Zining in Finland

The ‘Slow Moment’ story is a photozine DK are making summer 2018 in Kärsämäki, Finland.

THIS MONTH I AM IN FINLAND.

I’m in a small part of the middle of it, close-ish to Oulu, and about six hours north of Helsinki. It’s called Kärsämäki. Will be sharing this photozine later on this summer. The reason I’m here is to make it.

 

Making a zine

The ‘Slow Moment’ story is a photozine DK are making summer 2018 in Kärsämäki, Finland.

But before getting caught up in the production-mode, I’m laying low and getting my bearings. I like to take my time. Plus, the theme for the photozine is ‘Slow Moment,’ which means you should probably get accustomed to slowing down a little before you take photos angled at that idea. No? I feel this way. I’m also realizing that black and white is the way to go for this. And that fewer words are going to be in it than most of the zines I have been making at Atelier S P A C E moments in the past. (View the new collection at this page.)

ATELIER S P A C E. This work started in Sept. 2017 with the first of the popup zinemaking ateliers, Atelier S P A C E || Battambang. So wonderful was that offline experience that I went to other cities and made more things, some of the time with others, some of the time with just me. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, you know, showing up for you don’t even know what’s going to happen yet. But I swear, that’s the way I’ve lived my whole life, and that’s why I’ve lived in so many countries [Ireland, Japan, United States, Cambodia, for 3+ years each], and had so many kinds of jobs [architecture, journalism, design], and built so many opportunities for myself. Show up, and magic happens. It does. It really, really does.

Zines? Why this format? They are short. They are accessible. They are easy to produce, and distribute. They are often photocopied, and the best part is they’re not pretentious. You can have literature in the pages, but that’s not the point. The point is that a group of people connect in time, and space, and make something, on the spot, together. Creative nonfiction comes out of this. Sometimes drawings, sometimes poetry. Sometimes more. But it’s always about seeing what emerges, when you allow the space to take the shape it wants, instead of over direct or overprogramme. The problem for me with most stuff is that they want to have a specific outcome, and these are the ‘key takeaways’ or ‘learning goals,’ but what I love the most is a lab. Give me a place to play around with stuff, so I can find out what comes out, naturally, when you move towards the things that move you. Little kids play in this way: they gravitate to what interests them. Some people let them. That’s more my style.

Above: A coffee and conversation with a rock-and-roll drummer on my second day in Helsinki. ‘Read my zines?’ // Photo by DK 2018

 

‘You’re a genuine person, and more people should know about you,’ said one of the younger people I met on my travels in Malaysia earlier this year. I think he really wants to see DK and our whole team here get… well… famous, but. We. Just. Don’t. Care. What I said was that I’ve resisted this in many ways because I think that you should work on finding the thing that is your thing, and not get caught up in all the other stuff that seems, from the outside, to be a thing that an artist would want (external validation, for example, in all its many, many forms). But I liked hearing these words: you’re a genuine person.

Maybe that’s all the recognition I need.

FOR NOW, I’ve been getting acquainted with this new place; it’s a small campus, very small, of about three buildings. But the fields and the nature abound. You just have no clear idea of where you are the first moment, if Finland is new to you (and it was to me), but in a minute, it starts to become more obvious.

This irrigation ditch is where the blue wildflowers grow.

Those are the birch trees demarcating property lines.

These are the dirt roads for going into the thinner arteries of the roadwork. Here is where we dine.

Et cetera.

Update: the zine popup-making blog post is here.

Connect and disconnect

Genuine. Authenticity and transparency were things people said they liked about DK when we threw all those parties in Seattle in the 2000s. They liked this blog when it used to be bigger, and more writing like I’m writing now… I think I’ve forgotten to write directly and straight-up, this is what I’m doing. News-like. For example, ‘DK are in Finland to create a photozine with others who are interested in the story form as part of a collaboration with an artist-run co-operative.’

That’s really what’s going on. I should probably say yes to this invitation to go to Kärsämäki . I should disconnect for a while. That’s what I said. That’s why I came. That’s why, too, the theme is what it is. Slow. Moment.

Hm.

But yeah.

No ads. In international development terms, that’s like having no donor. Or in tech startup terms, it’s like having no venture capitalist who looks like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons and who will own you and all you make before you even know what happened. Or in creative fields like moviemaking it’s like not having a studio sign you, or in music, a label, or in writing, a publishing company. Sure. Of course that means you’ll be way, way less known. But so? The canvas is completely yours. (Besides, what’s really funny now is when I meet someone and they say, ‘You’re a writer? Oh? Written anything I would know?’ I kinda have to laugh, because probably they haven’t even read Dickens, or other massive basics.) But what was I saying? Oh, right. Freedom. Creative freedom. I’ve engineered my whole life around this concept: it was the one thing I value the most. Freedom.

To do as you like.

To make what you want.

Which is huge, for me. Personally. (Sure took a lot of quiet reflection to figure that out. I’m glad I did, though. It changed everything.)

Lack of these variant models of ‘strings’ is exactly why, I think, we’re going to see some dramatic and beautiful moments, ahead, in S P A C E’s online and offline ateliers.

 

How to start anything

OH, SO I HAVE to tell you. There is this expression I learned when I was in Denmark three years ago (doing something similar, but less formally, that time I was writing the Book of Songs) that says, ‘You can’t just show up in a place and expect to be able to know anything about it. You have to put your finger in the ground for a while, first.’ Put your finger in the ground. I remember when I once took a trip to Portland from Seattle with BR, this was a road trip, and when I got to Portland my first day I just walked around–no pictures, no drawings, no writing–and only on my last day, when I met up with B. again to catch the lift back up north, only then did I get to the camera. It was that kind of way, for me, all my life, writing is not something you do until you have a thing you really feel like you can say. Unless you’re blogging of course. Blogging is about, for me, journaling my way towards something. Grappling with the curious and different, the space of not-knowing, and writing into it. Sometimes people read these, and maybe they feel something when they do, but for me, writing here is a way to share the journey. The journey is muddled with lack of conviction, and that first step towards making anything artful, I feel, is letting go of the idea that we, individually or even as a small group, have it ‘figured out.’ (Here is the reason I avoid groups, generally. They tend to lead, even if they are well-meaning, to one-toned echo chambers, what people call ‘thinking in silos’ and they also inadvertently cause that social ill of ‘othering’ and other stuff. One of the people I’ve had a little personality clash with in recent days is into something in a fashion one might call ‘zealous,’ and it has been trying every ounce of my patience. Fact. Recognizing that I have to do my own work of inviting new and different perspectives means dealing with it. Fact. Hard! But AM told me on the phone that it’s gong to help me grow. Growth is big around here at DK, so I need to practice this way towards it.)

Mm-hmm. Cultivating the ground for new ideas to pop out and to take shape means first leaving all your baggage at the airport, or wherever it is your point of departure from the ‘old and familiar’ into the ‘new and different’ begins. Not everyone is going to enjoy this esoteric tirade; certainly not some of the people I am here, with. Phew. I will refrain from diving into the details of bumping into some of them, but I’ll give you a clue, when you start your conversation with ‘Hello’ and the other person says, ‘I do not understand what you are doing with your life,’ it can get a little awkward. [Nothing has been as awkward, however, as showing up in Seattle with no idea that there is a culture of ‘the freeze,’ and doing this right after living in southwest Ireland for a spell, mind, where ’tis all grand altogether, like, and fierce interesting when a stranger comes to town. (Yes, Ireland, and Seattle. Yes, I like rain.)]

 

Hello summer

I LIKE WRITING loose, open style words and paragraphs. It’s more me. Less news, more story. More diary? More journaling. Wasn’t blogging, though, originally ‘web logging?’ When did everything turn into a mini-ad? I hate that. I stopped reading most of the articles I used to look for online because they tend to get chopped into a meatless, droning series of words that sound like a pitch and lead to nothing of value. I feel I have wasted my attention. That bothers me. I want quality. I want to focus. I want people to talk to with me in small circles who also care about these things. Slowing down, relaxing, discovering, sharing. But yeah.

 

Settling in (but not travelblogging)

FEELS KIND of like study abroad, except, we’re in charge of our independent courses and there are no classes, no professors, and no grades. There is no canteen, no cafeteria, no study hour. I have no classmates, nor do I need or want them. It’s a place to get away from ‘it all,’ I imagine, for those of us who choose to join this Kärsämäki artist residency programme here, and to be quiet and apart from the things that can distract us from accomplishing, because accomplishing to an artist looks very different than it does to, say, a businessman or entrepreneur. When I roam around in the cities connecting with and discovering people, I coast into the old habit of talking shop, talking about DK, talking about the past work in Seattle. I don’t go as far as handing out a business card (I don’t have these now), but I definitely have a tendency to talk more about DK than I do about S P A C E. That has changed, a little, in recent months, but it’s definitely been a work in progress. Moving more towards the art for the sake of art, or art because it feels good, or art because it’s a way to make better things that I imagine will lead to even better work when I do start client gigs again for DK when that happens. Et cetera. Now I’ve said that twice, see that? ‘Et cetera.’ Oh, thrice, then.

Writing for the sake of writing, writing for sharing, writing for connection, and writing to get better at writing are all part of the reasons, if people need them, of why I write. I’ve been writing my whole life, and what’s weird, is now I’m in a place where stilling and centering are part of the programme (more of this kind of slow moment is on the way, and we’re also going to be sharing the real life conversations and interweaving them with S P A C E’s online forums, by the way). What’s even weirder and more curious are things I will write down, every Friday, and post in the next issue of our online eZine, S P A C E. It takes time to get to know the things to write about, but I’ve been very mindful of whom I share these outcomes with; especially because a lot of times when you write from your heart, it can fall on deaf ears.

Not that this is such a tragedy. I have zero interest in most of the writing that’s ‘out there’ for people to read, freely. I’m much more interested in focusing on the few things I have been meaning to get to and especially getting to that when it relates to the projects at hand. I’ve got a couple of books with me, a poetry book that I found in Helsinki (a lovely size), and a volume I bought in Berkeley, Calif., about four years ago. These things are going to be important, I feel, to the work at hand to write the next things that I’ll share at this site. S P A C E zines, for example, but real live art books, too. I would like to see more of the handmade feel coming through in my upcoming pieces, so I’ve stopped doing things like social media for the time, to focus. To concentrate. To see where the next big thing is, artwise, and not otherwise.

ARTWISE & OTHERWISE. DK’s summer guest editor Michael Bridgett, Jr. wrote ‘Why I Art’ in recent days, and I often think back on the conversations we had in Phnom Penh at STAMMTISCH regular meet ups on Mondays. Real life. The best way to converse, I feel. But it’s harder and harder to make time and space for it, isn’t it? I’m phone less and uncontactable outside of email, and email is iffy, and google reads everything, and that makes it hard to feel like using the computer to talk, and I have zoom now, so that is way, way better than Skype for conversing, and so on, but it’s tough to make these phone appointments and keep them, and see if they go somewhere because we are all so busy and focused on our work. But for me, work is about learning about others, discovering their stories and uniqueness, and, occasionally, celebrating the moment of this kind of ‘I see you!’ by getting us together in real life in small circles. Sometimes it’s really great. Sometimes it’s disappointing, at first, but the work and the art of it is to move the direction of the flow so that it’s less disappointing and more great. You have to be open to these things changing, as we go. Rivers do. We do, too. Who stays the same after ten years? I don’t think that anyone I count among my friends does. Stagnation is boring. Staying in one place means missing out on the views from other ones. At least, that’s how I feel. That’s some of what we’re talking about in the conversation salon, ‘A nomadic existence,’ so maybe I’m biased because that is a set of people who are also moving around the world, all the time, not staying still, not putting down ‘a root,’ because we’re all about the ‘radicant growth’ that you can discover about if you google that term, and read more about ‘relational aesthetics.’

Hello, summer.

Hello, Finland.

Let’s see where this party goes. Certainly it’s easy to stay up all night. It’s bright as hell, and I’m tired.

To support this project, pre-order the zine S P A C E || ‘Slow Moment’ here. 

Arts & Letters Society | Kuala Lumpur

Two dates. April 25, and May 25. Follow the instructions on this page to find out what is going on, the agenda, and meet point for this twice-off event in Kuala Lumpur. (Friends of Design Kompany will have a pretty good idea of it if you’ve heard us talk about ‘N’.)

PRINTED MATTERS | 3 November is this Atelier S P A C E pre-event

Click for ticket info

A conversation salon about matters related to words + image, print and how we consume media in this offline form. Are you ready to convene, connect, discover and converse?

Let’s, yes?

You can get a ticket here.

Up

REGROUPING, here at DK World HQ. It has been one full month of looking through old projects, discovering connections between them, and having that very intriguing moment of insight when you just feel like someone turned the lights on. I didn’t do the things you would imagine that you should do when going through this kind of overhaul; there were no customer interviews (most projects end, and people move on, and it’s a little weird to go back in time and dig through old contacts and ask questions, all this time later); we have learned a lot about who we are and the work we do, both as a team and as individual members.

Everyone has a specific core competency, and this clarifies everything.

I didn’t know a month was all it would take to gain such insight, but I am very glad for it.

 

Learning from others…

THING IS, there are a lot (50? seems like a lot to me) of people I have been in close correspondence with through the interviews we are putting in S P A C E, and they are teaching me so much about… flow.

Not necessarily because they are experts, but just asking questions about their revelations, insights, and the things they did to ramp up to those moments has been a kind of study of, ‘How do you get to the next level? How do you “N+1” it?’ for me, here.

In retrospect a few interviews really stand out for me. First was the designer, a software engineer, who makes stuff in Germany and whom I found… on the internet, of course. We didn’t talk on the phone, but the email conversations were good, and they got better with the back-and-forth style of exchange that necessarily involves responding, listening, and asking more questions, the creative process itself is about walking out into the dark, and wondering if anything of interest might happen. Sure, the dark is scary, but so? (What is the point of staying in the box all the time, I feel, and in the interviews that were the most fun, I met others who happened to feel that way, too.) Other people I met and interviewed for the forums included: a woman in her thirties who quit her day job to travel the world and record it in a blog and who was connected with me through a mutual friend when she came to Phnom Penh; a poet who now does readings all over the East Coast in the US whom I met at an open mic in Durham, NC; a cryptocurrency expert who helped me understand bitcoin and why it’s important; a jujitsu fighter who talked with me about choosing how to make your move, or just… more honestly… feeling your way towards it. Like in the Book of Five Rings… have you read that one?

Other flashes of ‘wow, that was great!’ moments were in real life, conversations with tea shop owners (like in Sheffield, Bangkok, and here in Phnom Penh), or florists (one was in San Francisco, happening to drop a bouquet at the picnic table in front of Front).

Or… musicians… a lot of them, to be honest, have helped me learn about improvisation and making it up as you go. Especially jazz, sometimes it’s very interesting. Theatre people tend to be repelled by me; not sure why. Same with other designers. Still not sure. I work well in conversations with complementarily-skilled others, but who value and respect and can also crossover to the other side of the left and right brain divide.

Don’t have to pigeonhole ourselves.

We can play at many tempos, enjoy stanzas of all styles.

 

Creating new S P A C E…

TURNING OFF HAS BEEN a huge part of turning on to the things that are important to me, personally, and the things I want to keep developing for the emails to come on Mondays for our subscribers and for the people who are participating in our online programmes. (This month we are on to Work, Life & Relationships, next one will be more specifically on Work-Life balance, there are some good Q&As scheduled for the rest of the month, and I have a feeling we will all be able to learn something, together, as we go. (Whatever is the point of taking some kind of random course from a faceless, nameless university somewhere, just so you can be ‘accredited?’ I am of the school of thought that we can self-validate, and we can group-identify.

Surely there is some academic idea around this, surely there is jargon. But for me, the doing of it, the making of space for exploration and jumping off into the void, is the why of our whole being here at Design Kompany.) It isn’t new. But it is clear that the most enjoyable work to date has been with and for others who are also interested in this thing, this philosophical esoteric thing of self-actualization, through the application of thoughtful reflection and that doesn’t mean setting a goal and jumping at it and measuring all the successes, it’s about setting the intention towards a thing. The journey, that is the work. And the joy.

The journey towards arrival, at wherever you go, through drift and wander, but with the clarity of intent secure in your heart… that is it. That is N+1.

(Aside: I will not talk about the people who have helped me learn this, because some of their stories are a little sad. Chasing things that… ultimately, didn’t give them the feeling that something mattered… that there was… well. It’s sad. Performance and productivity-chasing isn’t, ah, satisfying, if the metrics aren’t set by you. I learned much of this during our event, Book of Time || S P A C E, here in Phnom Penh, at the start of the year. Know what we did? Visualized our lives, but backwards. Looking back you get a sense of what you are still carrying around with you. Only by squarely facing that, and you should have seen us, getting irritated at things that happened when we were six, or even four, and realizing, and with realizing also seeing the absurdity of it, but realizing, as I was saying, how those hurts (and resentments) have stayed with us. Crimping us from moving forwards. Again, N+1.)

***

 

Letting go…

MOST PEOPLE WHOM I have been in correspondence with through these ten, maybe 20 years, are going into a different category for me now. They are in the ‘Not interested in N+1’ box. And that means, as much as it feels strange to let go, I have to purge them. From my emails, from the correspondences, from so very much more. Mental space must be created so that I can move forwards, personally. As the R&D Director here at DK, it’s important. We are lucky enough not to have to write reports to donors who want us to produce something that is going to make them look good, like the NGO world has to do, here. For better or worse, we have no one funding us, no reserves of cash, and no idea where our next gig will come from. That means always pivoting, as they like to stay in the startup world, but it also gives us a sense of… confidence, now. We have been at this kind of lifestyle for 10 years, and it’s… fun.

Isn’t fun the point? I feel fun is the point.

Which I realized this month, while sifting and sorting papers as well as columns and rows on a certain spreadsheet, ‘Highlights of DK’. I found out something else, too. VERY little of interest (to me) was produced during the years that… guess what? I was in school of working for someone. Isn’t that… something? You do the things that move you when you don’t have to worry about showing up for someone else’s thing. I am looking forward to seeing what DB makes, moving forwards, after he wrote to me about this idea… about daring to try things, outside of those boxes of work and work-related side gigs. It’s hard. It’s good, though. It’s not as hard as it seems. But me saying that doesn’t make people go and do things. Retirement does. Or getting sick. Or losing someone. It’s very… ah. Reactive.

 

Where this is going…

THIS BRINGS me back to where we started, today. With intention setting. I used to put something here, when I was younger, about how you should sign up for our ___ whatever thing, and get to know yourself, and be more clear about where you are going. But you know what? I can’t make anyone do that. I don’t even care, really, about that, now. The people I care about are the people who are resonating with this idea of N+1, and moving forwards, and they know already that they have to set an intention, first. Who am I to say so? Me? I’m just writing because this was a big month, here at DK. We came up with a new tool, too. Life hacking. I know, here it is, the thing you should get, or whatever. But no. I’ll not tell you about it. The people who will be interested, they will find out, on their own. That is the magical and weird and a little bit awkward thing about internet. Everybody knows; you don’t have to say it. If I’m talking to you, and only you know that, then I’ll see you. See you there… See you in the up. —AS

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