokyo. The falling-in-love with the city happened there. I know. A lot of people are like, ‘Tokyo?’ But the skylines and the things there were to draw with the line and photograph with the eye were multitudinous and out of my usual scape of seeing. That was why I stayed on, for a little while longer than I’d meant. Got to know the city well, got to hang out in Ueno often, got to see people and build a small life and meet people, and then meet them again, and in this small way, turn the place I found intriguing into a sort of a village. A place I could relax, a little, even if it was extremely lonely, most of the time. That was before internet. I can’t imagine what it must be like, now… I guess the internet is great though in some ways because I can live in a not-big city and run into people and run into them again and meet over time and then feel, in some way, a sense of connection and belonging. Even if this isn’t my town. Even if this isn’t even ‘my’ country. Less and less claim on the boundaries, now. I don’t have to wonder about the ‘where I’m from’ question as much as dive more deeply into the more important one, for me. The ‘who am I’ question. Which, obviously, can rustle people up if you start asking all about it. Who are you? What do you care about? What makes you move, sing, fly, dance, love? These are too big of a place to start with so many people, of course, but I am deeply curious about people and asking is how I learn, so that’s why I got into writing, and that’s why I got away from Tokyo. I couldn’t ask anything. I got away from New York, too, for the same reason. ‘Who are you? What do you want from me?’ F, f, f. So I went home and found the rest of the story waiting for me in the cupboards of the dusty room where I used to be when I was a pre-teen and then a teen and the magazines I’d collected. And then I started cutting them up. Bit by bit. The programming, the conditioning. Snip, snip, snip. The way women are portrayed, the way they are showcased, objectified. Men are also showcased, successified. There is something wrong here, I think, but not in words. I just cut and paste and write little things in comics and wonder if anyone will laugh along with me, but I’m cutting and pasting all winter long and then part of the spring, and then my parents ask me when I’m going to leave, already. So I do. I go away, not sure where. Without a plan. No idea. Thinking about how to turn DK into something ‘else.’ But not doing it, not until I find the right mode, the right impetus, for the thing to come. The change of state. Not just to Washington, but this time, further. Asia. Like, for a while. Like indefinitely. I go on a tour.

Book of Time

SLOWLY, THROUGH THE DISTANCE, the fog clears. This happens in Gangtok. It’s October, probably my favorite month. October 2013. I write a piece called “Cloudy feathers in Gangtok” and describe pigeons on roofs and the feeling of the mist on my face, and the way the light pinkens the tip of Mount Kanchenjunga, sending me into the tizzy that will not let me come back, not ever, to believing in anything I can’t see with my own eyes, or feel anything I haven’t felt in my own heart. There are sweaters in the suitcases in Delhi but those are heavy and far from where I am, and we are, because I always travel with Boss. Obviously. We are carrying around the people and places that matter most to us, no matter where we are. No matter where we go. Going is part of the work, though. Just like we are doing all this emailing to people to ask if they might like to come to ‘N’ in London and Copenhagen and later, Hanoi and Bologna and New York (see the pattern there?) is work in the other kind of way. Practicing the art of being there, showing up. Saying hi. This is hard for me, especially since 2016 has been, so far, a year of introversion. I mean, really. It’s actually not very good. I am the kind of person who needs new input all the time, so that is why the City was so appealing. But trips to Europe in recentish months have shown me that the City of old, the one where there is ‘energy and buzz and cool art,’ is really not that anymore. It’s just a marketplace. All reduced down, in that way, in my opinions. Everything is an opinion, though, that anyone writes. And media isn’t media anymore, or maybe it never was, and social media isn’t newsy, because I followed someone’s recommendation to the wrong part of the city for a snatch of breakfast and it was weird. It was like, ‘So now what.’ And then you go back to that old awareness. Nothing is for real, everything is subjective. An observer, observing a system, changes the system.

MOVERS CAME TO THE HOUSE AND TOOK HALF OF SOME STUFF that’s been stored behind the grand staircase away. I had wondered about it. Because the blockage of the front passageway in a home is bad feng shui. I’m not schooled in feng shui, but I do design spaces, and I’m sharing some of what the feeling of my ‘rooms’ for conversations and the installations and the once-off ‘events,’ which are really more, in my opinion, like ‘happenings,’ which are about people and connection and the shape of space, and the conversation, and the moment and the whohappenstobethere and not overly designed but half improvised, half make it up as you go, those are where I am learning how to place things and create the lighting and set the stage for these great moments to happen. Because it’s design. The architecture of the interstitial. Whoa. If that’s not esoteric, I don’t know what is. And I would never, ever block the front passageway. That just stifles. That stiffens, stagnates. It’s not a good thing. I open the windows of the room and let the air cross-ventilate, when it’s not raining so hard the drops poke their hands in and get on all my bajillions of scraps of this and nostalgia snips and the cut-up magazines from glossies that adorn most any of the many rooms and rooms of the chapters and chapters of the where I go, where I am, looking for Self in the Other, discovering the Stillness in the attentiveness to the Shape of Space. It’s getting there. Slowly, surely. I’m learning and changing, every day. To the journey, then. To boss-men, new old classics, text and the story to come. I don’t know where will be next.

But I’m going to investigate.

And learn. And think about the Next.

Because of course there will be one, and not in the too-far future. The only thing that will need to happen is the deciding and doing part. The beginning, as they say, is half of every journey.

The people from before


It might seem really strange to want to go to the cities of the world and find random people and gather them in one moment of conversation. Each. One moment each. In 16 cities: 16 people in each city. For about two hours, each. So they can meet each other.

Yeah, writing that seems really strange, even I can see that. If you don’t know me, though… it is. If you know me, it makes perfect sense. Because I’ve done a lot of learning and changing and traveling, and I guess in a lot of ways I’ve given up a lot of other things (things that people might call ‘security’). Personally. That’s just me, though. Maybe it won’t really matter, at the end of all of this. I guess thinking about the end a lot, too. Not in a dark way, just in a, ‘Huh. So that’s where we’re all going,’ sort of a way. The great, fat ending that is going to be the same no matter what we do in the meantime.

DESIGNING ’16N’. So I figure in the meantime, why not have fun. Why not play. Enjoy the day to day, but when that gets boring find people to talk to, to connect with. I used to do this in small tea party styles, at my house or apartment. More of the time, apartment. Small, humble, but always in a place where you might run into something or someone interesting. Usually. Yeah, if you wanted to. You could. But then weird things happened. Cities changed. People stopped looking at each other, and started walking with their faces straight ahead, avoiding you. Or poking their glowing pieces of rectangular plastic. Not being able to notice anymore that right around them were a whole bunch of others. Also doing the same. It became more normal to meet online first. To talk after you establish some kind of digital rapport. Then meet. For, obviously, a definitive reason. Not just because it’s fun to talk to people. In fact, it’s become weird. You become weird because you want to just talk.

But it’s not just about the talking.

HERE IS THE THING ABOUT ‘N’. Oh, I haven’t said anything about it yet. Here is the unfolding story. Okay, so now, now that you’ve read that? :), here it is. When we meet people, things happen. I’m talking about in real life. I’m saying, like, when you just happen to be somewhere and you happen to meet some people, that’s one kind, you know? That’s a real way. It doesn’t always have to be pre-arranged for it to be a meeting. It can be strangers who don’t already know the details of what you do for work, how tall you are, that you have one greenish-brownish eye, or that you wear size 7 shoes. They can just see you and see how you smile, and see how you see them. That is real. That is the stuff I miss. So I made ‘N’ because I didn’t want to weird people out. But I guess it does, in some ways, some of the time. What is the point of it?? Why are you flying around the world to try to get strangers together, in real life, just once? What’s in it for you?

Beauty is in the moment. Art is in the connection: a timeless, wordless conversation only the sender and receiver can know. I made that up, you know. It will resonate, I hope, with a few of you: 256, really, in total.

When you go somewhere new, you become someone else. Sort of. You at least grow a bit. Stretch yourself from your normal bounds. That is what is in it for me. And that is what I invite people to do, too. Maybe it isn’t fair, because it’s so much harder, perhaps, for people to take me up on the invitation. Want to come to ‘N’? It costs. We’ll agree on a date, together. In a poll. And then, I guess, for my part of it, I have to make sure that I can really really do it. Really get there. Show up. Ninety percent of it is showing up. I have been humbled and awed and deeply grateful to the 32 people who came to the ‘N’ events in Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Wow. I mean, really, wow. I have these faces popping into my mind, people who became real, who sort of walked out of the internet. And there we were, together, in 3D. All of us. The 16N events were about that moment of connection that happens when we set the stage like this. I’m a trained engineer, so a bit of a dork about how to design things. And I wanted to design a space for that eye contact to happen more easily than it does these days amongst strangers, that magic discovery that happens when we find people, when we happen to, you know? I’ve been so bored on pre-arranged meeting thingies, having to go to events I don’t want to, seeing the same people complain about the same people (KH, looking at you), but then, also, wondering what to do about it. There was twitter. There was instagram. I’m not a big FB person, so I don’t know how to use it. But there was that. There were ways to find people online and meet them sort of and then get together in real life. But what about just going and seeing if I could make it happen, live and on the spot? [I picked, unfortunately, Copenhagen in which to do this. I gave myself six weeks. When I started to realize that was going to be hard, hard, hard to pull off what I could pull off in cities elsewhere, on account of it taking time to get to know people in Scandinavia, and of course, that is so how I am, too, so I was respectful of that, but then I knew I would have to postpone it. And so I did. And in the meantime, I had time. To just explore. To see the city. Walk around. A lot. Find the venues that might work for ‘N’ when next I came. Find the people I had met online. See if they checked out with what my gut had said about them. I found out, wow, I found out sometimes I was so wrong. That I had one whole idea in my head about how it would be and it was not. I guess this is what blind dating must be like. Maybe the hookup apps are so popular because it’s so easy to go, ‘NEXT.’ But I’m not a ‘NEXT’ goer. Not easily. I am very, very selective about whom I meet and talk to, even when it’s in that just-walk-up-to-someone and say hi kind of way. Even then. I’m shy. Terribly. So it’s no wonder that sending invitations around about ‘N’ to the world and seeing most of them go unanswered and some people getting worried or calling me names or making assumptions about my intentions, which, I guess that’s fair, because who DOES this? Who does ‘N’? And that… somehow… that is what makes me want to keep going. Because someone has to do it. There wouldn’t be these magic moments. Just 16, all in all. After 16 cities, that’ll be it. The series. The end.

Or maybe, the beginning.

Because sometimes, the biggest and most beautiful step, is that one. Showing up. The dilemma is about the people… the people I haven’t met yet, and how to discover them… and the ones I’ve known forever and ever… the people from before. Where to focus? Who shares with me an ‘N’ kind of connection? Are memories of old conversations and feelings just nostalgia? And isn’t nostalgia dangerous? Because it stops us from expanding beyond where we are, into the front-edge, and just-past, to the New?

I’ll write more about ‘N’. In this way. More of the real story, of what it feels like to try to make something happen. A thing that is really about people meeting one another. In that old fashioned way of looking at ourselves in the eye, and, perhaps, taking the time to learn new views and in the process, discovering a slice of who we really are. In the biggest, broadest, most human way. We are here.

NEXT. Next stops: ‘N’ London: NOTEWORTHINESS, ‘N’ Copenhagen: NEARNESS. And Bologna and Hanoi, to be following thereafter. One day I’ll get to Portland, Ore., and also New York. You could be a part of it. Curious about ‘N’? Ask me anything:

Add 62

TODAY I AM GOING TO UPDATE the page that tells the story of ‘where is N’ now? The story is happening. There are conversations going on. This is really exciting now, there is momentum, let’s talk about momentum! Gumption gumption gumption. And magic. Flow. And what’s even better than all of that? Guests. So happy to be hosting ‘N’ for you. I can’t wait to meet you. To the journey!