DK’s new relational aesthetics

OOO. I LOVE THIS STUFF. Relational aesthetics. Will tell you in a second how I came to know about this term, ‘relational aesthetics.’ I am jazzed about it. Why? Because other people have also been interested in a thing that interests me.

Even if these are academic people, art critics, or, gaw, the Art World, (sets whom, normally, I would avoid conversing with because I never thought that what I’m into would be what they would see as artistic), even if then. I’m listening. Why? Because I’ve been wrong. There are others who have already been on this path. Which means there are signposts, if only I know where to look. In other words, the feeling is like this: Wow. It’s not that they thought it’s not artsy. They actually think it IS artsy. They’ve even named it. That means, it’s a thing.

‘Relational art.’

Nerdy, this.

I like that.

DISCOVERY. Because I studied math, physics, and applied math and physics, I didn’t even know about this stuff. No one starts in on making anything by following a prescription, though–it’s not like I said, in the 1990s, ‘I’m going to make relational art.’ That would be stupid. I just sort of bumbled my way towards something that a lot of other people also stumbled upon, and that means, there is more than just one of us. That means, we are something. dada. Surreal. You can call it something like that. Or… you could just enjoy knowing there are now whole volumes of things to learn about, things that those before you (who you can feel some resonance with) have done, seen, thought, written, drawn, painted, created, installed, and more.

 

Relationships matter

Above and below: reception at DK’s ‘Today I Love You’ Sharpie art show, 2012 // Photos by OMNI

AT DK, AND OUTSIDE of it, what I make is relational art. Read this post about interstitial space that might give you a feeling of what that feels like, in writing. This is newish, I’m gathering, from my limited conversations with new people who study art and so on. New is hard for people to get into. And mostly, sadly, I’ve noticed, many people are afraid of the new. There’s even a word for it. Fear of the new. ‘Misoneism.’ But this really gets in the way of innovation.

INVITING THE NEW. I care about new things. New input. New people. Part of DK’s goal with our new relational approach is to get in the face of that fear, and introduce people to others who are
(seemingly, but not really that) different, and meet up, in real life, and just connect.

It’s invigorating and feels great to see that there exists a philosophy of this kind of art, which means I can amplify the effort to move the dial in the direction that I feel is the best one for us. It’s been written about. People nod. That foundation has been lain. So much of the work has already been done.

So, DK are morphing from a design consulting studio into something more… arty. I didn’t mean for this to happen. But it has. Just looking back on things and reflecting, I see the pattern. If you check out DK’s projects in S P A C E that have been going on since 2014, you’ll see what I mean. Before S P A C E started, we were a design boutique. Straight up, clean lines, modern aesthetic, quality workflow, nothing got out of hand and we had a lot of happy clients. But now it’s… kinda different. Now we’re into stuff like conversation spacemaking. Salons. Ateliers. Gatherings. Workshops that get us all out of our boxes, mixing, discovering, and meeting others whose paths we might not have crossed, like, ‘16N‘ and similar. Oh, yeah. Speaking of that. ‘N’, and describing it to people, and sharing about what our studio was trying to do with it, that story I shared casually and randomly with two art students at a table next to me in Aarhus in a wintry streetlit cafe. They taught me.

Context and relevance: ‘What you guys are doing is relational art’

Tickets for 16N in Bangkok // DK 2015

RELATIONAL AESTHETICS. The subject came up for me for the first time when some art school students in Denmark said, ‘You’re getting strangers together for salons to talk about themed topics? Around the world? That sounds like relational aesthetics.’

‘What?’

‘Just go to Wikipedia.’

Which says, roughly:

‘Relational art or relational aesthetics is a mode or tendency art practice originally highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. According to Bourriaud, relational art encompasses “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” The artist can be more accurately viewed as the “catalyst” in relational art, rather than being at the centre… The artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist.”… In relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces encounters between people. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption.’

Designing space to share real life with new and different others

AM and BW at ‘Today I Love You’ reception in Durham NC 2012 // Photo by OMNI Studiophotos
Zines debut at TILU reception // Photo by OMNI Studiophotos

Well! So there are others, too, who want it to be about the party and not the artist!

The inkling of this being more interesting came to me for the first time when I was hosting the opening reception for the show, ‘Today I Love You.’ It was a solo show and happened in Durham NC USA in 2012 over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Why not? I got into it and made more than 100 pieces, all brand new. But those weren’t as interesting as the people who came: the chocolates and the champagnes, the conversations, the interplay between the people I never met and the ones I’d known for half my life. North Carolina, after all, is one of my homes. JL surprised me by showing up which was brilliant, as he was an early mentor. Then there was KEF. And pictures by the talented JD. And a visit from the younger RK. There was AM and BW, pictured, too.

Others, including SR, a videographer I had only met recently but who has a fantastic energy and whose tireless enthusiasm and collaborative bent really inspire me. I remember being super happy, seeing all these wonderful people together in one place. Kind of like other shows, in Seattle, or the conversation spaces, in other places in the world. I’m thinking of ‘BEAUTY’ in Phnom Penh. Of ‘Hello August’ in that same town.

Of so many, many moments where new and different others could find remarkable connexion.

That is after all what DK now exists to do. DK design that particular kind of S P A C E. Remarkable.

I love the space that gets made when people are connecting, interacting. Interconnecting. With the zines or art books, or reading something I’ve written, or looking at a piece, but what’s more interesting is the conversations that open as a result. So the pieces are just prompts, now.

They’re not the pieces of Art, to me. The people are; not just as individuals but in the collection of being there, together.

Sharing a moment. Making a space.

(And by the way!, you can experience it. Here’s how…)

The shape of S P A C E

SHARED MOMENT. A once-only experience.

In case you were wondering, this relational approach and the interest in finding the beauty of interconnectivity, and interplay between new and different others whose paths might not have otherwise have crossed, is why I am helping design our studio’s 2018 suite of ateliers. If you have been in touch with DK, or want to try something new with us this year, this is a good time to give it a go. Something new. Something fresh. And then towards the fall we’ll turn away from the online salons and get back to making what we make best: zines.

Meet us in S P A C E? See what’s on tap, including the new journaling x photography salon, ‘Slow Moment, at this page with all our upcomings.

 

Interstitial space

ONCE UPON A TIME, a very smart person wrote a thing about my art. I guess that was the thing that threw me off. ‘Art.’ It was weird, because I thought I was an engineer-architect-journalist-designer. But I was making things that someone with a real eye, experience, and like I said, brains, didn’t say wasn’t art. LW. (Thanks, if you see this.) What happened was this. AM suggested it. ‘There’s this person. She’s looking at people’s art. She’s gonna write it all up, a review. You should do it.’

‘Says it’s for “artists”. Or whatever.’

‘You’re an artist. How many times… Just. Go.’

Unconvinced and commitment-averse, I sat on that idea. No, it’s not for me. I’m a designer. I’m working. I’m not… Painting canvases. I’m…

But I did go.

Unannounced, with all the best ‘art,’ or whatever, that I had made, ‘best’, in my opinion, up until that point. Stuff from Kyoto, New York, Seattle. Stuff from way before. Stuff I just hit ‘print’ on. Word stuff, drawing stuff, comic stuff, sharpie stuff. A lot of stuff. I couldn’t know then which stuff to keep, and which to get rid of, because I didn’t know the ‘what this is’ thing, not clearly, not yet. Maybe she could look at it.

Blind luck: there was a cancellation. Or a no-show. What a missed opportunity for that guy. ‘Dipika… Kohli?’ ‘Hi.’ Let’s see what you got. Were we mutually asking? I think so. I still remember the moment that felt, within that scene, which was also pivotal, to be the one that switched us on to one another. A certain piece. A certain exchange of looks. A certain ‘getting’ of one another, right there. When a piece makes a person feel a thing, a thing that the person already has an inkling about in nonverbal ways somewhere within, floating around, but just hasn’t… Tuned into… Then the piece is relating to them. That relating is the art.

Oh.

But that awareness would not come until 2017. Maybe a twinge came when I met MT? A glimmer… A hint. Yes, certainly there was an echo there. I think I even said ‘interstitial space.’ I think my plastic name tag was poking at a skewed angle. Talking geometry. Talking about space. But it was well received, and added to. That was why it was so exciting.

 

!*

THAT’S KIND OF how it (it?) started. It? Everything, really. Work became project-making. Maybe it was art? I read about things that kids in art schools in foreign countries told me to google. I looked up words I didn’t know and found, through deeper and deeper investigations in that shallower and shallower place that is the Net, little gems.

But the review thing. Some people want to get their work in museums, have shows, travel and be seen. I don’t care about being seen, really. I care about about the art itself. And yeah. The relating, to me, is art. A thing doesn’t mean anything if no one is there to receive it. Et cetera. So yup. Everything from that moment changed everything I do now. It wouldn’t have even happened had it not been for curator BMC. Also important. The people who shake things up, right? You see them when you look back, on the long path. In the West it’s all about ‘me me me’ and glorification of a person and equating ‘success’ with material wealth. Not always, but often, I feel, in the East when it’s really good, that’s because it’s a collaboration, the beautiful things… There’s less of the ‘look at me! Look what I did!’ vibe. Now I have to talk about George Webber. No, no. I’ll save that for the S P A C E crowd. Anyway. Changing from West to East (2014-present, I’m Asia-based) has meant appreciating the people who helped me make the things we’ve made, since arriving in Cambodia, to reset all the buttons.

WORDS. I watched. The review. Being written. ‘Hey, that’s kinda cool.’ Next few years, I read it over and over, until the penny dropped (that’s an Irishism for ‘it sank in’). This: she had called it, like tarot cards. This thing. That I like to do. Show the process. Include new voices. Close-ups. Relationships, aesthetics… that are there when people connect, convene in new ways… She looked through my zines, papers, (I always have papers), my oversized black portfolio I got because you needed that, right? To be legit? (No. You needed a concept to be legit. That would take time. Practice. Faltering. Bracing. Returning to the next place, sticking the foot out, going again, letting go of the people who said, ‘What are you doing? Get a job!’, and trusting the process.) What design taught me was to not get too complacent with the first or 17th idea. Push to the edge. Then, go past. Out there is the interstitial. Out there is S P A C E. A very specific kind of space. (Writing about it. A checklist. Sharing in small circles.)

WORK. I think she saw me trying, in my immature-yet way, to poke a hole in that materialistic veneer that is so supersaturated… So not-critiqued, so upheld as ‘that’s just how it is’ mumbo-jumbo status-quo. I was doing things to provoke some response, maybe. Drawing kooky Sharpie comics. Blogging a lot. Too much, really. I didn’t want to stop, it was like a habit, but then the blog got deleted kind of accidentally and it’s a long story, but it was so amazing because the feeling wasn’t one of sadness or loss, but of… Relief. Now we can finally start something new. Ten years of a blog is a long time. Ten years of trying to keep saying the same stuff in interesting ways is boring. I don’t even know what we were doing there. Yup. I am saying that. I am. Saying it all. Honestly. Nope. I’m not a super-duper-well-put together kind of a person. My friend IK said, ‘Twitter is for the smart people. Instagram is for the beautiful people.’ That was… Insightful. Spot on. What if you don’t hang out in those ways? You just want to, like, chill? I learned when switching from East Coast to West Coast in those United States of (North) America, one thing: you don’t have to wear a suit. Or nice shoes. Forget New York Black and ‘a Manhattan minute.’ You can go around in a hoodie and some old jeans. You could be dressed like that, slumped in the corner of Joe Bar Cafe, and you could be a millionaire, or a scruffy writer, same thing over there. Seattle. Which is where DK started up as an official thing. That would be 2004. Does history matter? Why am I telling you this? Och. Another Irishism.

SHAPE OF SPACE. BECAUSE IF THERE IS ONE THING I learned from the last couple of years that I took away and kept in my most intimate drawers for revisiting, it’s the idea of ‘provenance.’ How have you held a thing, where has it been, who used it, where did it get shared. This is a hard thing to measure. Impossible, really. That same hoodie scenario… I still have this hoodie. I wear it all over the place because the buses are cold and the trains are colder. Oh. I’m on the road. (This is part of the reason I am blogging so many paragraphs.) There are no obligations other than to host The Mirror, certain ateliers here and there, and to dream up the next thing. Whatever it is going to be, it has to have meaning. And I find meaning in a couple of things, things that  knows, but few others, because I shared those ideas when they were just starting to become visible… A sea of abstract ideas… And then, some emergence. I’m here, though, to listen, to field queries, and to show up for whatever comes to be. I am learning how, a little bit, once more. The road teaches you things. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway. It’s important to share, sometimes, too, the little lessons. Blogging is  kind of ambient way of sharing. I was getting bored of it because I didn’t know… How to… Share better. I guess, though, I got a lot of practice. You write, and you write, and you write some more, and you get a wireless keyboard and then you type some books into your little devices and press ‘publish, make this a PDF, go!’, and say, ‘Do you want to read this?’ And wait and see if relating happens. Sometimes, when you’re lucky, it does.

NEXT. ATELIER S P A C E || MELAKA. Zinemaking. With new and different others, in real life. It’s happening, and I’m jazzed. Popping up at the weekend. This one is gonna be low-key. By invitation-only, no buzz, no noise. Very fitting, this style, for Melaka. I’ve been here more than a week, gorgeous architecture, world heritage site. Yet I’ve just been walking around, getting my bearings, trying to connect with the place before photographing it. So I’ve only taken one picture. That’s this one. I hope you like it. —DK