(USA)—I’m very honoured for one of my speculative short stories, Good Harvest, to win first place at the inaugural Bright21st solarpunk short story contest. My story speculates on our evolving relationship with death through those who have chosen to have their remains be turned into fruit-bearing trees.

Bright21st focuses on inspiring, optimistic futures:

Stories shape our culture. With an over saturation of gloomy dystopic narratives streaming throughout our screens, it is no wonder why so many of us feel paralyzed by the inevitability of war, poverty, climate disaster, or AI overlords.

While those stories can be an important tool for staying informed and presenting dark futures to consider based on current events, there are few stories engaging the public imagination with possibilities of inspiring new social norms, shared values, or systems for organizing society to uplift humanity. 

What would happen if the dominant narratives in society seeded our imaginations with inspiring futures and positive alternate realities? Would our culture change?  We think so. That’s why we created Bright21st.

I believe in the power of the arts—in all forms—to imagine better futures and to get us to be emotionally invested in designing these positive, inclusive, and sustainable futures. This was fun to write; I’m happy this story paid its rent in my brain. I’m also appreciative of how these speculative and non-dystopic communities are popping up all over. Future-oriented fiction is becoming increasingly important as we navigate all the challenges of today. Redesigning our world takes a lifetime and needs a lot of work—let’s put our reps in, one story and project at a time.

Thank you to the jury and congratulations to all the other winners. You can read the stories on the website (registration required), or just my story here.

Dismantling the Apocalypse: Speculative Futures in Pandemic Times

June 10, 2020: For the FuturesX series of Speculative Futures Bangkok, I was invited to do an online talk on my work in the context of these pandemic times:

𝗙𝘂𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲𝘀𝗫 𝘀𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗲𝘀

How can we use speculative futures to think about systems and enterprise in the COVID-19 era? In this part-science, part-art, part-design talk, Catherine Sarah Young elaborates on her experimental practice that explores our environmental and collective futures, and how using a systems-led way of thinking and global perspectives can help shape the new world emerging from the pandemic.

My favorite thing about today aside from talking art, science, design, and taekwondo: finally being able to do my first acknowledgement of country as this is my first talk in Australia: I am on Gadigal Land of the Eora Nation, traditional custodians of this land. I pay my respects to elders past, present, and future.

Drawing from my martial arts experience, I also talk about how dismantling the apocalypse is a way of life and how we should train for this for the foreseeable future:

Dismantling the apocalypse is a way of life. Let’s train!

Thanks, Speculative Futures Bangkok!

While in lockdown, I’ve been giving virtual classes via Zoom for some of the Obama Leaders’ kids and their communities. I’ve called this project “Supercharge: Creativity in Confinement”, a way to turn lockdown into a chance for growth and learning. During our pandemic times, I’m increasingly concerned about how confinement is and will continue to affect our mental health, particularly that of children.

I need backup. I need Totoro! Zoom background by Studio Ghibli

One of the activities I’ve used a lot is making a Sky Diary, where I get people to stand outside and record a part of the sky every day for at least a week. This is a mindfulness experience where we can be grateful for every day and also distinguish Monday from Tuesday from Wednesday, as the days and weeks can sometimes blur.

Sky Diary with Society Staples and Be Kind SG


Sky Diary Sydney

It was great to do classes particularly with the communities of Obama Leader Sherry Soon of Be Kind SG from Singapore and Jaton Zulueta of AHA Learning Center from the Philippines.

Supercharge with AHA Learning Center

I either volunteer or was invited to do this and I don’t say no because it’s bad karma to refuse to help children for an hour from the comfort of my Sydney flat and in any case, what a fun break from my PhD research. If you need an art class, do reach out and I’m happy to help. I will likely expand this so everyone has access so stay tuned!

Tvergastein Issue 14: The Arts and the Environment. Image by cChange

 

Dr. Karen O’Brien and Nicole Schafenacker, editors of the cli-fi anthology “Our Entangled Future” write about the book in the Oslo-based journal, Tvergastein, for Issue #14, Art & Environment! “Can climate fiction help us engage with a new paradigm for social change?”. Read the issue for free here.

p. 82
For example, author and artist Catherine Sarah Young describes her approach to The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store as follows: “I use the abstract yet scientific relationship between scent and memory as a way for humans to redefine their relationship between scent and memory as a way for humans to redefine their relationship with nature through remembering their personal histories and reinforcing their identities, which can facilitate quantum social change.”

p. 82-83
The stories in Our Entangled Future explore characters who connect with reality through non-linear time, collective consciousness, and multi species sentience….Emilia, the main character in Young’s short story, The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, is a perfumer with a keen sense of smell — which is, in fact, considered by some biologists to be an example fo a quantum phenomenon (McFadden and Al-Khalili 2016). Her sense of smell provides her with important information when she meets a trespassing strange — a hulk of a man who could easily overpower her: “She sniffed the air and smelled his fear”. Together, these short stories suggest that we are entangled through our senses, experiences, and consciousness. .

Thanks, guys! Virtual hugs from Sydney!

 

Reading Circle 4 by studio das weisse haus curated by Malou Solfjeld. Image by studio das weisse haus.

 

Our friends from studio das weisse haus have created a weekly reading circle curated by the wonderful Malou Solfjeld! I read an excerpt from my story, The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store from the anthology, Our Entangled Future. Thanks for having me!  Listen to it here.

Readers this week (text by Malou Solfjeld)

Åse Versto Langesæter reads
“Der bor en ung pige i mig som ikke vil dø”, written by Tove Ditlevesen
“Ensomhedens have”, written by Inger Christensen
“Coming to Writing” and Other Essays, written by Hélèn Cixous
First we’re reading about the journey back in time to one’s younger self, learning how to use the poem as a mirror of self-reflection, expectations and realizations.

Mie Hybschmann reads “Momo and the time thieves”, written by Michael Ende
Secondly we travel along the journey of the moon as a magic mirror one can use in times where we’re really longing to see someone that we can’t be with.

Catherine Sarah Young reads “The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store”, written by Catherine Sarah Young

Jeremy John reads “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad”, written by George Orwell
Then we question the nature of memories through smells and sounds of the past or the future – with a particular focus on longing for spring to come after a winter that appears endless.

Florian Conrad Eybesfeld reads
“Anywhere out of this world”, written by Charles Baudelaire
Our fifth reading takes us into the deepest part of our soul, all the way to the place where it really hurts. And from here we learn how connecting with pain can be healing, through the power of poetry, imagination and in memory of loved and lost ones. .

Maxime Grausam and Philipp Krummel read
Pippi in the South Seas, written by Astrid Lindgren
Finally we travel to the south seas with the strongest girl in the world, who reminds us of homeschooling and the value of playing with our friends.

https://soundcloud.com/dasweissehaus/reading-circle-04

#readingcontinuesathome

[SIARGAO, THE PHILIPPINES] From January 27 to February 2, I participated in ColLaboratoire 2020, a week-long Research Residency program in multiple-disciplinary research and sustainability, especially in the context of Philippines. During the residency, ColLaboratoire Fellows explored applying imaginative, methodologically innovative, and radically multiple-disciplinary approaches to six Research Challenges related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For one week on the island of Siargao, a Protected Landscape and Seascape that is home of the largest marine protected area in the Philippines and is famous for its surfing, ColLaboratoire Fellows looked at innovative ways to address the Research Challenges that combine teaching with applied and multiple-disciplinary research practice.

Inspired by the successful ColLaboratoire 2016 research summer school, ColLaboratoire 2020 is a collaboration between the University of the Philippines Open University, the University of Plymouth, the CogNovo Foundation for Cognitive Innovation, and local and international partners from industry and civic society.

ColLaboratoire 2020 fellows and facilitators. Image courtesy of ColLaboratoire 2020

Having chosen the sixth Research Challenge, Reimagining Sustainability, this is what the brief included:

Different definitions of sustainability have been offered, and many of these emphasize the idea of development without compromising the needs of future generations. We start from the premise that like all conversations, the one around sustainability is a product of its time. To what extent are the UN Sustainable Development Goals shaped by current dominant ideologies, and how have ideology and language historically shaped the way people have thought and talked about sustainability? What happens when we consider the related notions of deep time, deep history, deep future, and geological thinking in our understanding of the problem? To what extent do current definitions of sustainability promote an endless perpetuation of life as we know it? What happens when we look at provocative or radical ideas surrounding sustainability to build a reconceptualization of it that pushes the boundaries (such as Angelo Vermeulen’s notion of “molecular sustainability”)?

Because sustainability is generally predicated on concern for multi-generational well-being, how might we bridge the gaps in priorities across populations and sectors, given that the most marginalized sectors–who comprise the majority of the world–are often concerned with pressing concerns of daily survival? To what extent can we leverage popular activities (such as digital and mobile games and esports) and arts-based practices as potential research tools or interventions, in order to develop critical perspectives and interventions on sustainability?

 

Image by Pam Cajilig

Working with other fellows from different disciplines and guided by facilitators, we focused on identifying gaps in sustainability and mapping out frameworks on what these are and what projects we could create around them. I appreciated how we spoke about our work and everyone in my group were given an opportunity to give feedback from their own perspective, which gave me a lot more ideas to keep moving forward. We were also mixed with the other groups sometimes in order to cross-pollinate ideas.

Image courtesy of ColLaboratoire 2020

I was happy to share what I have learned from all my art residencies and fellowships, especially from The Apocalypse Project series. As my audience for that morning had a lot of younger people, I emphasised an attitude of continuing despite logistical or personal challenges, and how I was able to build a body of work over time despite initial failures and rejections.

Artist talk! Image courtesy of ColLaboratoire 2020

One thing that I stood out to me in our discussions was talking about the divide between academic thinking and what actually goes on in the real world. I have always felt that academic jargon, while helping to unify concepts into a discipline, have also served to exclude a lot of people and further, to make things less clear. The English language is lacking when it comes to articulating indigenous concepts, and even the Filipino “translation” of sustainability—”likas-kayang-pag-unlad” feels like a forced concatenation of Filipino words of “nature”, “capability”, and “development” that still feels off the mark. We reflected on how local words like “pakikiramay” (“to grieve with”) or “kapwa” (“the self in the other”) are more understandable to local communities and feel like more authentic translation of academic terms such as “staying with the trouble” or “multispecies entanglement”.

The Environmental Empathy group discusses Environmental Embodied Cognition. Image courtesy of ColLaboratoire 2020

Gaps in Sustainability

Looking at gaps in how sustainability has been defined and discussed, here are some gaps the Reimagining Sustainability group noted:

  • Redefining Prosperity: post-consumerist resignification of well-being, mental well-being
  • Questioning the Growth Dogma: post-growth paradigm for the SGDs
  • Affective Education: Integration of cognitive and somatic knowledge (senses, emotion)
  • Scale: Integrating techno-scientific and indigenous knowledge (ritual, liminality, connectedness
  • Temporality: Deep history, space, time
  • Revolution as a movement not as strife and chaos
  • Need for chaos and disruption
  • Multi-agency perspective
  • Cosmologies
  • Enveloping dynamic membrane
  • Decolonizing sustainability
  • How to avoid a “prison” – excess?, systems that open and close as required
  • Commons/emergence – top-down monopolies
  • Complex systems
  • Thriving arts and culture
  • Media literacy
  • Council to oversee
  • Only top-down management
  • Lack of expertise, knowledge, co-creation, education, disaster recovery plan / budget, long-term planning, basic needs

The group on Transforming Education for All discusses their project. Image courtesy of ColLaboratoire 2020

Project Proposal

At the end of the week, each group proposed a project to do for the next few months. Here is what we came up with:

A Creative Sustainability Policy that allows for the issuance of a Kapwa Certificate (“self in the other”) when a person goes through Liminal Space Training that Culminates in Padayon Fiesta (“to continue”) that aims to educate and empower the community on sustainability through arts and sciences

  1. A sustainability council that comprises different sections of the SDGs with members from marginalized communities such as women, etc. that issues a Sustainability Compliance Certificate that we call a Kapwa Certificate. This certificate allows them to design products and run businesses etc.
  2. The Kapwa Certificate can be earned by a Liminal Space Training or a Shamanic Somatic training that occurs year round.
  3. Experiential Role Play – disaster gym, aging simulations, environmental empathy, planetary renewal spa
  4. Floating evacuation center that functions as a community center when not in use
  5. Art classes in school where outcomes are to be exhibited in the fiesta, mangrove nurseries,
  6. The Padayon Fiesta (padayon means “to continue”) is a one-week fiesta that happens before the rainy season that serves as a culminating event to the training as a way for people to look forward to discussing these gaps in sustainability and as a tool to evolve a thriving community. Apart from base funding, the fiesta operates through a barter system where people can contribute their time and resources in exchange for knowledge and food throughout the fiesta.
  7. Citizen science scavenger hunts to get people on fact finding missions to generate knowledge for the community
  8. Hackathon
  9. Tourists who come can barter their skills
  10. Disaster gym
  11. Teleserye that educates people on sustainability concepts
  12. Poetry workshops to define sustainability concepts in their language
  13. Cook-a-thon of ingredients that are remaining after a disaster to get people creative with their recipes
  14. Intergenerational talks to share resilience stories, design their community’s future, etc.

Biomodd Reunion

Beyond these five days, one of my favorite moments last week was reconnecting with some members of Biomodd, a socially engaged art installation that creates symbiotic relationships between plants and computers, and ignites conversations among the community around them. I was the Internal Communications Coordinator 11 years (11! My triplet cousins are this old!) ago in the Philippines before I moved to Barcelona. I checked the website and our old bios (and photos, lol) are still on it! Glad to reconnect with Diego Maranan, Collaboratoire 2020 project co-lead and Angelo Vermeulen, Biomodd founder, senior TED fellow and Collaboratoire 2020 Reimagining Sustainability co-facilitator, an Al Librero, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines Open University. Oh, you rockstars.

Image by Pam Cajilig

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on this week now that I’m back in Sydney, ColLaboratoire 2020 took me away from my usual ideate-as-fast-as-you-can thinking that years of being an artist-in-residence has developed in me. While thinking fast on one’s feet is a useful skill to have, I think this type of big-picture meta thinking is refreshing and definitely necessary in world with very integrated systemic challenges—something that short periods away from the studio such as ColLaboratoire and the Obama Leaders convening have given me. Thinking like this allows me, as an artist with very specific projects that can continue on indefinitely, to see how these connect with larger issues and what impact they can possibly have. I realise the utopia we were in, being in the amazing island of Siargao, while the bushfires, Taal volcano eruption, and coronavirus outbreak happened around the world, and it was quite a privilege to be able to be in a space like this. I look forward to what’s next.

Many thanks to the ColLaboratoire 2020 team, especially Project Co-Leads Diego Maranan and Mona Nasser, and Reimagining Sustainability facilitators Mona Nasser and Angelo Vermeulen. ColLaboratoire 2020 gave me a scholarship to attend the residency, while the UNSW Scientia scholarship facilitated my travel from Sydney to Manila. 

I wanted to write a post mainly for my fellow Obama Leaders whom I have spoken with last month on how to integrate the arts into their own organisations, with the intention of sharing what I have learned in working with many institutions and to encourage them to get into the arts. However, I hope to encourage everyone reading this to make space for art in their work. Arts and culture usually suffer from being the first whose funding gets cut out of organisational budgets, and usually what has gotten me, an artist working worldwide, through the door is a temporary art residency that has specific outcomes and events within the allotted time. This has certain logistical considerations as needing an artist/s who can meet deadlines and work under pressure, and so may not be for everyone as artists have a wide variety of working routines. But for me, art is a very powerful discipline that invokes the human in all of us that is sorely needed in a challenging world. And because I have been speaking and writing about my work for a long time, I believe that considering how daunting the issues are around the world today, arts and culture professionals should have a seat at the table when it comes to discussing policies and change.

How to Integrate the Arts into Research, Advocacy, and Leadership

Here are some specific examples from my personal experience:

1. Integrating the arts in research: Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory

In 2013, I was artist-in-residence at the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory and Tembusu College National University of Singapore, supported by the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. This was my first experience being in a lab as an artist, as I have a science background among other things. With the theme of Climate Change and Environmental Futures, I had started by exploring what the public thought of climate change. Back in 2013, the questions were usually, “How is climate different than weather?” or “What is the Anthropocene?”. I conducted Apocalypse Workshops with high school and university students in Singapore and realised that clothing was something that they were thinking about because of concerns with changing weather patterns and poor air quality. Thus, my first piece for my ongoing Apocalypse Project series was Climate Change Couture, where I co-created garments with the researchers in the lab that depicted what we might wear in specific environmental conditions they were studying. The researchers also modelled the garments around Singapore. While I treasure every residency experience, I especially look back on this one as the residency that sparked my niche in interdisciplinary art and institutional collaborations.

Read more: “Check Out These Post-Apocalyptic Fashions, Perfect for a Post-Climate Change World” on Fast Company

2. Integrating the arts in think tanks: Institute for the Future

In 2015, I was artist-in-residence at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to hold the exhibition, “The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures”, where it showed some familiar works like The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, where I make perfumes of things we could lose because of climate change, which was previously exhibited at IFTF x Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Open City Art City. We also got to hold a Climate Change Couture fashion show and a Future Feast where we served insects. The exhibition was also a part of the ArtCOP21 celebrations. Being exposed to IFTF’s systems thinking has definitely contributed to my practice, in that I see art as being part of systems in society instead of being separated by an amorphous “art world”. Moreover, I see art as a means to for systems and behavioural change which I hope to harness in the years to come.

Read more: “IFTF’s Future Gallery features The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures” and”Art, Science, and Climate Adventures in Asia” at the Institute for the Future blog

3. Integrating the arts in advocacy: Plan International and the International Climate Initiative

  It was my residency with Plan International in 2017 led by the tireless Kimberly Junmookda that helped me see in great detail how art can be involved in advocacy work. Within a few months, Plan International, funded by the International Climate Initiative, took me to communities in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines to work with children and youth that were experiencing climate impacts to co-create works that we exhibited at the 11th Community Based Adaptation Conference in Kampala Uganda. It was especially moving for me to be with the community in Tacloban in southern Philippines as these were young people who lived through Supertyphoon Haiyan. Moreover, we got government and development officials to, quite literally, see and smell climate change through these kids’ eyes.

Read more: “Interview: To know the colour of water” at the International Climate Initiative website

4. Integrating the arts in leadership: SEA∆ by the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council

Over the years, I wanted art to do more, hence the multiple collaborations but since last year I began to participate in leadership programs with the first being the SEA∆ Leadership Program by the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. This allowed me to collaborate with arts professionals around Southeast Asia and for my group, we conducted art workshops with elderly members of a local community in Kampong Thom, Cambodia, allowing me to contribute some of the frameworks I have developed in my previous residencies and education to the Arts and Environment Festival. Being with these leaders from Southeast Asia gave me space to think about how art can perhaps be integrated in education and policy and exposed me to more communities that I would otherwise not have the opportunity to work with, and these experiences will likely shape my practice in the decades to come.

Read more: “An Artist Undercover with Academics: A SEAΔ Fellow at the AAS-in-Asia Conference” at the Association for Asian Studies website


What collaborations do for artists

  In the years that I’ve done these, I have grown as an artist by being more in touch with pressing issues around the world, some of which have little media attention. Being surrounded with experts in their fields, be it an academic or a development expert, has given me a lot of access to knowledge and information that may not be available to the public. Institutional collaborations have definitely given my practice a lot more depth. It has allowed me to travel the world with a purpose, as I am not a big fan of tourism and would rather work on my projects for most of the year. It has allowed me to work with communities that are underserved not just by society in general, but by the art world in particular as most do not have opportunities to make or experience art. But best of all, it has also given me a lot of friendships over the years and it’s fantastic to have a global network of friends that I can reach out to and challenge me on my ideas in a constructive way, without the usual petty quarrels one usually hears about in the art world. Doing this has (I hope) given me a professional work ethic, and these experiences have served only to motivate me to keep going.


Why organizations should make room for art

1. Art can reach more people inside and outside the organization

Artists-in-residence can be useful for in-house collaborations because bluntly speaking, we don’t compete with anyone. My lone agenda in being an artist is to do something cool. And by cool, I mean a project that can send a strong message to the public about key issues that are relevant in the world and encourage them to act, and whose impact can go beyond the time I have within the institution. And so I have often done work that gets recontextualised and re-discussed years after the art residency, and for me this is great because no systemic problem gets solved immediately and we have to keep tirelessly working to see change. Artists can help raise awareness on issues organizations are working on, helping to bring science out of the ivory tower, development issues out of institutions, and tools and frameworks out of exclusive memberships and into the minds of the public.

2. Art can be an agent of change and confrontation

It is always encouraging to hear positive feedback after exhibiting art, but there may be those that are not as nice, including those that may be against the organisation’s mission, such as those who do not believe in climate science, etc. However, one thing I have observed is that when the artist gets trolled on the internet, the organization itself is rarely mentioned and so this might be a “safer” way to get into the arts for those who are concerned with having negative feedback. Having withstood climate change deniers and antivaxxers for a long time now, I have learned to suck it up and see this as part of the job and just quietly keep working.

3. Art can help fill in the missing gaps in individuals and communities

Usually, artists will be the ones to suggest and execute something that organizations may be reluctant or shy to do, but I believe this encourages creativity in people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to go outside the box, if only for a short time. Also, as I believe everyone is an artist, I often run into staff who exclaim that they’ve always wanted to suggest the activity I was doing, and so it is not completely unrealistic to make room for art even for a short time and could in fact help rejuvenate an organisation. Lastly, art is a bridge to repairing our relationship with nature. If you think about it, the individuals and corporations responsible for most of climate change probably need some art classes in their lives.


During the Obama Leaders: Asia Pacific convening, one of the statements that resonated the most with me is when Mrs. Michelle Obama said that “Change is always incremental.” Having one artist for one time likely won’t change the world overnight, but I like to think that it contributes something good to the world using frameworks that can be replicated. Meeting all of these leaders in the advocacy world made me wish that they can all have artists that can raise awareness on the issues they care about in atypical ways only artists can. While I hope to live in a time when artists as CEOs, board members, etc. are so commonplace (or hey, a permanent artist-in-residence post), until then, I hope there will be more ways to allow for more art to help create systemic and sustainable change.  

 

Check out The Apocalypse Project and Wild Science websites for more art and science projects

It’s been a rollercoaster year! I can’t believe 2019 is over. Here is how 2019 rolled:

• I kicked off the year in Berlin for The (Un-)learning Place of Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

• In March I returned to Beijing to finish the Crystal Ruth Bell residency. I also spoke at this Global Shapers sustainability event.

• I continued the SEAD fellowship with Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council, recommencing in Cambodia, presenting work in Thailand, and reflecting on the year in Myanmar.

• While this year was more for learning refocusing, I did take part in some exhibitions, most notably the DISPOSABLE exhibition of my favourite Science Gallery Melbourne and their presentations at National Science Week at the Victorian Parliament, as well as part of Poklong Anading’s Seawall project at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Victor Papanek exhibition that features The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store has also moved from the Vitra Design Museum to the Museu del Disseny / Design Museum of Barcelona.

• I was featured in Burning Worlds (USA), C-Platform (China), and Unbore (Netherlands) and spoke at the Vox Pop Video Address at Global Landscapes Forum. I’m also in the book, “Research in the Creative and Media Arts: Challenging Practice” (2019, Desmond Bell, Routledge).

• I did a major move to Sydney as a Scientia scholar at UNSW, being supervised by the venerable Douglas Kahn, Lindsay Kelley, and Kate Dunn.

• I had my first fiction story published (in a while) with “Our Entangled Future” in Norway, with The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store winning third place, hurray!

• I was one of the 200 Obama Leaders for Asia Pacific.

• I was awarded a couple of grants to go to Finland next year to do a residency at the Saari Residence via the Trans Siberian Railway, courtesy of the Kone Foundation.

Thank you to all who have been a part of this!

—Catherine

 

Netherlands—The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store is featured in the article “Apocalyptic Visions: How do these Artists and Designers face the impending future of the Climate Crisis and other Global Disasters,” written by Lindsey Walsh on the website of Dutch cultural collective Unbore.

From the article:

Catherine Sarah Young’s The Ephemeral Marvel’s Perfume Store (abbreviated to “TEMPS” for short, referencing the French word for time) presents a futuristic perfume line of smells that may soon disappear from our daily lives. The various fragrances are smells that stand to be lost with the catastrophic impacts of global warming. From coffee to our coast lines, Young’s olfactory artwork asks the audience to inhale and remember our relationship with these sensorial features of our planet. Lastly, Young asks if we could stand to live without these odours being a part of our world?

Deepest thanks for the kind inclusion of this project!

(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)—From December 10-15, 200 Leaders from 33 countries in the Asia-Pacific region gathered together to kick-off a year-long leadership training program by the Obama Foundation.

Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 13, 2019. Photo by The Obama Foundation

President and Mrs. Obama, as well as other prominent speakers and thought leaders, joined us for discussions around progress and opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region and values-based leadership.

In addition to the plenary sessions, Leaders participated in skill-building workshops, leadership development training, and a community service project, among other activities.

Here’s how it went down for me:

Panels

First, the panels:

In “We Are the Future: Progress and Possibility in the Asia Pacific” moderated by Aaron Manian and featuring engineer Arthur Huang, Mongolian MP Oyun Saanjasuren (who has a special spot in my heart since she has a black belt in karate), and Malaysian Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development Hannah Yeoh, the panel spoke about what lies ahead in the region. Ms. Yeoh says “we need to consolidate resources and ideas” as  “everyone starts and NGO and so there is little impact”—something I strongly resonate with and thus prefer to be a lone artist working with multiple institutions, at least for now.

In “Entrepreneurship: Working with Purpose” moderated by Pat Dwyer, the panelists, Tim Brown of Allbirds, Helianti Hilman of Javara and Tony Fernandes of AirAsia, spoke about what it means to practice value-based entrepreneurship and what drives them to pursue their path. As an artist who will likely be an entrepreneur in the future, this was pretty valuable, and also I was very inspired by the humble beginnings of their endeavours.

In one of the convening highlights, Mrs. Michelle Obama and Ms. Julia Roberts in conversation with Deborah Henry about the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation that seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education , allowing them to achieve their full potential and transfer their families, communities, and countries. Mrs. Obama and Ms. Roberts also answered some of the Leaders’ questions.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks with his sister and foundation consultant, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng about how Asia has shaped their lives. Afterwards, President Obama answers some questions by the Leaders.

Finally, Obama administration alumni Bernadette Meehan and Ben Rhodes explore the idea of tackling touch challenges through ethical decision-making and shared thoughtful stories from their own leadership journeys.

Day of Service

On Day 3, it was great to be able to help building a community with the great folks at EPIC Foundation. My group helped build a playground, and all the squats I’ve done this year were put to great use shovelling soil.

Image by The Obama Foundation

Workshops

The meat of the convening were the workshops which taught us the many facets of leadership:

In the Leadership through Reciprocity workshop, we were asked by facilitator Emily Cushman to list down what we need and what we could give.

In a workshop on Leadership and Shared Values led by John Sung, we were asked to list down 16 of our core values and whittle it down to the 4 most important ones. As an artist, this is not something we usually have to do in this way, so it was great to have the time to do this and it was also hard to narrow down, but I managed to cut it to: Love, Kindness, Integrity, and Courage.

In Leadership and Authentic Engagement with Michelle Ann Iking and Reeta Nathwani gave us a coaching session.

In Leadership and Storytelling, Gabrielle Dolan explored why storytelling is important for communicating your mission and purpose.

In Media Skills for Changemakers, Fon Mathuros Chantanayingyong, Nadia Gideon, Amanda Goh, and Rashi Mehrotra spoke about the media landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, developing our own public narrative, and work on building key messages to advance our work.

In Leadership for a Climate-Smart Future, Dr. Maxine Burkett, Dr. Patricia Halagao, together with one of the Leaders per session, interactive exercises allowed us to define how climate change affects their field of work, understand why it matters, and consider ways they can contribute to a climate-smart future. I’ve facilitated workshops like this in my work, so I really resonated with this part.

In the fantastic workshop on Leadership, Power Dynamics, and Influence, Yee Tong taught us about frameworks to understand power and power dynamics, as well as explore the responsibility and ethics of using our own power to creative positive results.

Delegation

On Day 4, we had a formal dinner with the Obama Foundation delegates. I’m feeling very lucky to be part of both the Australian and Philippine cohorts, both of which have brilliant people. Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, consultant to the foundation and President Obama’s sister, and Mrs. Loida Lewis, philanthropist, were wonderful people to meet.

Community Groups

We were divided into Community Groups and I’m so excited to work with these incredible people!


This is an unusual place for an artist to be, though I am very grateful to be part of it. It is a rare opportunity for an artist to have a seat at the table being able to lead, because this power is usually wielded by those who speak about our art or use it for decorative purposes. Before I accepted to participate, I had consulted with a long list of very smart and highly critical people to see whether this was a good idea, and everyone said to go for it. Frankly, this week was fantastic, and while you will hear the words “incredible”, “amazing”, and “wonderful” thrown around, I actually think they speak truthfully to this five-day convening, and if you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know I dislike words like “changemaker” and its ilk. Saying yes to meeting 199 high caliber people who are actually making an impact on their communities—some of whom at enormous risk to their lives—instead of complaining in their tiny little circles and feeling temporarily superior and returning to the suffocating smallness of their worlds was absolutely the right thing to do, and has only served to sharpen my focus in my work and resolve to avoid distractions. As an aside, the staff of the Obama Foundation were extremely professional and outstanding. Years from now, I hope to confirm what I suspect is that my time with these Obama Leaders is one of the most important points of my life. The world is a dark place, but what wonderful opportunities and artist has to be a positive—and no less critical—agent in all of this. I look forward to all of it. Thank you everyone!