Projects at Orangutan Swing
Here’s what we are currently doing:
Playspaces & Design Thinking in Phnom Penh
What started as a tweetup for a few people who might be interested in meeting others from The Internet has evolved into a series of meetings where we talk together about art, design, conversation-making, and, more than all of those things, the “why.” But if we get too serious, as a Zen master said, we will lose our way. Play and experimentation can lead to just the right thing, if we allow ourselves to look.
Design thinking starts with empathy: listening, care, and we see lots of space for more of expansive, divergent ways of looking at a problem to solve. Look for more about Design Phnom Penh, specifically, this fall.
It Takes a Village // The Village Report
Witing a couple of columns for Saathee Magazine (Charlotte, NC) and the Northwest Asian Weekly (Seattle) on the tours of Asia that was meant to be a “practice of the unknown, uncertain, and different.”
This is a work in progress, and what’s becoming clear is that the real “village” that the proverbial expression says “it takes to raise a child” is a concept that doesn’t fit into a modern picture. So, it’s been renamed, “The Village Report,” a series of posts at Kismuth Books on what it looks and smells like in the field when it comes to learning about different people and places, together, with a small child. It started out as something else, though. Beginning with “10.000 words,” Dipika was collecting ideas about what people in all parts of the world think about the theme, “It Takes a Village.” The idea was to write books and blogs about: education, exploration and uncertainty, and will take you around the world in the grand experiment of weaving a tapestry of learnings and stories. She’s asked ten photographers to contribute one photo each, and is also compiling a 10-part essay, of 1,000 words each, on the topic of raising a small child based on her personal experience traveling through Vietnam and Laos this summer with her four year-old son.
Originally, this project started by asking questions such as:
- What does it take to bring up a truly global kid citizen in this world?
- How does an individual survive and thrive in this rapidly-changing environment?
- What is a geographically-defined community, in an era defined by global, instant communications? and finally,
- How can creativity (and “the creatives,” though we’d argue that everyone is creative) serve people in the above three questions?
To explore the possibilities within these questions, we will engage educators, artists and other community members in a dialogue everywhere we go, and ask on/offline feedback along the way.
There will be group discussions, activities, and individual musings from around the world. Instead of defining what it is up front, the entire project will be shaped by your inputs and participation. It will evolve over the years.
Dipika, Akira and their five-year-old Kush were in Gangtok, Sikkim, to
start a semester at Taktse International School in the Himalayas make a roundtable conversation series happen on the topic of modernity, and identity, in a Sikkim that was a kingdom before India annexed it as a state less than forty years ago.
This is just the first chapter of this project. Watch this space for updates, developments, events, achievements and setbacks along the way!
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
Punjab, India: A writer’s residency at Preetlari
Orangutan Swing stepped back from public events for some introspective writing and research in December, 2013. We returned to India from Nepal for a chance to get some thoughtful time at a writer’s residency program in Chandigarh. We worked with the team at Preetlari to talk about the topics that emerged once we got there and learned what’s important to the people who live around that part of Punjab. Here is our “love letter” to Punjab:
Preetlari was set up in 1933 and published from Preetnagar, Dist. Amritsar. S. Gurbaksh Singh founded the magazine and also a model village called Preetnagar, which we’ve heard about from a new acquaintance here in Kathmandu ahead of getting there to see what’s what.
Part of this experiment at Orangutan Swing is to practice the unknown and uncertain, much like at the early phase of the design process when you simply go forth and explore, then find the concept from which to build out the best of a shortlist of ideas. Excited.
More about the writing Dipika is working on, a fresh e-book, and the final in her epic memoir series, Kismuth), is coming out soon. A 2015 target date for the release coincides with the 30-year anniversary of Kanishka, the Air India Flight 182 disaster that is the central story.
Kandinsky’s Window: Art, politics and the conversation on the street in Kathmandu
We started out just taking pictures. Then, it became sort of a game. Could we collect our impressions of what it’s like to be an observer on the ground in Nepal’s capital just ahead of elections? Being non-Nepali, without Nepali language, and also just walking around with a giant iPad camera? Would that even work? How would it look? How might people respond? Sidelined as visitors (who keep needing to extend our visas), we began to simply take in the role we have to play in this: as observers.
One of the great inspirations for our work at Design Kompany has been the Bauhaus movement, and one of its founders was the artist Wassily Kandinsky. His ideas about the observer, and the thing observed, along with his abstract painting and affection for bright bursts of color inspired the title and subject for this photoset series of Kathmandu.
Tourism roundtable in Dzongu, a village of Sikkim
It took just one day to gather for a roundtable on the topic of Tourism in the village of Dzongu. That’s a part of Sikkim, India, that requires knowing how to get a permit and finding out where you might be able to stay when you get there well ahead of time because it’s so remote.
Like all our projects, we decided to come up with a theme once we got our eyes and ears closer, and our feet on the ground. Knowing what is of interest to people can only happen when you show up first, agendaless, ready and able to listen. A practice that we’re trying to cultivate each and every step of the way, we were delighted by the sheer momentum of the conversation once the topic, “What is tourism? Who would come to Dzongu? What should we work to keep, as we evolve, and what to let go?” It’s a big question for the people who live here, the Lepcha community, which is modernizing but also recognizes its value is in preserving what it still has. More about what transpired and a guest’s perspective is here.
Modern Sikkim: A conversation series in Gangtok, India
From September through mid-October 2013, we were immersed in a loose and informal series of online and in-person conversations that led to the first-ever roundtable of its kind in Gangtok, called “Modern Sikkim.” It was (and still is) an open query into the idea of a Sikkimese identity. Many have already joined in this opening of a dialogue, including journalists, business owners, artists, educators, and officials from tourism and municipal government, too.
We collaborated with Sanom Tashi Gyaltsen of design consultancy Echostream, we are inviting as wide a cross-section of voices to a focused conversation roundtable, called “Modern Sikkim.” This event was on Sept. 28, from 10am to 12 noon at BREW Gangtok, which is housed in the same building as Echostream in Sichey. It was free, and open to the public.
At a preliminary meeting at BREW, a question put to the table was this: “If you were to preserve a collection of ideas about what it means to be “of” this place, for example, for your great-grandchildren and theirs, what would you write?” The reply came almost instantly, and was the same from two guests. “Nothing,” they said. “How can we define what they’re going to be about?” Yet that wasn’t the whole of it. We talked then, in a natural segue fashion of the sort you want when you’re having a dialogue (as opposed to a “discussion”), about the shape of the box, and the style and texture of it. What is the container for the soul of a people?
It is a relevant question, not only for the Sikkimese population—because of the struggles they are in the midst to figure out exactly how to articulate their regional identity in the face of rapid development and the pressures from New Delhi—but also for the wider, international public. Because, as the voice of each attendant in a conversation matter to a fruitful dialogue, what we will hear at this conversation will be relevant to other communities with similar concerns, all over the world.
Stitch: A communitywide conversation in Durham, North Carolina
How does a community define itself? What will the effect of revealing its self-image to itself be to the future of the community? As Design Kompany, we’ve helped hundreds of people do exactly that, at a personal and organizational level. Could we scale it up, with a playful, artistic flair?
We asked more than 500 residents of Durham, NC to give us one-word answer to the question: “what would you like Durham to become?” The answers were geotagged, tallied up, and shared with the larger community, whom we then asked to vote on the words they liked.
We turned over the results to more than 20 artists, who created a series of creative proposals on Kickstarter, so the production of each work can be supported through the community at large. 171 patrons of art pledged $6799 toward the $12,000 goal during the 20-day kickstarter campaign, and the projected resulted in several blogs and news stories, participation from many businesses, community groups and individuals, and countless conversations around the city’s identity and its future.
A year of Dialogue: on both US coasts for 32 roundtable events
In January 2012, we started Orangutan Swing off with a “year of dialogue,” an experiment through conversation-making in a variety of settings, cities, about as many topics, with as many kinds of people.
Our goal was to hold 30 dialogue events within a year, and we ended the year with 32 events, with a total of 1,133 participants. Some were about esoteric, geeky topics (“Is the meduim still the message?” “Do we need Internet to make friends?”), some were more broad (“minority” “parenting”). Some had just three participants. Some had more than 30, 500—more a TED talk-type presentation (with a chance to have deeper conversation afterwards). One event was held at Bryant Park in the middle of Manhattan, New York. Another was at a small park gazebo. Others—a few bars, coworking spaces, and many coffeeshops.
The common thread of all these conversations: no agenda. We made as little preparation as we could get away with, just picking a few anchor “non-panelists” sometimes, and a few questions to start the conversation. Mostly, we sat back and listened. And we learned a ton.