Prototyping S P A C E in Gangtok, India

LIFE. STORIES. Multiple, divergent, intersecting, and contradicting pluralities of narratives: the things we are pursuing here are not so much about gathering outcomes and publishing stuff that sounds and looks interesting (but has no content); rather, we want to invite into our innermost circles, in S P A C E, the exact kinds of new and different others who will show us, together, as we get going, in our conversations in the protected-page posts that constitute, as a set, the thing we call S P A C E, well yeah. All of it. Is a thing now. There’s a bulk to this that I can’t deny; a gravitas and a resonance that stays with people. They tell me this. ‘I really enjoyed that exercise you did; it was super relevant at the time, do you remember, you put us in groups, ‘Past,’ ‘Present,’ and ‘Future?’ asked my friend MR, whom I’d met at one of my events in Bangkok and who went on to join DK again at something called ‘16N‘ in that same city, the next year.

S P A C E || Bangkok // DK 2015
‘N’, the big blind date

(Honestly, we didn’t recall that exercise or think much about what it might have meant to everyone; at the time, we were just hosting, and hosting means you’re talking to people and making sure everyone feels included, that her or his voice counts, that she or he is invited to all the conversations circling about, moving, changing, diving into other spaces, letting that happen.

Afterparty for ‘N’ Bangkok at jazZ happens! // DK 2015

Of course the afterparty for ‘N’ there had to be at a jazz club: improvising in collage and collaborating with jazZ happens! there, that was also very fun. With both, it’s a jam session: making it up as we go, but also, playing off what we learn, together, from one another. Most importantly, there’s no hierarchy. It’s flat. We’re talking, together, in dialogue. Round tables. Let me tell you a bit more about this idea, of circles. (SN, watching Akira Morita in action one time hosting a meeting, had called it ‘circle time.’ We love circle time, here at DK. Why? Lots of reasons.’)

Real dialogue

‘Book of Blue’ is an art book, made in Bangkok, Phnom Penh. 2014

Dialogues that are really good are the kinds ‘with a center, and not sides,’ as William Isaacs, had put it in his book, Dialogue. How lucky I am to have been able to reach out directly to Isaacs, ahead of my conversation salon series, ‘Modern Sikkim: What does it mean to be Sikkimese?’ which had happened in Gangtok, Sikkim–a part of India that my relatives in Delhi aren’t too familiar with outside of an image of ‘the snowy mountains’. Well, wow. There is of course Kanchenjunga, but before I go marveling about the miracles of the Himalaya, and daydreaming about going back there in November (yes: mark it! Atelier S P A C E || Gangtok is in the works), well, yeah, so what was I saying? Oh! This: I’m lucky, very, I could ask William Isaacs directly, over email, in 2013, thinking hard about the design of Modern Sikkim and how to collaborate well and whom I should contact to make a go of it and what we would do in the spaces-to-become, well, yeah. How I could make such a conversation salon series work well was important to me. Researching that. Learning what to do in the instance that someone tried to be overbearing (this happens a lot, in societies where there are hierarchies established from social class, economic status, or hey, let’s be real, male and female gender roles), all that normal stuff you have to figure in, and be ready to take on, when it does hit you, all that. And I remember the email coming back. What a good feeling, to get a note from the internet to say, Just do what you’re doing and here’s some more stuff to think about, more or less. Well. What a nice thing to feel reassured that no one knows what’s on the way, not ever, not fully, but that allowing things to pop up by hosting a space that is inviting, safe, comfortable, relaxing, and readied for the things-that-might-happen, well, that’s the work. And the art. So it began. A journey into making more and better such space, or, as I call it now, S P A C E. I’m the architect of it; we follow a checklist, it has 7 points, to do this in a way that works, in DK’s style. Which is what? Well, you can read my personal artist statement thingy at this website, if you’re curious about what interests me about gathering people in these ways. ‘I want people to relax. To feel air, space, and comfort.’ Find it in context at dipikakohli.com.

Modern Sikkim // DK x Echostream 2013
Gangtok roundtables begin with the conversations about the role of government. Over chai and biscuits. Doesn’t everything good start with ‘tea talk?’ I think so. // DK 2013

But in the meantime, there’s this.

Philosophy of the moment

8 October

GETTING SET. For our first-ever online salon, ‘Philosophy of the Moment.’ In which we’re going to share all of the best learnings and gathered notes from our decades-long pursuit of the big questions, ‘What are we doing here? What does it mean? What is ‘good’? What makes it remarkable? What does a meaningful life look like? How can I make changes so that I can better enjoy the life I have? What does it mean to love? How does it feel to let go? Where are the important notes to carry forward? What kind of legacy do I want to leave? Who am I? Who am I, apart from you? What is my role in society? How am I doing, and where I am going, and does it mean much to consider these questions, and besides, what is ‘time?”‘ What’s this all about? Find out.

Writing and designing, connecting and discovering in Aarhus, 2015. This was where we learned about ‘relational art.’ It’s been all relational art, everything, ever since. (HT AP, BM and SCH).

 

Why marketers are liars

A LONG TIME AGO, I used to blog here every single day. This was at a time when WordPress was just coming out, facebook wasn’t a thing yet, and no one had an inkling of what instagram would do to us. Twitter was there, but it was still just for the geeks, and when you wrote the blog, people actually went to it, and left comments. Those were fun times. In fact, the blog was where we found most of our new clients: people somehow, I think, felt that they could trust our open style, and what someone called ‘your transparency.’ Is that what it is, when you write what you mean, and say what you feel, directly? I think it must be. So many facades out there. So many ways of tricking people into clicking something or buying something that doesn’t really fit with their needs, or even add up to what they imagined it would be. We have so many—too many, I feel—ways to be influenced by something we think is one way and want desperately to believe in, but in fact, turns out to be a dud. Why does this happen?

I think I’m learning a little bit this summer about why it happens. I think, for one, we fall in love with a projection of something we feel a lack of, in ourselves. So the marketers are so clever they make it like what they are selling is what you need, exactly. Much like horoscope writing, what they say lacks specificity and the terms are so big and vague and one-size-fits-all-ish that anyone might believe in what they are being told. You try to and come up with something that has real quality to it, and you try to tell people that, and my goodness, you are looked at like you are some kind of Martian. Why? Because people are so used to being sold to that they want, well, they want you to sell it to them. Whatever ‘it’ might be. Every so often, someone says it to me: ‘You need to sell this better, DK,’ for example. I find myself feeling like I did when I wore black jeans, black shoes’ and black t-shirts and zipped around New York City’s Manhattan up and down the roads at my fastest on my very dark green, almost-black bicycle. What the hell do I need to sell it to you for? Look at the damn thing. But no. Not these days. These days it’s, ‘You need a speech.’

Do I need a speech?

No.

 

‘No, I don’t need a marketing spiel.’

NO. Not for the people I want to connect with. Not for my audience. My audience is people who read long blog posts, like, even this far. They aren’t going to complain to me about how it was ‘TLDR.’ They like quality, they like good thoughtful considered points of view that come out when one is also interested in good, thoughtful, considered points of view and has listened to many others words and wisdoms. I mean, wow. The world. Order. Is so weird now. I feel. I am writing a narrative in my head, though, aren’t I? I’m connecting dots based on a projection of what I feel. That is just as bad as the whole being duped by marketers. Feckin’ hell, really. I mean, we cannot let ourselves get caught in the trap of letting our minds race around in a whirlpool, so fast, so quick, so off the mark from reality, that they consume us and keep us from seeing what’s, in fact, right in front of us.

‘The Prospect of Beauty’ // Singapore // Photo by DK 2017

The pursuit of beauty has, for many, many years been one of the recurring things in this blog that I loved to write about. Back in those days of daily posts, for example, I would write a whole series on this. Or, ‘In Search of Meaning.’ So yeah. ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’ and ISOM became my favorite categories. (Oh. If you’re wondering what happened to the old blog–so am I, kind of. It was downloaded to a laptop so we could refigure what we were gonna do in Asia with DK, and then, wham, that laptop got stolen. And no, the backup… isn’t with us or in the cloud, but some old bits and pieces are probably on some CD somewhere at a friend’s house somewhere, at least, I hope so.)

Our IT lads say the CD is not going to last forever, that the archives that we left will also fade away. Here I could write some kind of poetic soliloquy on ephemera, but I’ll save it for S P A C E guests of ‘Slow Moment‘. (I am blogging publicly, here, but saving my best stuff for S P A C E. Better. We talk in the comments. It’s way more relational that way. A real conversation. Instead of… I don’t know. What is this? Blogging. Erm. One to many.)

I don’t like that. I don’t like… the whole… lurker thing. I mean, if you’re reading and you like this stuff, and you want to say, just say hi!

Here is a form. I will continue this another day. I’m feeling a little corny right now, listening to Finnish pops on the radio and kind of starting to recognize some of the repeating artists. What I always get a kick out of is when the songs come on from the 80s and 90s. Roxette, for example. Look Sharp! I remember! And so much Phil Collins. And Michael Jackson. And Tina Turner. Then there’s A-Ha, which is lovely, and more stuff. The Finnish rap is fun, too. I am enjoying all of this bundling of various; it’s refreshing, and a change from where I usually live. Which is, uh. Currently: Destination Unknown.

Mm. After Finland, it’s ‘To the Unknown!’ again.

Oh wait. I promised the form.

Say hi?

‘You’re supposed to be a starving artist’

‘… AND THEN WHEN that was done, I came back…’

‘To start something new.’

‘I suppose.’

‘Well, you could do that, here.’

‘I know! It’s wonderful. I have space and time to write anything. Anything at all. And it feels good, getting better.’

‘With practice.’

‘Yes. Also, without the pressure of having to produce something for the market.’

‘The market drives things.’

‘It does.’

‘But the market doesn’t know what a good thing is. It just knows what a thing that people want is.’

‘Yes.’

‘And a thing that people want is made up by the stories and illusions that marketers make so that people talk themselves into wanting those things. Look at sillybands!, is that what that craze was called? Look at diamond rings! Did you see that spoof of the diamond thing, on YouTube? That was so hilarious.’

‘I saw that! Ohmygod. That was so funny.’

‘What about though, the fact that we’re just so damn distarcted now. We can’t even deal with something that’s more than 200 characters long to read. It makes us tired. Overwhelmed. What about that?’

‘You want people to pay attention. To think.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Well, that’s hard.’

‘Yeah!’

‘You want people to notice each other. And to be able to pay attention to the beauty in the space around, and within. Right? That’s what you said? Something about gems and beauty and aura?’

‘That’s what I said, all right.’

‘And you’re in a sort of despair. Because of that stupid novel.’

‘That stupid novel! I couldn’t believe it! I opened it to study about how to you know, look at characters, set up dialogues, setting, stuff like that, see how other people do it, the bestsellers, and my gosh, it’s just pure shite. I’m gonna stick to classics, now. But you know, I was really disappointed because… It was an Irish author, so I had better expectations from the things that I got, but what I saw was a piece of crap. Made for the market. Made for people who simply want to escape from the monotony of their day to day lives.’

‘Isn’t that what novels are for? Aren’t you being overly critical of someone else’s art?’

‘No! Novels and books, short stories, poems, music of all kinds… the kind that I love is the kind that shakes it up. Makes you think about things in a new way. And you know what? It wasn’t art. It really, really wasn’t. Not according to my definition: which is where, you know, it’s more about the universal truths and relating to that which is all of ours, not just some casual throwaway cheap thrillers about suburban love trysts. Fucking boring.’

‘You want stuff that changes people’s thinking, a little. I think that’s what you’re saying. You want stuff that makes… well… Says… “look at that.”’

‘Yes! And I keep running into people who challenge me to do that, too. To look at things in new ways, around and around, from varying perspectives. This is the fun of it, the discovering and the journey.’

Click to pre-order ‘Briefly’

‘You’re talking a lot about moving around and seeing things and shaking it up. But what about practically? How do you pay for all this?’

‘That’s a good f’ing question, mate.’

‘But how do you?’

‘Secret.’

‘No, seriously. I need to know.’

‘Pay attention to the things I am saying, and I’ll start paying attention to your questions. Until you become part of my circle, I don’t know you. The invitations are there. All the time. But if you just can’t be bothered participating, what am I supposed to do? Follow up on everything? Hope that you’ll come on board? I finally shortlisted my list of contacts. I found myself realizing I simply don’t care about most of the old ones. Just don’t. Just can’t. Too many people! I can’t keep up. Do I want to keep up? No. I can’t do that, without compromising. And I don’t want to compromise. That’s why I’m not writing porn for the masses, or sci fi for the geeks, or ‘be like me’ crap for the life coach-y. I hate that stuff. I want to make art, mate. Art! Not art for the sake of art, for me, or whatever, and by the way, did you see the film Posthumous?, that, and yeah, not art for self-expression in a ditch of a hut off to the side of the woods forever or anything like that, but art because… the conversation is the art. The noticing of one another. The being-here-now. I am learning all the time, of course, but it’s time to start practicing, sharing, making S P A C E for more than just me. I can’t do this thing alone. Someone told me yesterday…’

‘You told me. That “artists are supposed to be starving.”’

‘I told you? Yeah. What a load of bollix.’

‘But didn’t you meet that marketing person who said he wanted to be a publicist for you?’

‘Oh, him. I can’t even tell you what a bunch of irritating movements I had to suppress during that short, awkward talk. I wanted to run. I didn’t want to talk about making myself into a spectacle for the internet to feel like they could relate to. My gosh. If there’s anything that I care about, it’s making spaces for real life and real conversations that are real. That means awkward, too, that means just… showing up, to see what happens, because you don’t know. And that’s okay. The point is not to be perfect! I don’t even care! You can just try, that’s what it’s about, right? Staying home and watching Netflix. That’s the biggest competition I have when it comes to S P A C E-making, that is to say, events and hosting them, for sheer learning and practice, but it’s… okay. If people want to stay home, fine! I don’t need to be cool or persuasive. I just want to find the people who are interested in being found, invited, and brought to the spaces where we can really talk. About stuff. Real stuff. I keep saying this! Why is it so hard, now? Why is real life so intense? Why is it hard to make an appointment? Why does it take six months to meet again? Why does it have to be that calling someone requires 52 emails? Why do people cancel? Why does this happen? I can’t deal. I just shut down, really. But I also know that this is a way of avoiding everything; the same exact issue I’m trying to attack. We can’t get so bored and distracted, so lonely and unhappy that we forget about the very miracle of being here. Simply just being! Think about it. All that… stuff of 50 billion years of evolution? Did you read what Einstein said about that? I could quote it here. I could! I could make something like a ‘80 ways Einstein gave us Pause to Reflect’ post and try to get clicks and stuff, but whatever. I don’t care. I don’t think clicks matter. I think people matter. People. Matter. Why is this so hard to get across, now?’

‘Hm. You’re bringing up some hard questions, now. Why do you think people don’t like you making your art?’

‘I dont care about them~!’

‘But… Don’t you think that the system wants you to starve?’

‘I think some people in the system, the ones who are joining me in S P A C E, for example, well, they recognize that if artists starve, then we all suffer, ‘cause we lose the light.’

‘You’re a poet.’

‘F yeah.’

‘So what are you working on now?’

‘Editing Briefly in Sheffield for my good friend, Karin Malhotra.’

‘Who?’

‘I know. Not famous. Writes from the heart. Not popular.’

Discover ‘Briefly’

‘How’s it all going? Isn’t editing hard??’

‘Yeah, but for goodness’ sake. I’ve been editing since the eighties. So yeah. Practice. And it’s going super. I’m really excited about keeping things short, and sweet, and a zine is a way to do that. There are three sections to it. Three… acts, kind of. So you get to discover the 1998 story in England, plus the more recent, 2016 update. It’s pretty neat, I think.’

‘Is publishing fun?’

‘Yes! Skipping over all the mainstream market and starting this S P A C E the Z I N E series has been really good, so far. Some people are truly supportive and I’m getting great feedback from S P A C E || Battambang’s story, Here Comes the Dance. Which is about the Age of Anxiety. Good to talk about. In fact, brilliant.’

‘Tell me more.’

‘Well, I’ve got some really great people helping me with getting the dialect right, for Yorkshire, and understanding the landscape of the city of Sheffield, which some of us went to visit and suss out in person in 2016, just so this would be more… real. More honest. You can’t write about something if you don’t go and see it. This is why I can’t get excited about most travel stories, they’re just concocted from bits and pieces gleaned from internet research. And we all now the internet is not the place to trust stuff. It used to be cool and fun, to connect with others, far away, about things you care about. Now it’s just… hard. But you asked about the new zine? ‘Briefly?’ I did a Q&A with Karin, it’s here.’

S P A C E || Breakfasting

‘THAT WAS GREAT.’

‘It was.’

‘It’s good that we can still talk. A good conversation!’

‘It is. It was.’

‘About so many kinds of things! It keeps it new. I like that.’

‘I do, too.’

‘I think… I think that what’s really interesting is when you can have the old things and the new things, together.’

‘…’

‘I was talking about this the other day, when I was telling you I had such a great conversation jam? That was really fun, and you know, there are more things to talk about, all the time, as we go, because the talking towards some kind of discovery, even with the limitation of language as that is there, you know Niels Bohr said—‘

‘Who you love to quote.’

‘Who I love to quote! Who I love!, and yeah, he said, “We are suspended in words.”‘

‘…’

‘I think that S P A C E and writing like this is about suspension.’

‘…’

‘Everybody thinks they want stuff to be grounded, you know. Clear. Crazy clear and understandable, the bullet-point list. The one-pager. But… We also like to curiously float off sometimes, too. No one admits this out loud! I mean you can’t. It’s crazy talk.’

‘Yeah.’

‘But what you said, earlier, and last night, and everything. That was good. That was helpful. Informative.’

‘That was! Thanks.’

‘So we’re not fighting now.’

‘No.’

‘I like that we could skip over all the stuff we used to do, like sit around and process all the line-by-line stuff. I think I was just tired. And sick. I’ve been so sick. And all these papers, everywhere. And yeah. I’ve got to make a whole batch of zines, S P A C E || Malaysia has Ipoh, Cameron, Melaka, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur… And I’m only two-fifths done… And…’

‘Productivity isn’t the point.’

‘No.’

‘The journey is.’

‘Yes. But that is so… Philosophical and everything. But it is. The journey.’

‘…’

‘So, where’s next?’

Join us in S P A C E for more conversations. This month, we are giving away to new subscribers a PDF copy of Dipika Kohli’s book, Breakfast in Cambodia (Kismuth Books // 2016). It’s also available here.