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Some updates from this end of the apocalypse: I am currently working on at least five more projects under this platform. Questions I am asking are: What are disappearing because of climate change? How do we adapt? How can we train ourselves to think deeper about the future of the planet?

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I am working on these while doing a self-directed art/science residency at The Mind Museum, a science museum in Manila. This location seems to be a perfect fit for me for the following reasons:

1. The Philippines is one of the top countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Unlike Singapore, where this project began and where natural disasters are relatively rare, the Philippines often experiences extreme climate events. I think there will be a lot of opportunities for discussion and learning around this topic, and I am sure these projects will give birth to new projects.

2. The Mind Museum is one my favorite places. I never thought Manila would have anything like this—I started knocking on their doors before they were even built. I had to be based in different countries in the past several years, so I think it’s a wonderful opportunity that I have right now. I really believe that science museums are an important bastion of knowledge and inspiration for a city. The curator and the staff have also been really amazing in terms of supporting my work and giving me constructive critique.

3. A science museum will allow me to reach a lot of children, which I’ve always believed are a crucial part of my audience as an artist/designer. I think the most heartstopping questions and feedback I’ve had in the past have come from five year olds.

4. This is my home city. After living in different countries for the past decade, this is an interesting homecoming of a sort.

I hope to exhibit by late April, which isn’t too far away. At this stage, I am already excited and overworked. It’s always great to have a personal project that consumes you. Check back here for updates!

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I snapped this photo from Books Actually, a lovely independent bookstore in Singapore.

2013 was the year I turned 30. I feel wise, or perhaps to be more specific, wizened, and thus a recap of “lessons learned.” Ha. Working in the intersection of art, science, and design, I have learned many things both enriching and hilarious from the three primary groups of people I work with. And thus a blogpost to remember. (I identify with all of these groups, so this isn’t a judgy list; I am part of this, too).

1.Everyone desires meaningful work.

2. Everyone desires to be with family and loved ones and to do what really matters to them.

3. Things would work so much better if one person can speak the “language” of at least two disciplines.

4. Artists in black (or clothes stained in their chosen media) and scientists in lab coats (the cool ones would have interesting hair) and designers in plaid shirts and special mention of architects in crisp white shirts. Because fashion.

5. At the end of the day, people are just afraid of messing up and looking like a fool. (Hello, Impostor Syndrome.)

6. Vanity. #Facebook #TrueStory

7. People ranked in increasing order of empathy: scientists<artists<designers

8. People ranked in increasing order of engaging Powerpoint presentations: scientists<<artists <<<<designers. Also: favorite fonts. Scientists: Verdana. (Oh dear.) Artists: Arial. Designers: Gotham, Helvetica, Proxima.

9. People ranked in increasing order of prompt and well-thought-of email I receive: artists<scientists<designers.

10. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.

(Note that I only use scientists, artists, and designers to define what people project on the outside. I think many of the scientists I’ve met are also artists—they just don’t have a chance to show that side very much—and many artists are designers, and designers are artists and scientists, and so on. And yes, I suppose this only applies to the artists, scientists, and designers I have met.)

Climate Change Couture
Volume 1, Singapore

A preview, my fellow earthlings.

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Climate Change Couture: Haute Fashion for a Hotter Planet

This project explores the future of fashion as climate change continues to impact our lifestyle. This first collection is borne out of my Art Science Residency Programme, collaborating with researchers from the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory. The models of these clothes are active researchers or have a science background. Visit The Apocalypse Project for future updates!

Last November 16th, I spoke on the panel, Negotiating Cities of the Future, part of the ArtScience Conversations hosted by ArtScience Museum, together with fellow artist-in-residence Michael Doherty, Shannon Lim, William Hooi, and Luther Goh. The museum was kind enough to send me photos from my part of the panel.

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My talk was entitled, “The Apocalypse Playbook: Strategies for the End of the World.” I spoke about my previous work that led me to do The Apocalypse Project.

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For example, I talked about the Seoul43 project. Even talking about it made me recall the exhaustion of climbing more than 43 mountains. Ha.

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I also spoke about my previous sensory projects, such as The Hug Vest.

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I also talked about how I came to value interactivity and experience-based design through my previous jobs and lives. As a youth correspondent at The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of my favorite series of articles was something I called Temporarily Yours, where I took on a job for a day and wrote about it. My favorite one was about being a mascot for Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food chain. This is an 11-year newspaper clipping. In the job, I wore both suits, but for that particular photo, I was the blonde girl on the left.

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Oh hi again, my Art, Science, and Design slide.

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Dr. Margaret Tan, Fellow at Tembusu College and Director of Programmes, introduced us.

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Denisa Kera, professor at the National University of Singapore, moderated the event.

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Yep, I was wearing the Apocalypse Suit. I should wear that at all times. It’s comfy with a lot of pockets. It’s probably one of the few outfits I wouldn’t mind wearing everyday, other than a dobok.

Last November 10th, The Apocalypse Project was exhibited at the Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. Here are some photos of my part of the show at the Inspiration gallery:

There were five mannequins dressed Climate Change Couture, four standing projectors that introduced the parts of the project and the Mission Apocalypse game, and screen at the back that showed all the drawings made during The Apocalypse Workshops.

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The Apocalypse Project – Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum

On the left is an interactive station where people can do The Apocalypse Workshop.

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Climate Change Couture: The Trash Suit and The Bubble

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The Apocalypse Project – Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum

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It was great to see  friends and strangers alike. Here’s Vinod, a Tembusu student and part of the Earth vs Humans: The Court Trial trying on the Smell Mask:

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Dr. Stamatina Rassia of the Future Cities Laboratory dropped by.

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And here’s Dr. Ingmar Lippert from Tembusu College.

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Here’s squad member Yuen Kei Lam manning The Apocalypse Workshop. I’m so happy to see this photo—she started out being a participant in the first workshop I held, and now she’s facilitating one. Dr. Connor Graham of Tembusu College is also at the table.

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I also had a photo booth where people can try on some of the Climate Change Couture clothes. On the right is squad member (and taekwondo classmate) Yerim Ku, an exchange student at the National University of Singapore.

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I turned the Inspiration Gallery into a game of a sort, called Mission Apocalypse. The audience had a piece of paper with tasks on it.

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The paper had 25 clues in a 5×5 grid that made them explore the gallery.

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Each clue led to a question about climate change.  If you get five correct answers vertically, horizontally, or diagonally (like in Bingo), you get an Apocalypse Project sticker. Or you can answer everything and get a poster.

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Oh hey, here’s Professor Gregory Clancey, Master of Tembusu College (and also my neighbor):

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This is one of my favorite photos. This kid was so great. He’s seven years old and working on climate change questions in Mission Apocalypse.

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He also drew this superpower for The Apocalypse Workshop:

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This is the happiest I’ve been in a show. You can tell—I’m grinning like a Cheshire Cat on the left and in mid-frolic. 
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Lastly, but most importantly, thank you, Apocalypse Squad, Batch 1. The more complex my projects get, the more I’ve learned to delegate. Thank you, all.

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I’ll be putting everything about the project online here. It’s crunch time again for me (a chronic problem for chronic travelers), but it’ll all get done. The other day, I finished posting all the workshop submissions, which led to me reaching Tumblr’s posting limit for the day. I think I broke the Internet that day. Do follow that site for more updates!

Photos in this post by artist and Apocalypse Squad member Sandra Goh. Now this is exhibition photography, people. I’m taking down notes. 

This weekend was the first time I exhibited The Apocalypse Project in our group showcase in ArtScience Museum. This was a stressful installation, but not quite as much as climbing more than 43 mountains, or mowing a mountain in a monsoon with a sickle. But everything went alright in the end, and I was quite happy with how it looked:

The Apocalypse Project at ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, 10 November 2013

The Apocalypse Project at ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, 10 November 2013

The Apocalypse Squad

I have learned so much from all the shows I’ve done in the past, but this is hands down my favorite one, mainly because of the team of students who made up the Apocalypse Squad. Without them, everything would have fallen apart. They worked on everything— helping to assemble the actual pieces,  making each interactive station work well, and helping the audience win the Mission Apocalypse game. It was quite a production for a one-day show. I was so proud of how they worked that day—a clear indication of me getting old. Here we are, after takedown:

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The Apocalypse Squad. (L-R) Sandra Goh, photographer. Yuen Kei Lam, Elaine Sam, me, Yerim Ku, Jethro Leong, Yuqi Liew, and Ingmar Salim.

Kudos as well to Tembusu students and faculty who helped me set up the installation.

More detailed photos about what went on in future posts by this week, but for now, I think I need to rest for a couple of days and get my sleeping patterns back to normal.

But in more important news:

Donate to Haiyan victims

As the world knows, Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) tore through my home country, the Philippines, a few days ago. Being here in Singapore, I have been feeling very heartbroken, helpless, and distracted at seeing all the photos of the devastation. I also couldn’t help noticing the irony of exhibiting The Apocalypse Project, which I intended to make people visualize a dystopic future brought about by climate change, and actually have that apocalypse a reality in my motherland. I am not kidding—some of the things people drew for The Apocalypse Workshop became true this weekend. At the last minute, I changed one dress for Climate Change Couture as a reference to this catastrophe. (More on this in a future post.)

Thank you, Lion City, for lending the Philippines a hand.

Find out ways to help Haiyan victims here and here.

Photo by Romeo Ranoco for Reuters

Photo by Romeo Ranoco for Reuters

This Sunday is the day! If you’re in Singapore on November 10th, come to our showcase where I’ll be exhibiting The Apocalypse Project at ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. The following Sunday is our panel talk. More details about the events here.

Here is the showcase flyer, courtesy of ArtScience Museum:

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I’m excited, and I hope so is my newly costumed Apocalypse Squad:

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I feel like we’re astronauts. Hope to see you!

This week, I and my fellow artist-in-residence Michael spoke in Tembusu College’s Singapore as Model City class.

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It looks like I’m singing, but I’m not. I was just saying hi and asking if they could hear me. Thanks, Dr. Margaret Tan, for the photo.

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I think I like it when the stage design is reversed and I’m looking up.

I won’t elaborate on parts of my talk that I’ve posted before, such as what happened during The Apocalypse Workshops or the comments on DrawHappy that made me rethink what the project could be about. So instead, I’ll emphasize some of the things I learned about experience design and collaborations between art and science.

Experience and memory
The image my have the last word, but for me, experience is the one that stay with you forever. I referred to a series of articles I wrote when I was a young journalist, oh so many years ago. This is a photo of me when I was 19 years old:

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In this photo, I was wearing the costume on the left, although I also wore the one on the right. These are mascots from Jollibee, a Filipino fast food chain that, for me, is one of the icons of modern Filipino culture and taste. It was for a series of articles called Temporarily Yours, where I took on a job for a day and then wrote about it. Looking back, these are exercises in empathy, albeit short ones, where I realized how it was to be on the other side of the fence. Most of these jobs were in food or customer service, such as a barista or a sushi chef. Others were about performance, such as a magician’s assistant or a zookeeper. In this particular article, I wrote about how it was to be a mascot and embody a character beloved by children. I still vividly remember these experiences more than a decade later, such as how the head of Hetty (the female character, short for “spaghetti”) was so big and difficult to balance, and how Jollibee’s butt was so huge, it took two guys to shove me through a door. You know, good times.

Projects like these have shaped my views on how I execute future projects. Though I don’t feel that my work fits just one area of inquiry, I think that the common thread between all of them is that of experience. Experience is very powerful. The image may have the last word, but in a world where we are saturated by images, I believe that experience makes these images last longer and gives them more meaning.

Korea and Experience Booths

My views on experience design have also been honed through seeing South Korea’s experience booths in festivals, which will always mark my memories of that country. In festivals in the US or in Europe, I would usually find people selling me a finished product, let’s say a ceramic pot. But in Korea, I will be sold the experience of making or painting my own pot. In this case, I will find myself sitting down at the booth and getting messy at the table, thus slowing down, making my experience more personal, and hopefully have a longer lasting memory than just having the generic festival experience. Perhaps I will end up treasuring the pot I made myself rather than just another cheap souvenir. I also think these booths give wonderful creative opportunities for families, children, and the elderly.

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A Korean experience booth on printmaking

Korea can get quite creative with their experience booths, such as this one I saw down south in Hampyeong.

I believe that the role of artists / scientists / designers is not just to have these unique experiences through their work, but to share these with others. Typically, we share that experience by writing about it for others to read. Through that reading, perhaps someone will profoundly connect with our writing. However, I think that human bonds can be stronger through a shared experience. Your audience can create their own experiences for themselves and yield results that are unexpected, like what I’ve learned from previous projects. This is when you realize that your audience teach you something as well, which is a wonderful thing. Projects become a conversation between creator and audience, which will only serve to fuel human creativity and progress.

Art, Science, and Sustainability

Personally, I believe that the wealth of human knowledge is too vast to just break down into two, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with these two fields: art and science. As I have been trained in both, I have felt what it was like on each “side”. I have been “the scientist” in an art/design studio, and “the artist” in a science lab. Both types of experiences have been very unique to me. Both sides have their own ivory towers. Those who choose to be in those towers, I think, should quickly parachute off. Our world is too vast and our problems too complex for petty squabbling. Unexpected things can happen when ideas from each side, as they say, have sex. Here is a nice comic by Bird and Moon that shows that.

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Image copyright by Bird and Moon

Collaboration is especially important in the realm of sustainability, which is a world I did not expect to enter. It’s quite a booming area, especially in Singapore. Everyone and your mother is doing sustainability.*  (That, and “cities” and “resilience.”) I referred (again) to this Ngram by xkcd.

*Did I really say that in a university class? Yes, I did.

Image copyright by xkcd

Image copyright by xkcd

Instead of being a part of the echo chamber that such “trending” fields create, perhaps new solutions can emerge by letting disciplines hang out together, as they used to do, way back when.

In the end, I emphasized empathy to these bright eyed young students who are in the middle of creating sustainable urban interventions for their class. I said this as someone from the Philippines, a developing country. I cannot tell you how many international consultants in there right now, wanting to save it from XYZ problems. Now, I am very grateful that these brilliant people are there, and I am sure they have great intentions. Certainly foreigners can see opportunities locals may have overlooked, as I have had, being a foreigner in four other countries. But I’ve seen enough projects that never get implemented or never have their full potential realized because of these gaps in empathy. I believe we can do better.

Perhaps as a welcome to living this near to the equator, I contracted a tropical bacterial infection during my first month in Singapore. This resulted to three weeks of congestion and mucus. There were a lot of very embarrassing social situations and a consistent need for tissues. But the most awful thing about it was the fact that I lost my sense of smell. This is absolutely catastrophic for someone who studies perception. For one who once tested the link between smell and memories. For one who made an olfactory memoir. For one who can tell cities apart by smells.

The medical term for this is anosmia. (Check this video and article on NYTimes.com for people who permanently lost their sense of smell or were born without it.)

If anything, I am grateful it only lasted a few weeks. There is nothing like valuing something more when you’ve temporarily lost it. To make it a learning experience, I pretended my anosmia was an experiment.

So, how was life without my sense of smell?

The smallest activities were voided of their pleasures. I could not smell the mint on my toothpaste, the citrus crispness of a sliced lemon, the aroma of coffee, the freshness of new bedsheets. Perfume, which was a daily habit and a mood booster, became unnecessary. Each object blurred into the next, unclearly defined.

Without smell, I was unable to detect the orange juice spilling on the opaque countertop. I could not gauge the weather, because I could no longer the smell rain or heat through the window. My days lost a dimension—like the difference between experiencing a movie on a bad screen and in HD. Life became very dull; a mere shadow of its former self. It was then that I realized that in many ways, we can smell movement, and therefore stories. Smell made things more real.

Our senses of smell and taste are related. And so without smell, I couldn’t taste anything either, apart from being able to determine if a dish was sweet, sour, salty or bitter, more or less. This robbed me of the joys of eating. I ate a lot of spicy food, mainly to clear my congested sinuses and because most of the time, spiciness that was the only thing that registered.

On a less depressing note, I learned to better appreciate the texture of food. And because I could not taste anything, I stopped eating food that was unhealthy. I don’t recall a time in my life when I ate less chocolate. Or drank less coffee. Because really, what was the point? I may have lost a couple of pounds, but I was unhappy.

There were other minor benefits, I suppose. The delight and wonder of things faded, but so did their disagreeableness. I thought it was great not to be able to smell smoke or public toilets.  In the gym, in taekwondo class, in crowded subways, I could not be offended by body odor. Hurray!

However, not being able to smell noxious substances is dangerous. It is what tells us if there is a gas leak or if our food has spoiled. And another problem with not smelling is that while nothing and no one stinks,  you don’t know if you do.

Eventually, as my colleagues told me that my cold was probably an infection, I went to the doctor and was prescribed a dose of antibiotics. As the medicine kicked in and I became better, my sense of smell started to come in short spurts, probably analogous to a blind person seeing flashes of light. Whoa, that basket of fruit actually registered. Oh my, cornflakes tasted like cornflakes. I can smell my shampoo again.

Having my sense of smell come back to me was like getting out of a bubble. I realized that like smell made me a part of my environment because I could breathe it into myself and establish a continuity with the world. Slowly, I felt more alive. I had never been so overjoyed to smell garbage again.

 

P.S. Huge thanks to the awesome staff of the University Health Center of the National University of Singapore, who took me in past closing time last Friday when they realized I was close to passing out. Kudos!

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