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
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.
‘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.
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.
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 going to help me grow. Growth is big around here at DK, so I need to practice this way towards it.)
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.)]
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.
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 phoneless 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.’
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 Atelier S P A C E’s newest projects, see #spacethezine’s crowdfunding page? http://chuffed.org/project/spacethezine