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From June 29 to July 4, the SEAΔ fellows of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council were at the “Asia on the Rise?” Conference hosted by the Association of Asian Studies at the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok, Thailand. There we presented the outcomes from SEAD Create, which our group held in Kampong Thom, Cambodia.

It was quite fun to discuss what we did with the local communities in Cambodia, from the workshops we held and the culminating Art and Environment Festival. At the very least, as I have learned presenting in different conferences, it was unique to have artists in an academic setting who actually reached out to communities that academics are studying.

Moreover, it was a joy to reconnect with my new friends and colleagues from all over Southeast Asia and the UK, comparing notes on what went well and what did not. We were divided into three groups and there were three very unique projects. Our group’s project, “Adapt to the Future” focused on how art can contribute to adaptation in the climate crisis. Through performances, exhibitions, and workshops for social development, the project inspired co-creation and action of Cambodia’s collective futures through the lens of climate change.

Another group, “Clayground Theater”, was a workshop series in Thailand using dance and craft to explore childhood memories. The third group, “Three Women and a Duck”, connects with groups inside several markets in Vietnam and Lao through an intimate sharing space, coming up with workshop sessions and recording stories, music, and objects.

Finally, it was fantastic to connect with so many amazing people in the conference and the Bangkok art scene. Bangkok is a dynamic, pulsating city packed with people in art and sustainability. We had field visits at the Fine Art Magazine office where we met Tawatchai Somkong, artist, editor-in-chief, and curator of the Thai Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale; the community in the beautiful Bangkok 1899, Chris Oestereich of Linear to Circular and the Circular Design Lab, and others thanks to MCH regional representatives Siriwat Pokrajen of Thailand and Mimi Heaungsoukkhoun of Laos.

Even on my days off, I was still meeting people, such as a chance visit to the traveling exhibition of the National Museum of the Philippines where they presented the pineapple silk cloths of the tropics, and some people from the UK and China art scene in the Airplane Graveyard. If I can still work in the decaying corpse of a Boeing 747, I know it was a good trip.

I learned many things during this trip. Among others, I have no doubt that it is imperative for the arts to be integrated into other disciplines to reach the communities that the latter aim to serve. I am so excited to be in this unique position to come from both the arts and the sciences doing projects on the environment, and to work with all of these incredible people. I look forward to how these experiences will shape me in the years to come.

All in all, it was a great week in Bangkok. Next up, SEAΔ Reflect in Yangon, Myanmar. See you, fam!

Thanks to Jennifer Lee and Patty Chan of Mekong Cultural Hub, our creative facilitators Nicola Turner and Sudebi Thakurata, Daniel Donnelly and Julia Davies from the British Council, and the Association for Asian Studies!

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I have a new piece in the The Apocalypse Project series currently exhibited at the DEPTH exhibition of Science Gallery Detroit.

Overview

Ice Chess examines the Arctic crisis and inspires viewers and participants to reflect on the situation up north. A map of the Arctic with its indigenous peoples is printed on a chessboard with pieces cast out of ice. Inside the pieces are toy soldiers and that represent the players in the emerging “battle” of the Arctic—the political and industrial figures that have big stakes in oil and shipping that stand to gain from melting ice and the emerging maritime routes as a result, and the pawns that represent the countries that will be affected by sea level rise and that are sacrificed in order to achieve these goals.

In these urgent times, now is not the time to romanticize the Melt. In a game with high stakes, who is responsible? On the edges of the board are freestanding soldiers and figures that represent observer countries and other affected nations, and anonymous figures that represent globally concerned distributed people. The battle is on, and we are all watching with bated breath. Ice Chess uses art and science to interrogate, to speak truth to power, to point to the powerful entities who are primarily responsible for what is affecting the whole planet.

Why Chess?

Chess is one of the oldest skill games in the world and has been played for over 5000 years. Chess spread around the world through colonization and trade. The objective of chess is to trap the king—to checkmate him—and it wins the game. Chess is historically played by the wealthy. In this project, it references wealth inequality, one of the systemic causes of climate change.

Chess is metaphorical of how humanity has treated nature—as a game of strategy where we seek to exploit it and each other. It takes this further by actually melting the project with the aid of the players—a reference to how we collectively have caused the Arctic to melt and how we can also put a stop to it.

This game does not intend to pit one human being against the other (or one country against the other), which risks oversimplification. Rather, each player represents a set of alternative possibilities that, when the game is played, clash to produce permutations of consequences. In the game, players and the audience are allowed to view the many entanglements that a wicked problem such as the Arctic crisis can provide.

A primary reason for economic interest in the Arctic is the emerging Northern Sea Route, which will connect Western Europe and Asia. This could make shipping up to 14 days faster than the southern route via the Suez Canal. In 2018, the Venta Maersk, owned by Maersk Line and carrying 3,600 containers, successfully set sail from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg—the first container ship to tackle the Arctic sea route north of Russia.

The Chessboard & The Pieces

The board is a map of the Arctic labeled with indigenous communities, seas, emerging shipping routes—all of these will be names we would hear more about in the coming decades. This map represents the battleground where a literal and figurative cold war is already happening.

The Arctic Council Nations

The powerful row of pieces—the king, queen, bishop, knight, and rook—represent the Arctic Council nations: Russia, USA, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Denmark. The row of pawns represent countries around the world that are and will be most affected by sea level rise. Surrounding the board are Arctic Council observer countries, other nations affected by sea level rise, and anonymous figures that represent globally distributed concerned people.

Climate Change & the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes contain 5,500 cubic miles of freshwater, one of the biggest freshwater resources of the world. It supports more than 34 million people who live within its Basin. These people rely on the lakes for drinking water, fisheries, recreation, and industry. Climate change is already affecting these ecosystems through extreme weather, decreased crop yields, heat waves and consequent poor air quality, stress on water quality and infrastructure, affected navigation and recreation, and impact on wildlife.

Thank you to curators Mark Valentine Sullivan and Antajuan Scott and the rest of the Science Gallery Detroit team!

(Kampong Thom, Cambodia)—From May 20-24, I was in Cambodia with my mates from the SEAΔ Fellowship, a leadership program for sustainability in the arts in Southeast Asia supported by the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council.

My team consists of Thet Oo Maung (filmmaker, Myanmar), Zikri Rahman (cultural researcher, Malaysia), Sinath Sous (independent curator, Cambodia), and myself, artist from the Philippines. Our project is to be part of co-fellow Sinath Sous’ Arts and Environment Festival by holding arts and culture workshops with the local community of Kampong Thom, a province in northern Cambodia.

On Day 1, we held an art workshop with local students at Kampong Chheuteal Institute of Technology with the aim of looking at their environment from the lens of the future. Students created visual icons of their province using local and recycled materials.

On Day 2, we ran a Future Resilient Communities workshop where participants made their own paper architecture that reflected their desired future community under climate impacts. We were very honored to have the elderly people of the Kampong Thom community participate, including a couple of village leaders. I love holding this workshop because it intersects strategic planning, art, adaptation, the climate crisis, and various sectors of society. It gets one to see, quite visually, how human beings actually want their futures to be as well as to consider (and later, to correct), the common misconceptions of what a benefit is. (In the Philippines, it was a sea wall and here, it was a plastic incinerator.) Most of them have never done art classes before so their outcomes were even more wonderful.

On Day 3, we ran another Future Resilient Communities workshop and a Letters for Science session with some local governmnet officials and community members. In Kampong Thom, increasing heat decreases crop yields in an agricultural society and delays work as some have to stop working at high noon. The more intense storms also threaten public safety as most houses are built on stilts that sway when the wind is too strong.

The Planetary Renewal Spa in Cambodia!

On Day 4, the final day, we had a photography, soap-making, basket weaving, and flower workshops. I did a Planetary Renewal Spa and gave me honey facials to Cambodian teens. Afterwards we offered food to the monks.

SEAD Create ended in the evening with a public exhibition and various performances with other participants that engaged the community of Kampong Thom such as collaborative musical performance from Cambodian artists of various styles, a beauty pageant that included Ms. Universe Cambodia and runner-up of Cambodia’s Next Top Model, a performance by circus artist Maya Ross who wore one of my Climate Change Couture masks, and others.

We will work on the outcomes from the Arts and Environment Festival and will present them for part 3, SEAD Share, in Bangkok in July. We hope to see you there!

I’ll be giving one of the Vox Pop Video addresses for Global Landscape Forum in Kyoto as are some pretty incredible people. I’ll be presenting my work on climate change, specifically The Apocalypse Project and Wild Science bodies of work. I created one video especially for Letters for Science, where I invite the public to write letters to science denialists. Thank you especially to China Residencies and KulturKontakt Austria whose residencies gave me time, space, and networks to reach out to people, as well as Mrs. Eva Heider-Stadler in Eferding and Ms. Allison Cusato in Beijing and their students who participated in the first workshops, and to all the other institutions and individuals who have supported these projects.

I dedicate these to the climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and moon landing truthers of my life. You guys inspire me so.

Sign up here: https://events.globallandscapesforum.org/kyoto-2019/

(Beijing)—I’ve finished my stint with the 5th Crystal Ruth Bell Residency with China Residencies and Red Gate Gallery. Here are some highlights in the second half:

  1. “Maslow’s Dream,” a group exhibition at the Austrian Embassy

2. Open Studios at Red Gate Gallery

3. Going around the hutong in Crystal Ruth Bell’s sanlunche to ask people for their climate stories and opinions on the food I designed

4. Holding a Letters for Science Workshop

5. Interacting with the elderly in Beijing

6. Spending time with kindergarten and grad school friends

7. Thinking about food futures of China

8. Training! Hurray!

9. Working on a new piece for Science Gallery Detroit. More soon!

10. Being with nature and having time to think about very important big future steps.

It was a wonderful tranformative time. Stay tuned for outcomes! In the meantime, thank you China Residencies and dear friends I’ve met along the way!

 

Eco Art Challenge by Global Shapers Beijing

 

(BEIJING, China) – On March 16th, I was invited to give a talk at Global Shapers Beijing (Hub 2) for their Eco Art Challenge. I spoke about my work and, more importantly, about what I learned, my triumphs and failures with my Year for the Planet personal challenge. Other speakers included Break Free from Plastic China and Eric Lau. Afterwards, the participants created a whale sculpture made of plastic trash and embarked on a 7-day plastic-free challenge—a very difficult thing in Beijing, where plastic seems to weed its way in places you did not think it would.

Year for the Planet
Why go plastic-free

You can download a pdf of my talk here:

Thanks to Yoka and Zishu of Global Shapers Beijjng for the kind invitation!

I talk art, science, Beijing apocalypses, and taekwondo (among other things) in this rad interview with Dr. Amy Brady of Guernica Magazine and the Chicago Review of Books for her monthly “Burning Worlds”! Here I mentioned the fellowships I just concluded and will continue and how they have shaped my practice, in Beijing with China Residencies and Red Gate Residency, Southeast Asia with Mekong Cultural Hub, Vienna with KulturKontakt Austria, and Berlin with Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Thank you very much!

Check out the interview here: https://mailchi.mp/9dc8381fcb68/burning-worlds-climate-change-in-art-and-literature-514617?e=%5BUNIQID%5D on Artists and Climate Change: http:// https://artistsandclimatechange.com/2019/02/05/an-interview-with-interdisciplinary-artist-catherine-sarah-young/