This November I find myself in Seoul for the Bio-Art Seoul 2015 Conference. It’s great to be back here in Korea, which is turning into a yearly homecoming of a sort. Annyunghaseyo!

For my bit in the show, I presented the second volume of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store. There were eight new scents I debuted here. The line was called “A Walk Home” and it was based on the scents of my childhood in the Philippines. These olfactory memories were especially potent when I moved to Manila last year after ten years of being away.


The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store: A Walk Home has these eight scents: Recess, A Chinese Apothecary, Time with My Mom, Swimming Lessons, Wild Grass, Manila Sunsets, Carnival, and Moments of Solitude.

Oh you kids. <3

Oh you kids. <3

During the exhibition, it was fun to see families smell the perfumes. My favorite part was when I saw the little kids trying them on, especially the really small ones who had to tiptoe to reach the bottles. It was so cute when one group of little boys gathered around, each taking a bottle, and sprayed it on himself. (I pity the ones who got the perfumes marked “Recess” and “A Chinese Apothecary”.)


Some of my favorite target audience.


Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

And now, a cathartic release by writing about an embarrassing moment. It was the exhibition opening, and man, I was so excited to do my first Korean ribbon cutting—complete with the white gloves and golden scissors, yo! I was nervous to cut it in advance like I’ve seen people do when what I should have been worried about was not catching the darn things after you snip them.

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

I’m the sad chick second from left with the pile of ribbons on the floor. Sigh. No one ever tells me these things. Hmph.

Epic fail.

“Oh sh*t” was the first thought that entered my head. Epic fail.

For the record, I still think it’s a lot cooler to let everything dramatically fall to the floor. Hello. It’s a grand opening. Just kidding.

Artist Talk: Wet Media Conference

In Sogang University’s Department Art and Technology, artists (including yours truly) gave talks on their work. My talk, entitled “Living SciFi: Bio-Art and our Futures” drew on my journey through science, art, and design, ending with the show at the Institute for the Future and what I’ve learned here so far.

It was also great to meet some bio-artists. Personally, I identify more with the terms “conceptual artist” and “sci-art” since I currently work with so many different fields of sciences and haven’t stuck to just one, so it was great to learn from these guys, especially those whose work I’ve heard so much about. Mad props to Anna Dumitriu, Vicky Isley and Paul Smith of boredomresearch, Sonja Baeumel, Roberta Trentin, etc. It was cool to meet you guys!

Workshop: Making Smells of Perfumes

You know I'm in Korea when I'm doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

You know I’m in Korea when I’m doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

A week after the opening, I also did a perfumery workshop with some high school and university students in Korea. There was a group of biology students that were accompanied by their teacher. In the beginning, the students participated in my olfactory memory experiment where they were given mystery smells and then were asked to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

Later, I asked them to do a Smell Walk and gather objects from nature that they want to make a perfume of. We distilled essential oils and also used some from my own collection of essential oils. It was exciting as one distillation flask caught fire (the kids put it out in time and no one was hurt).

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.


The haul from the Smell Walk

The haul from the Smell Walk


Gathering fragrant things in nature

Gathering fragrant things in nature


Mashing things up for distillation

Mashing things up for distillation


A simple DIY distillation set-up

A simple DIY distillation set-up


Whattup, Korea!

Whattup, Korea!

I loved that one of the museum staff participated and insisted on making a banana-flavored perfume. He was a fun student. For the record, I insisted that he tuck his tie so it wouldn’t catch fire.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

After the distillation, I also got them to create perfumes using the commercial essential oils I have in my personal collection.

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!


Making perfumes


Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

I gave them Apocalypse Project Commander badges as a reward for all their hard work. Thanks, guys!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Aaaannnd that’s officially it for me for 2015. No more exhibitions, talks, workshops, interviews, etc. for the rest of the year. I’ll be in Seoul until November 29th reflecting on the year that was and what to do next. You know I’m not a big fan of this part. A bit of Korean hiking should knock me to my senses. Are you in town? Come join me!

Many thanks to Bio-Art Seoul 2015, Biocon, Seoulin Bioscience Co., and Digital Art Weeks International. Thank you especially to Dr. Sunghoon Kim and Helen Kwak!



Highlighting the vanishing breeds enchantment

I am happy to announce The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store (T.E.M.P.S., French for time), a hypothetical perfume line set in the future when many things in nature would have disappeared as we know it because of climate change. This is the first collection of eight scents.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store is a collaboration of The Apocalypse Project and Givaudan. It is part of The Apocalypse Project: Imagined Futures at The Mind Museum and is part of the museum’s permanent collection. Go and visit The Mind Museum to smell these perfumes.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store from Catherine Young on Vimeo.

Climate change leads to rising sea levels, threatening to swallow up the world’s coastlines.

Coasts by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Coasts by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Coffee bean production is dependent on cool mountainsides that are running out because of rising temperatures. Pests are also flourishing because of the warmer weather.

Coffee by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Coffee by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Climate change can make flowers open too early before bees emerge from hibernation, causing their numbers to decline.

Honey by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Honey by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Climate change is altering growth conditions for grapes, leading to changes in quality of production in wine-producing regions.

Wine by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Wine by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Eucalyptus species are increasingly affected by drought and flash floods. Their long regeneration times and short dispersal of their seeds mean they may not be able to keep up with the pace of climate change.

Eucalyptus by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Eucalyptus by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

The scorching heat drastically reduces the quality of peanut production, leaving more peanuts to be processed into oil rather than the edible quality.

Peanuts by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Peanuts by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Higher temperatures are causing the earth’s glaciers and permafrost to melt.

Ice by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Ice by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Hardwood trees
Different species of trees, such as cedar, pine, and fir, are being decimated as climate change increases the risk of forest fires.

Hardwood trees by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Hardwood trees by The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

To bring the project to life, I reached out to Givaudan, a Swiss flavors and fragrance company, who sources materials that preserve the environment, stimulate the development and well-being of communities, and safeguards an efficient use of previous resources. I am grateful to Marilyn Yao, Givaudan Singapore, and Givaudan Philippines for their help in the perfumes, Maribel Garcia who curated The Apocalypse Project: Imagined Futures exhibition, Stephanie Faith Bautista who designed the logo, and Nino Carandang and Peter Lorenz Frac of Shuttermaster Pro for help with photography and video.

The project was a collaboration between the perfumer who mixed the scents in the lab and myself who created the world the perfumes inhabited. Claude Charmoille, VP of Perfumery in Asia, took on this challenge. Charmoille was born in the south of France where scents abound and vary according to seasons. “After completing my botanic and chemistry education, the subtle alchemy between arts – craft – andscience attracted me to the perfumer’s profession,” says Charmoille.

Personally, my favorite scent is Coasts, because it smells of a place as opposed to the others that smell of a specific objects. Because I smell the beach, I remember my childhood memories in the beaches of the Philippines—white sand, coconut trees, the ocean breeze, salty seashells and all. For Charmoille, it’s Eucalyptus. “This one is my favourite, it brings back memories from my childhood when we visited small islands in the Mediterranean sea close to Cannes. In the hot summer days, the eucalypus and pine trees would perfume the air to a degree one can not forget, this warm aromatic and fruity whiff will always remain deeply linked to seaside vacation and family memories.”

As a designer, my intention was to show people a different side of the climate change scenario. Smell is very sensuous and visceral; its effects are instantaneous. Instead of showing statistics of what will disappear because of climate change, I decided to let people smell them. Highlighting the temporary breeds enchantment. As smell is linked to memory, I’m hoping that people will think about how their lives will be without these seemingly ordinary objects that we take for granted that might not be there anymore.


The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

Concept and Design
Catherine Sarah Young

Claude Charmoille of Givaudan

The Mind Museum
Maria Isabel Garcia

With thanks to
Givaudan Singapore Pte Ltd c/o Claude Charmoille for providing the fragrances
Marilyn Yao and Neri Mamburam

Graphic Design
Stephanie Faith Bautista
Nino Carandang
Video and Editing
Peter Lorenz Frac of Shuttermaster Pro

Shot at Shuttermaster Pro

This art/science residency is winding down, and my penchant for sentimentality is going up. At the risk of sounding like a Buzzfeed listicle, here are some of the smaller, yet unforgettable moments. Most of these images were taken using a crappy smartphone, but hey, I’ll take it. I’d like to remember Singapore, the fifth country I’ve lived in, with this hodgepodge of memories:

1. The constant mixture of cultures as well as the combination of the traditional and modern.

This guy in Balinese dress was on his smartphone during an intermission. This was a student performance at NUS.

20131120_203343This cosplayer on a photo shoot and the class happening a few feet away. (I’m unsure what the latter is, and I didn’t want to interrupt them. If you think you know what this is, let me know in the comments. I’d like to be enlightened.) This was at Singapore’s Japanese Garden.


One of my favorite works in the Asian Civilisations Museum: “Mustafa” is written in sini script using a Chinese brush, by a Muslim Chinese calligrapher.

4 A DSC09250

2. Random people working out.

This guy doing a handstand near the Singapore Art Museum. 

20130925_143032Or these skateboarders at Esplanade Station. They remind me of those outside the MACBA in Barcelona.


3. Seeing Venus.

Ok, I’ve definitely seen this before. Let me clarify: seeing Venus and knowing it’s Venus. Thanks to the Meetup group that organized this at the Singapore Science Centre.

20131025_2002574. Random things that grew in my apartment.

This seedling peeked out of my kitchen sink.


A second mushroom  sprouted in my shower.


5. Professor Greg Clancey’s cat, Misty, who lives next door to me at Tembusu College.

She went from being scared of me to not caring when I walked past.


6. Being at my desk at the Future Cities Lab and seeing the people walking up and down the stairs.

The lab occupies the sixth and seventh floors. I think that how they use the stairs reflects their personalities.


(On that note, seeing this guy repeatedly use the hand rail as a ballet bar is the reason why I stopped touching it.)

7. Attending lectures for the sheer enjoyment of them. 

Such as this one by Pico Iyer sponsored by Yale-NUS at UTown.

Pico Iyer

Or this one by Jonathan Ledgard at the Future Cities Laboratory, whose book, Giraffe, I read and loved last year.

Jonathan Ledgard

8. Working with scientists. 

I loved seeing their less academic side. Like so:

The Apocalypse Project smell mask

9. Getting into emoji chats with my taekwondo master in Korea (since we still can’t understand each other). 

I love my current project the most, but I definitely adjusted faster in Seoul.


Hurray for Kakao Story! Thanks to interaction design, communication between two people who do not speak the other’s language is completely possible. Guess who did pass her second degree black belt test after all. Now to figure out how to ship it to me. Hmm.


10. Holding Apocalypse Workshops and getting into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Because, well…


This gig went by too fast, too soon. I’m in the goodbye-presents-and-thank-you-notes stage. Wasn’t I just doing this a few months ago? Vagabond problems, oh dear.

I finally had some time to gather together the images from the workshop I did several weeks back. It’s nice to see them properly categorized and truly see the different perceptions of one cloud. Here is an example:

original cloud

original cloud

I saw a dragon!

I saw a dragon!

Here are the other things these art students saw in this cloud:
DSC02069 DSC02070 DSC02073 DSC02108 DSC02113 DSC02130

Head over to the Rorsketch website to see more of them, or follow the project’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. This project just won’t die. Woo!

hotteok, South Korea

hotteok, South Korea

Annyeong, everyone! I’m starting another project.

During my first three weeks in Seoul, beyond the palaces, the museums, and other beautiful attractions the city has to offer, I learned to fall in love with their street food. I have started some drawing projects over the years, and so I came up with The Movable Feast: A Street Food Project, an interpretative illustration project that celebrates the joys and oddities of street food around the world.

Inclusive cuisine

Street food is arguably the most socially inclusive, yet sometimes unnoticed or taken for granted, of all cuisines. There is neither dress code nor reservation required. Everyone has to wait their turn. Street food is among the best things to eat when one is rushing to work, taking a break in between classes, or being too lazy to cook. It is cheap, easily available, and delicious.

The menu of street food can be simple (such as coconut juice and watermelon slices) or more complex and hard-to-find (such as escargot on the go, lobster sandwiches, and grilled tamales) This system includes a range of members—from the ambling taho vendor (Philippines), the seasonal bocadillo stall (Spain), to scheduled and franchised food trucks (United States). It is a mobile and complex system that consists of the producers of raw materials, the makers of the actual dishes, the transportation and infrastructure that bring them to the venues in which they are served, the governing bodies that allow their selling, and the vendors and consumers themselves.

Globalization and diaspora

In many ways, I have discovered that street food is a symbol of globalization and diaspora. Many of them hail from other countries, but with local flavor. Consider goroke, the Korean version of the French croquette. Or hotdogs in Iceland. Or shawarma in Canada. It is also a symbol of urbanization—as the population who move from rural to urban areas increase, so does the need for alternative sources and ways of distributing food.

Street food as identity

I believe that street food is a vital part of the culture and identity of a city. It is indicative of the sustenance immediately afforded by its geography. But more than that, it is a symbol of a people’s resourcefulness, creativity, and survival. They tell us stories about ourselves.

Eating and perception

Eating street food fires up all the senses, which are the center of my larger body of work. Street food conjures up memories of childhood and gives strangers a shared experience of a meal. These drawings themselves are interpretative; more than documenting what they are, I also draw how they’ve made me feel, and write the memory I have about them.

Follow the project’s Tumblr here.

P.S. Drawings up every Monday!

P.P.S. As I am based in Seoul, many of these posts will be about Korean street food, though I will draw all the other street foods I’ve eaten in other countries, past and future. But if you wish, you can submit photos of street food from your country and I can try it out and draw it. Or submit your own drawings, following the format I’ve started. The link to submit is here.

The Movable Feast, where eating means research. Thank you for checking it out.

For reasons I will write about later, I have decided to learn the Korean language and culture. More specifically, I have decided to pack as much useful Korean phrases as possible into my head (and know how to say them in context) in the next few weeks.

I didn’t think that open source courseware from universities was the way to go. I love using online resources such as Khan Academy, Udemy, and Coursera, but they don’t really specialize in languages and cultures. In addition, with the timeframe I was giving myself, I didn’t want to feel like I was taking a class.

To my surprise, it wasn’t easy to find good online courses that teach Korean, perhaps because a lot of Korean people already speak English. Still, I believe that learning a people’s language is one of the best ways to understand them. When I lived in Barcelona, it was only when I started learning Spanish and Catalan that the locals started opening up to me. (Not that they weren’t nice to me before, but you get the idea.)

Learning a new language and culture always gives me what I refer to as a “brain massage”—I can feel my cerebral cortex almost groaning under all that cognitive load. Incorporating language classes into a busy schedule isn’t easy, and it was important to find learning material that were easily packaged into digestible pieces that are easy to recall.

Looking at the relatively small landscape of Korean culture and language videos, here are the two that are keeping me up at night (both from Youtube):

1. Professor Oh and Friends (SweetAndTasty on Youtube)

I’ve never come across better styled and more entertaining language and culture videos than those of Professor Oh’s. Her first video caught my eye, and I remembered her because her mnemonic for Korean consonants was to sing them to the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This was something that we used to do in high school, but to remember all the Chinese dynasties. (It’s quite a versatile song, yes?) It’s also really helpful that she points out common mistakes in pronunciation. She’s come quite a long way from that endearingly shy first video, and now she’s morphed into several characters. As someone with many alter egos as well, I totally relate to her. Keep going!

(Also check our her other alter ago as Ramona Champion.)

Professor Oh and Friends: Making the Korean language unforgettable. No kidding.

Professor Oh and Friends: Making the Korean language unforgettable. No kidding. (Photo from their Facebook page)

Because desperate times call for desperate measures, my Korean language notebook has frantically wriitten notes in the five languages I know, to highlight similarities and make me learn faster. Some Korean consonants were very similar to Mandarin, for example. It’s also funny that some words were the same in lots of languages. Banana is, well, pretty much banana in several countries.

2. Eat Your Kimchi with Simon and Martina

It’s impossible not to talk about Korean culture blogging without writing about Eat Your Kimchi. Canadians Simon and Martina Stawski came to South Korea in 2008 to teach English and started doing video blogs about their experiences as expats. They blog about the K-pop industry, but it’s their videos on culture that’s helping me. Now hugely popular, they have more than 260,000 subscribers on their Youtube channel. They even surpassed their Indiegogo goal to register EYK as an actual business.

Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi. Prepping expats for Korean living (and K-pop) since 2008. Whatup, nasties!

Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi. Prepping expats for Korean living (and K-pop) since 2008. Whatup, nasties! (Photo from the Eat Your Kimchi Facebook page)

From what I’ve learned from both Professor Oh and Eat Your Kimchi is this—having that human connection where the speaker is looking at you is a plus. Having well-defined characters or personalities allow for more contextualization, and when I remember the words and phrases, I hear the characters speaking them in my head together with their idiosyncracies. It also helps that they seem to be genuinely nice people with normal lives. Thoughtfully written scripts also work well in helping me remember. I switch back and forth from these channels because it’s great to have both Korean and non-Korean perspectives.

These people all feel familiar to me, and I might instinctively give them high fives if I ever see them. Seriously, thank you, for making this process wonderfully entertaining and useful.

Barcelona Kawaii (December 2009), Digital illustration

Blessed are hard drives, for they shall reveal files gathering digital dust.

I did this digital illustration years back, for an exhibit called “Des de Fora” (From the Outside) in Sants, Barcelona. It was a time when I was getting over the hump of learning Adobe Illustrator. I completely forgot about this drawing! But I suppose this influenced my doodling habit later on.

The theme reflects on being a foreigner in Barcelona; I wanted to portray the increasingly multicultural nature of one of my favorite cities in the world. Futbol, Feast of St. George, Bicing, Gaudi architecture, etc. are all things I will remember Barcelona for.

It was also the year that it snowed in Catalunya for the first time in years:

Snow in Barcelona (March 2010)

It was also a time when I saw double AND triple rainbows on the day my friends and I were eating calçots and writing poetry:

Double rainbows over Barcelona (April 2010)

Look closely: Triple rainbows!

I t was also the time I was first part of the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona, which was probably one of the most influential times of my life from a creative standpoint and made me look at science from the point of view of poetry:

getting made up by Violet (Photo by Joe Wray)

I accidentally unearthed that cheongsam / qi pao the other day and was quite amazed by the wear and tear it had to withstand amidst all those poetry readings and performances.

I’ve been in Manila for five months now, and it’s been a time of looking at the city I grew up in from the outside. Despite living in multiple countries for so long, cities never fail to surprise me.

Perhaps, like cities, poetry whores, and the weather, humans, too, can pause and look at ourselves from the outside.

It’s just one of those days.


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