Stoked for one of my MFA projects from the School of Visual Arts back in my Fulbright days (i.e. my youth) to grow and have a home at C40’s global art campaign! Thank you!

P.S. My favorites are the jabberwocky, the seahorses, and the pegasus. What’s yours?

Text from C40 Cities:

C40 has teamed up with a collective of incredible artists who have unique visions of the world they want to live in. Their art challenges us to imagine a future where people and biodiversity thrive, and cities are more resilient and equitable.

The next artist in this series is Catherine Sarah Young, an award-winning artist, designer, and writer. Catherine uses her background in molecular biology, fine art, and design to create interdisciplinary and experimental artworks on the environment.

In her piece “Rorsketch”, Catherine reimagines our cities as places where air pollution is a thing of the past, where residents can enjoy clear blue skies and breathe clean air.

Catherine said: “Let’s make cities that unlock the imagination of its citizens for hopeful, inclusive futures. With this piece, I turn the sky into a canvas for possibilities. We often see patterns in clouds in a phenomenon that neuroscientists call pareidolia. The title of this piece is called Rorsketch—a portmanteau of “Rorschach” and “sketch”. When we feel down, let’s look up and see the universe that clouds offer. It’s fun, free, and for everyone! What do you see in these clouds?”

About the artist: Catherine has collaborated with researchers, industries, and non-profit organisations most recently in China, Austria, and the Amazon rainforest. She is a Scientia scholar at UNSW Sydney working on climate change and sustainability, an Obama Leader for Asia-Pacific, and part of Team HB6 of Homeward Bound for Antarctica. Most recently she is a recipient of the Thirteen Artist Awards in the Philippines.

(Copenhagen)—Thank you Niels Heilberg for hosting the first Arctic Ice Chess tournament in your boat, the beautiful MS Arno, as well as these first images and video! The game was played by Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, lecturer at the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Ministry of Defence Academy, and the environmental activist and candidate for mayor, Gorm Gunnarsen. The tournament, played in between Denmark’s Climate Week and Art Week, was a draw, which feels very metaphorical of the Arctic crisis. Thank you, Niels, as well as curator Malou Solfjeld and Copenhagen arts organisation SixtyEight Art Institute, for supporting this work. It takes a village! I’m happy for the conversations this work is generating, and look forward to future tournaments that  SixtyEight ArtInstitute will be hosting in the weeks to come. Follow their IG for more!

Text and images by Niels Heilberg:
Art week ombord 🎨🌍🧊

Vi var i går vært for kunstværket Arctic Ice Chess skabt af den filippinske kunstner @catherinesarahyoung. Under kurator @malousolfjelds kyndige vejledning spillede klimaordfører for Enhedslisten Gorm Anker Gunnarsen med forsvarets Arktis-ekspert Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen et spil om klimaet og verdens stigende vandstande, altimens skakbrikkerne smeltede og der blev diskuteret politik og udvekslet erfaringer. 

UPDATE: Hvis nogen vil være vært til Arctic Ice Chess, så kontakt @malousolfjeld @68artinstitute @artweekcph @heilbergs

A quick shout out to my friends in Copenhagen who are organizing the Arctic Ice Chess tournament starting tomorrow! This is the first time this game will be played, and fittingly, it will premiere in one of the Arctic Council nations. I am so thrilled this is happening and happy it is being cared for by curator Malou Solfjeld and the team at SixtyEight Art Institute. Art can provide engaging spaces for us to discuss challenging things, and so I hope you have fun with the game while discussing serious climate issues in the Arctic and beyond. 

Kudos as well to the previous residencies who hosted me as I was developing this game, namely China Residencies and Saari Residence, and the UNSW Design Futures Lab for their assistance as I was shipping the work.

On Saturday 25 September, SixtyEight invites you to view a chess tournament on the subject of climate change, which will be initiated in the Copenhagen Harbour; and as part of the curatorial research project Memoirs of the Abyss: Three Ecologies and More, curated by Malou Solfjeld.

The first Arctic Ice Chess match will take place on the prow of the MS Arno, docked at Langebrogade 1C, Saturday 25 Sept. at 12.00-14.00.

The artwork Arctic Ice Chess is a project created by the Philippine artist Catherine Sarah Young; where plastic toy soldiers are frozen in ice cubes and take up positions as standard chess pieces; and where the ice pieces melt as this classic strategy game unfolds throughout the playing period.

The first game will be played by Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, lecturer at the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Ministry of Defence Academy; versus the environmental activist and candidate for mayor, Gorm Gunnarsen. And as the melting chess pieces move throughout their match, both will discuss issues related to the world’s rising sea levels and geopolitical and economic interests emerging in the Arctic region.

Honored and grateful to be in the latest issue of @artplusmag together with the other amazing 13 Artists Awardees of 2021! Thank you to the Cultural Center of the Philippines for facilitating the interview. Manila friends, please do grab a copy!

Inside Art+ Magazine Issue 74: Raul Lebajo

Cultural Center of the Philippines announces the 13 Artists Awardees for 2021. The awardees are Allan Balisi, Nice Buenaventura, Gino Bueza, Mars Bugaoan, Rocky Cajigan, Geloy Concepcion, Patrick Cruz, Ian Carlo Jaucian, KoloWn, Czar Kristoff, Lou Lim, Ryan Villamael and Catherine Sarah Young.

Read the full story inside Art+ Magazine Issue 74. Art+ Magazine is available on Shopee, Art Plus webstore, and at National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and Rustan’s branches nationwide.

I wrote a post for Sydney Observatory to conclude my residency from June-August 2021. The link to the post is here. The entirety of the article is below. Enjoy!

Of Water and Planets: Dreaming of Mars while in Earthly Lockdown

Catherine Sarah Young, Sydney Observatory Resident

Entering Sydney’s lockdown of 2021, this time because of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, meant exiting the Sydney Observatory residency for me in the physical sense. I sadly bid farewell to my room in the Observatory, barely used and whose sticky locks I had just gotten used to. I, like many of us, had been accustomed to the changing situation presented by the COVID-19 era. The residency system as well has been transformed and I had to be mostly confined to my flat in Paddington and its five-kilometre radius.

For my residency, I had been interested in doing research on Mars. As an artist who works on environmental issues such as climate change, the human ambition to investigate and to voyage to the Red Planet become increasingly important. Do we see Mars as Planet B, as we are currently destroying our Planet A? What might we learn from a planet that so many governments and billionaires want to set foot on? What does it mean for us to seek to be a multi-planet species? And how can we ensure that we remember our human and Earthbound origins as we do so?

Like an astronaut preparing for confinement, I had taken photos of every single object in the Observatory before pursuing my research virtually, as though I had wanted to create a personal archive in my pocket before the gates of the Observatory were closed to me for the time being. In many ways, confined to our homes and besieged with the seemingly perpetual anxieties of contagion, conflict, and catastrophe, we are astronauts on planet Earth, wondering where to land and when we can leave the spacecraft that our homes have become. We are in many ways at war with ourselves, and thus it may seem a bit poetic that the Red Planet we want to go to is named after the god of war in Roman mythology. In the years to come, the tension between our species as Earthbound creatures and our species as interstellar voyagers will become more apparent. 

Figure 1. ‘Mars’ porcelain figure made by William Duesbury & Co. c 1760. MAAS Collection.

From Sydney to Mars

More than a century ago, a fellow Paddington resident Walter Frederick Gale (1865-1945) had also been interested in Mars. Gale was a banker and astronomer, educated at Paddington House School and had a lifelong interest in astronomy because of his father’s encouragement and the appearance of the Great Comet in 1882.1 At seventeen years old, witnessing this powerful force in the sky created a lasting impression, and he discovered several comets in his lifetime.2 A member of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) (now known as the Sydney City Skywatchers), Gale led an expedition to Queensland to see the total solar eclipse of 1922.3

Figure 2. Photograph of Walter Frederick Gale and the eclipse expedition of the British Astronomical Association in Queensland, 1922. Gale is third from the left. MAAS Collection.

Ten years later, Mars was exceptionally close to the Earth, making it an excellent opportunity for it to be viewed through telescopes. The BAA in London reviewed the various drawings submitted to them by space enthusiasts, and Walter Maunder, Director of the Mars section, remarked on the superior quality of Gale’s submission.4 Gale further created glass slides of Mars and other astronomical observations, which are in the Observatory collection. The desire to discover and to record the distant planets and other celestial bodies persists in human history, and the Observatory hosts not just archives of the past, but also current images of space taken by professional and amateur astrophotographers.

Figure 3. Drawings of Mars by Walter Gale on 6 August 1892 at 12:30 am Sydney Mean Time (SMT) and 7 August at 11:15 pm EST. Image from the Illustrated Sydney News of 18 February 1893 p18 and courtesy of Sydney Observatory


Despite being confined to both Earth and our homes, places like Sydney Observatory create space for us, who, like Gale, direct our curiosity to the skies. In the beginning of the year before the lockdown, we, the residents, had the cool opportunity to tour the Observatory with curator and astronomer Dr. Andrew Jacob. The highlight of this was looking into the Schröder refracting telescope, which is the oldest working telescope in Australia. It was first installed in the South Dome in 1874 to observe the transit of the planet Venus as it crossed the face of the Sun.Opening the dome was a special experience for me as a resident, as I had visited the Observatory several times before but never had access to this part until then. 

Figure 4. Opening up the South Dome—a residency highlight! Photo by Kate Rees.

Escaping to another planet may be the dream of many an intrepid explorer but I like to think of Mars missions in relation to improving our Earth mission in parallel. We may not get it exactly right the first time, but eventually we get there, such as in the case of Mars-3, the first spacecraft to make a successful landing on the Martian surface. Hopefully, we get it right here on Earth, too.

Figure 5. A 1:2 scale model of the USSR spacecraft Mars-3. Pre-1985. MAAS Collection

Water and planets

The spirit of exuberant curiosity of Walter Frederick Gale exists in us, which may even emerge through the constraints imposed by lockdown. For many of us in confinement, there is an impulse to record the minutiae of our lives—the daily walks, the food made and ordered online, the workouts, the Zoom calls with loved ones we cannot see in person. Like astronauts, albeit of the accidental kind, we track various activities, once so mundane in the Beforetime when masks were not mandatory and human contact was something we took for granted. These activities are transformed into special moments, proof that the day even happened at all. We pass the time like astronauts on the way to Mars, recording plant growth, calories burned, and remaining supplies, with the goal of reaching the other side though unknowning when this will be at all. And these activities are for us who are fortunate enough to still have our basic needs met while our social systems are tested in these pandemic times. 

In researching Mars in relation to life on Earth, one of the first things we think about is water. In the American science fiction drama Away that streamed on Netflix last year, there is a scene where Commander Emma Green, played by Hilary Swank, is in conversation with her Earthbound husband, who holds his phone outside his car so that she could hear the sound of rain. The scene cuts to Green imagining a rain shower in the spaceship. Few things are as Earthly as the sight of rain clouds, and this photograph in the late 19th century by Observatory photographer James Short is a rare surviving example of early meteorological photography.

Figure 6. Rain clouds by Observatory photographer James Short 1891-1900. MAAS Collection.

Figuring out rain on Earth helps us understand the gravity of the water situation on the dry Red Planet. I was fascinated by the collection of rain gauges of the Observatory which illustrate similarities and differences of rain measurement. Quantifying rain persists in civilisations throughout history as this helps plan for agriculture, from beautifully crafted ones like the Korean rain gauge from 1442, to various metal gauges in later centuries, to two measuring cylinders from the 19th century, to the delightfully named pluviograph.

Figure 7. Replica Korean rain gauges. The originals were designed in 1442 by Jang Yeong-sil whose patron was King Sejong, ruler of the Choson Dynasty. MAAS Collection.


Figure 8. Metal rain gauge. Date unknown. MAAS Collection.

Figure 9. Two rain gauge measuring cylinders. These were designed by Angelo Tornaghi for Sydney Observatory. He was born in Milan and arrived in Sydney in 1858 to supervise the adjustments of the Observatory’s Negretti & Zambra instruments. MAAS Collection.

Figure 10. A rain gauge or pluviograph made by either Angelo Tornaghi or one of the Observatory staff and was used in the Observatory before 1900. By 1860, rainfall and other weather observations were collected every month from around New South Wales and sent to the Observatory. This pluviograph is especially significant because of its pioneering role in Australian science that connected astronomy, meteorology, and technology. MAAS Collection.

The permanence of temporary phenomena

Creating permanent archives of temporary phenomena help us understands the systems that govern the workings of the Earth. My favourite exhibition room in the Observatory contains some of these rain gauges as well as various artifacts from different times in the history of Sydney that focus on weather. Here you can find the first weather map of Australia made by Henry Chamberlain Russell made 1877. To compile the map, Russell referenced weather information telegraphed to the Observatory from 40 meteorological stations across New South Wales. There are also photographic records of clouds and lightning, as well as models of hailstones that fell in the storm of April 1999, with the largest one being 8.5 cm in diameter. This makes me wonder about the future maps and instruments we may use someday in Mars, and what adaptations we will eventually have. 

Figure 11. The first weather map of Australia made by Henry Chamberlain Russell, the third New South Wales Government Astronomer and the first Australian-born one. MAAS Collection.
Figure 12. Photograph of lightning used by James Short, 1908. MAAS Collection.

Figure 13. Model of hailstones that fell in 1999. Original casts made by Mike de Salis, Bureau of Meteorology, NSW Office. Display Models by Iain Scott-Stevenson. MAAS Collection.

Our search for water continues in Mars and also links with Walter Frederick Gale, as a crater on the Red Planet is named after him. NASA chose the Mars rover Curiosity to land on Gale Crater because of signs that it may have contained water in its history.6 The Gale Crater is estimated to be about 3.5-3.8 billion years old which may be a dry lake. In the centre of the crater rises the mountain Aeolis Mons, and in between this mountain and the crater’s northern perimeter is the plain Aeolis Palus. NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed in Aeolis Palus on August 6, 2012. This spot has since been named Bradbury Landing, named after author Ray Bradbury.7

I realised while discussing my project with the Sydney Observatory staff that I had actually 3D printed the Gale Crater several weeks ago. In the UNSW Design Futures Lab where I conduct some of my research, I had been experimenting with 3D printing Martian landing sites. NASA has an open-source website that contains various 3D models. Printing Martian landscapes using clay from planet Earth felt like connecting the two celestial bodies together. Like Martian landings, we cannot get it right the first time, as you can see in this incident where the printer, as unpredictable as our current times, regurgitated the clay onto my board.

Figure 14. A 3D printing accident. Photo by Catherine Sarah Young

But eventually, we get it right!

Figure 15. 3D printed and fired Gale crater. Photo by Catherine Sarah Young

I have a one last thought on water and planets (and also billionaires and pandemics). There is a quote that is going around which says, “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” Similarly, we are in the same space but not the same spacecraft. Confinement to our homes in a pandemic reveals the various ways in which we need to make life more equitable for all of us to be ok while we continue with our interstellar ambitions. In the time of Walter Frederick Gale, Mars was alien territory. Now, it is slowly but surely within our reach. We know where we want to land in both Earth and Mars, but the question is: how?


1 Harley Wood, ‘Gale, Walter Frederick (1865-1945)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1981. Accessed online 24 18 August 2021:

2 Obituary, Walter Frederick Gale, British Astronomical Association, 1 June 1945…56…18 Accessed 18 August 2021

3 Geoff Barker, ‘Photograph of Walter Gale and the British Astronomical Association eclipse expedition,’ October 2008, accessed 18 August 2021:

4 Nick Lomb, ‘Walter Gale and the Landing of Curiosity’, 7 August 2012, Accessed 18 August 2021:

5 Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The Story of Sydney Observatory. Sydney: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2018.

6 W. E. Dietrich , M. C. Palucis , T. Parker , D. Rubin , K. Lewis , D. Sumner , and R.M.E Williams. 2014. “Clues to the relative timing of lakes in Gale Crater.” (Report). The Eighth International Conference on Mars, Pasadena.

7 Dwayne Brown, Steve Cole, Guy Webster, D.C. Agle, “NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing, NASA, 22 August 2012. Accessed online 18 August 2021:

Figures from the MAAS Collection

1 – Mars porcelain figure:

2 – Photograph of Walter Gale and the British Astronomical Association eclipse expedition:

5 – Model of Mars-3 spacecraft:

6 – Rain clouds:

7 – Korean rain gauges:

8 – Metal rain gauge:

9 – Two rain measuring cylinders:

10 – Rain gauge (pluviograph):

12 – Photograph of lightning:

The Weighing of the Heart” is currently on exhibition for the group exhibition “Stress Rehearsal” at das weisse haus in Vienna, one of my previous and favorite home cities! Thank you to The Peace Studio to which I first presented this work, curator-in-residence @malousolfjeld for her support, the UNSW Design Futures Lab , my accidental home for the past month, and my PhD supervisors!

The Weighing of the Heart


Australian bushfire remains, resin

Human heart sculptures are cast out of ashes and other organic remains from the Australian bushfires. I reference the scene of the “Weighing of the Heart”, a spell in the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which the heart of Imhotep is weighed against a feather. If the heart fails to balance it will be eaten by the beast, Ammut, and Imhotep will be condemned. If the scales remain balanced, Imhotep enters the afterlife with the other blessed dead. In casting the ashes with resin, I arrest metabolism of the remains back into the soil, creating objects of memory in a political landscape that forgets the bushfire crisis periodically, only to remember them when the next bushfire crisis commences with greater intensity.

From the curatorial statement:

with Mohamed Allam, Will Benedict, Daniel Mølholt Bülow, Gillian Brett, Rah Eleh, Rachel Fäth, Line Finderup Jensen mit Adnan Popovič, Juri Schaden & Parastu Gharabaghi, Lola Gonzàlez, Hanna Husberg & Laura McLean, Mohammed Laouli, Yein Lee, Elisabeth Molin, Jean Painlevé, Oliver Ressler, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Catherine Sarah Young
curated by Malou Solfjeld (Curator in Residence 2020)

Exhibition duration: October 29 – December 12, 2020
Exhibition start: October 28, 2020, 4-9pm

Expressions of solidarity on balconies, grounded planes on international airfields, tales of a reviving non-human natural world – for many, the COVID-19 pandemic nurtures hopes for more communal, equal and caring futures. At the same time, however, the global health crisis gives reasons for more dystopian prospects of co-existence on this planet. Among other things, it further mobilises xenophobic sentiments and multiplies social inequalities. More so, it has thwarted the momentum of climate activism in the media to the extent that scholars like the French philosopher Bruno Latour have declared the pandemic a “dress rehearsal” for the exacerbating climate catastrophe ahead of us. 

Deliberately emphasising and yet not isolating ecological queries and concerns, the group exhibition “Stress Rehearsal” zooms into the abyss; into the bushfire in Australia, oil tanks sinking into the ocean, into the sea level rise on the Maldives and open landfills in Morocco. It brings together works by an international cohort of artists to critically reflect on the entanglements of the global pandemic, climate crisis, mass extinction, social inequality and turbo-capitalism. Gathering a hybridity of perspectives from the past, present and future, “Stress Rehearsal” collapses the linearity of time in order to activate our senses in the here and now. What is our individual as well as our collective responsibility towards more livable futures? What kind of new forms of agency do we need to craft in order to co-shape worlds-in-common – on- and offline, with the living and the non-living? 

The exhibition unpacks questions like these in three different sections; We created this beast (referring to Bram Ieven and Jan Overwijk’s eponymous text), The pandemic as a dress rehearsal (in line with Bruno Latour’s essay Is this a dress rehearsal?) and The pandemic is a portal (alluring to Arundhati Roy’s eponymous article). The latter division is conceived as a laboratory of sorts, an accumulating digital archive of links and texts, videos and images. It serves as a multi-vocal platform where artists, curators, scholars, activists and visitors alike are invited to contribute and negotiate visions and perspectives on how to live together otherwise. The show consciously hosts a majority of video works as a means to reflect on contemporary modes of perception and consumption. It has been developed by the curator Malou Solfjeld with the support of Alexandra Grausam, Aline Lenzhofer and Frederike Sperling from das weisse haus team.

Find the link to the exhibition here.

via Museum of Cosmonautics

[Moscow and Zoom] I’m stoked to be one of the selected artists for this cool space art summer program hosted by the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics and art practice ARTYPICAL. This is a laboratory project for creative research of archives and visual culture related to contemporary ideas about space and the history of space exploration. There are 20 of us selected after an international open call to create new sound and visual works across disciplines, from 3D animation and digital sculpture to new literature and music production. Topics include: space in cinematography and visual art, space in the work of music composers, sonification and audification of the cosmos and astronomy, media art in outer space, media archeology of space, philosophy of space and Russian cosmism, iconographies of human spaceflight, and more.

Space! Art! Russia! Can’t wait to meet and learn from my fellow participants. See you soon!

Full list of artists and public program here.

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


[OSLO]—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.


[VIENNA]—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.


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