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As an interdisciplinary artist who works on environmental and social issues, discovering Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat was an incredible experience. Having grown up in the Philippines, I was no stranger to its bountiful nature, but this time I was on a mission. I had, not so long ago, finished an artscience residency in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and to discover that the Philippines had something very similar was beyond exciting. I did not have to go that far to see a rainforest, after all. I was very grateful to accept Great Escapes Philippines’ invitation for their inaugural Give Back Weekend Adventure. It was a great opportunity for me to research the area in light of a forthcoming art residency and collaboration with the Centre for Sustainability Philippines, an environmental NGO based in Palawan and one of Great Escapes’ partners.

Such joy to be back in the rainforest!

Brazil and the Philippines are antipodes; that is, if I dig a hole in my house in Manila and kept going until I reached the other side of the earth, I would end up in Matto Grosso in Brazil. But despite being half a world away, the Amazon and Palawan share similarly rich natural resources, colonial history, and immediate and long-term threats. Both embodied a certain type of wild beauty under peril, where traditional ways conflict with contemporary lifestyles. It was easy to relate these two ecosystems together as I experienced similar lush greenery and clear river water. As an artist, it was a good time to reflect on how I can possibly continue my work to raise awareness on both of them.

Brazil vs the Philippines

Halfway around the world! From http://www.antipodesmap.com

But there were stark differences as well, not just the fact that Brazil was a Portuguese colony and the Philippines, of Spain. (I saw the basketball court of the Batak community and immediately thought of the football field in the Baré community of Nova Esperança in Brazil that we visited.) CNCH was less explored than the Amazonian reserve I was in, and so the trails were not as defined and were steep in some areas. It made for quite an adventure, though even beginners will be able to make it. (Be prepared for a good sweat!) A tip for those like me who are terrified of descents—when in doubt, just slide. I was very grateful to the CS staff and intern who helped me through my Descent Anxiety.

Entering the Batak community

 

A basketball court in the Batak community

Give Back + Adventure

There are terms to unpack in the phrase “Give Back Weekend Adventure”. Give back to whom? There is the Cleopatra’s Needle itself, a 41,350-hectare area that was recently declared a Critical Habitat, thanks to the staunch efforts of the Centre for Sustainability. It took four years to get this declaration, and not a moment too soon, as this ecosystem is under threat from, among other things, illegal quarrying and climate change.

More specifically, participants give back to the Batak community, which CS collaborates with on different projects so that their culture and livelihood are preserved. It was good to meet members of the community, such as the elders, chief, and families who were having a church gathering.

One of the highlights of the CNCH weekend was getting to know the Centre for Sustainability’s Almaciga project. The Alamaciga tree, whose resin makes it a cash crop for the Batak tribe, takes 30 years to mature. When its seeds disperse, it takes a trained eye to spot the tiny seedlings, which are then marked. Participants in this weekend adventure can help out by spotting the marked seedlings and removing dry leaves and other detritus so that they can grow optimally. This project helps establish an alternative livelihood for the Batak community.

Caring for an Almaciga seedling. Photo courtesy of Joni Andrea Ong

Another highlight was hiking towards Pulang Bato, a part of the Tayabag River that had red rocks due to a still-to-be-researched material. We stopped to have lunch and to swim in the river, and as we lay on the shore, it was relaxing to watch the different kinds of butterflies that flew on the other side, oblivious to us intruders, while we washed ourselves with organic bath products.

 

Ready, get set, give back! Behind us are the red rocks of Pulang Bato. Photo by Monique Buensalido

Clear waters of the Tayabag River

 

Conscious Hiking

As a supporter of indigenous rights and the environment and an avid (though very slow) hiker, it was wonderful to have an opportunity to combine two of my passions. While one will not save the rainforest in one weekend, being able to do some useful work for a legitimate long-term project while meeting like-minded people and being educated about an important part of the environment is definitely time well-spent. Importantly, conscious hiking habits are employed here, and we all picked up trash along the hike during the two days. We were tired after the trip, but it was the best kind of weariness. It was also a great time for ideation—when my fellow participants knew my intentions, we had a blast thinking about potential art projects. It was easy to do, as we were jaded urbanites that were briefly surrounded by so much nature.

Thinking about art while hiking with Solomon Calago of the Centre for Sustainability. Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

At camp! Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

Breakfast time! Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

Food is fuel. Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

New friends while hiking! Photo by Monique Buensalido

 

My feet needed some Nature Rx

Sustainability is one of my main artistic themes, and through my experience, I have learned that tourism can have positive and negative effects to the planet. Many ecosystems around the world face threats from human impacts, and it is a moral imperative to integrate sustainable practices as we travel. Personally, I have grown weary of going to high traffic beaches and touristy areas that encourage so much wasteful consumption; it’s time to look at other parts of the country that still gives us much to learn about the planet and about ourselves.

For more details, check out the website of Great Escapes PH, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

With Joni Andrea Ong of Great Escapes Philippines

Thank you to Great Escapes Philippines, Centre for Sustainability PH, and The Superfood Grocer for supporting this trip!

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Hello, friends in Vienna! I’ll be giving an artist presentation together with two other artists in the KulturKontakt Austria fellowship programme. Come listen to our talks on April 16th at 18:00. Details below:

An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest (image courtesy of Science Gallery Dublin)

Datum | 16.04.2018, 18.00 h
Ort | Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, Atelierhaus, Lehargasse 8, 1060 Wien, 1. OG Atelier Süd

Catherine Sarah Young (Philippines), Sasa Tatic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Robin Waart (The Netherlands) organized by Marina Grzinic, Studio for Conceptual Art (Post-conceptual Art Practices) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

Catherine Sarah Young
Art, Science, and Norms: How Interdisciplinary Art can Inspire Behavioral Change

How can interdisciplinary art strive to affect social change? Young has developed both individual and collaborative projects that raise awareness on climate change, science policy, and various systems that govern the beliefs of society and the sustainability of the planet.

CV: Catherine Sarah Young is a Chinese-Filipina artist, designer, and writer. She holds an MFA in Interaction Design from the School of Visual Arts in New York City as a Fulbright scholar and a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology from the University of the Philippines.She investigates nature, and the tensions between nature and technology. She has an international exhibition, residency, and awards profile and has collaborated with scientists, companies, non-profit organizations, and communities, most recently around Southeast Asia, Uganda, and the Amazon rainforest.

Many thanks, Prof. Marina Grzinic for the kind invitation!

Check out the links on the websites of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and KulturKontakt Austria.

I’m thrilled to be selected from a pool of 985 artists to do a three-month residency in Vienna commencing in April by the Bundeskanzleramt Österreich / Austrian Federal Chancellery and KulturKontakt Austria.

I’m very honored to have met Her Excellency Ambassador Bita Rasoulian who wished me well before I left Manila.

With Her Excellency Ambassador of Austria to the Philippines Bita Rasoulian

 

I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running in Vienna, my 8th residency city, and continuing my work on art and science, picking up from where I left off in the Amazon. Our artist profiles are on the KulturKontakt Austria website.

The residency runs from April 6 to June 30. Today was my first day after a long flight. Schloss Laudon, where the residency is, is quite lovely and gives me a great daily walking ritual on the castle grounds.

Schloss Laudon

Alexander von Humboldt and Caroline Herschel!

 

Lavender and Rosemary

We artists are in a nearby building; they use this castle for seminars and stuff. It’s nice to look at, though after decluttering a house I’ve no desire to live in excess. There are two swans I’ve named Alexander von Humboldt and Caroline Herschel and two frogs I’ve christened Lavender and Rosemary that I say hello to.

I almost never travel as a tourist—all that carbon to take the same photos as everyone—that I realize that packing 30 kilos is always a challenge because I bring my life to another country in order to produce things instead of to shop. In trying to keep with my healthy and zero waste (more like Zero Waste as Much as Possible) lifestyle, I bring my arsenal of spices and superfoods to keep me healthy despite being in another country. Since an airline lost my bags two years ago, luggage anxiety is a real thing for me. Thankfully, everything made it, even the hot sauce.

The hot sauce made it!

So much to learn, make, and do! Very grateful for all the fantastic support and excited for all that is to come!

This residency is made possible as part of the Artists in Residence programme of the Federal Chancellery and KulturKontakt Austria.

February 24, Manila—I spoke about The Apocalypse Project at Dulo MNL’s “Proseso”, a creative forum focusing on the creative process of different collectives, artists, brands, and initiatives. It’s a free-format discussion among keynote speakers and attendees.

Photo by Instagram user @raizeleanor

 

P R O S E S O (ii): Sustainable Brands explores the hows and whys of local “sustainable” concepts that are making waves in raising awareness and growing environmentally conscious consumer cultures.

It was cool to speak with Dulo MNL founder, Alexa Arabejo, as well as Denuo, a clothing brand based in Manila that focuses on reclaiming, upcycling, and repurposing clothing through ethical practices and mindful means. Thanks so much for the invite!

A tale of two Amazons, past and present

I’m concurrently exhibiting two editions of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest in Dublin and Manila. These editions were selected for the exhibitions to fit their themes, and it’s been fun making them for these two very different cities. The one for Science Gallery Dublin’s In Case of Emergency exhibition features scents I smelled during my residency with LABVERDE in Brazil. These are things I encountered in the forest that are at risk from climate change and other human impacts.

The other one at the Manila Biennale which just opened is an edition that interprets the olfactory memories of 18th & 19th century explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt and Henry Walter Bates. I’m uncomfortably aware that these are narratives of a bunch of white guys as they were all I could find, though I intentionally picked those of naturalists. I’m still on the lookout for records that show a diversity of perspectives if you know of any (language doesn’t matter) as this is an ongoing project that is one of my favorites.

(Hey, at least the one in Dublin is based on the account of a woman, of color, from the developing world and is mixed and multi in most things: me.)

Check these out in Dublin and Manila, and
follow the next steps of this project and other works of The #ApocalypseProject on http://www.apocalypse.cc or #OlfactoryAmazon

Image credits: Science Gallery Dublin (top) and Studio CSY

The Apocalypse Project‘s Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest are exhibited in the first Manila Biennale in the walled city of Intramuros. The theme, “Open City,” refers to Intramuros as the origin of Manila’s culture. It is a tribute to the walled city’s beginnings as a port for the Galleon Trade, a time when Intramuros opened itself up to the world and welcomed new ideas, products and people.

Image credit: Manila Biennale

The Sewer Soaperie consists of soaps made from different points in the cycle of oil in human consumption, from palm oil to used oil to raw sewage and fatbergs, to highlight the effects of our impact on cities. Support for this project was given by Arts Collaboratory, Ministry of Culture of Colombia, and Medellín-based arts organizations Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, where I did a residency in 2016.

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest features scents based on the travel narratives of 19th century explorers of the Amazon, where naturalists such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Alexander von Humboldt encountered this ecosystem for the first time, which relates to the “openness” theme of the biennale. Visitors are allowed to smell these scents and inhale the stories of how these explorers encountered the Amazon. On the wall is text that features the passage of the books where I based these scents from. This project was inspired by my residency in the Amazon in 2017, with the support of LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute of Amazonian Research.

Manila, Medellín, and Manaus are cities that are similar in their colonial history, richness of culture and stories, and vulnerabilities to climate change, which the works highlight. It’s been great fun to bring these together for this historic biennale as well as be reminded of my enriching residency experiences in South America, of which the Philippines share very similar characteristics.

The Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest interprets the olfactory memories of 19th century explorers into scent, based on their travel narratives

The installation can be viewed at the biennale lounge. Image credit: Manila Biennale

Manila Biennale 2018 is led by Executive Director Carlos P. Celdran, and this installation is curated by Alice Sarmiento. Thank you!

Image credits: Photos 1-4 by Studio Catherine Sarah Young, 5-7 by Manila Biennale

The awesome staff of Science Gallery Dublin sent me these photos from the “In Case of Emergency” group exhibition, which features The Apocalypse Project’s An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest, an ongoing work about the past, present, and future scents of the Amazon, which I began thanks to the support of LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute of Amazonian Research n Manaus, Brazil.

The show runs until the 11th of February; last few days!

Images courtesy of Science Gallery Dublin. Thank you and happy anniversary, you guys!

In Case of Emergency installation view

In Case of Emergency launch

An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest

interacting with Amazonian scents!