Archive

Art

(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!


Science Gallery Melbourne’s DISPOSABLE exhibition wrapped up on September 1st after a busy month. The Sewer Soaperie was one of the works in this exhibition. The team sent me lots of photos and feedback. Here is what happened and what we learned from this project:

According to co-curator Dr. Ryan Jefferies in an email to me, the exhibition received 26,504 attendees within the four weeks. The show had 150 kg of recycled fat, 12,000 plastic-eating mealworms, over 500 urine samples, and thousands of river reeds.

Having just moved to Australia, I have learned that post-event surveys are standard procedure here, which is fantastic. Here are quantitative feedback from the audience:

  • 92% of visitors were satisfied with the exploration of the theme DISPOSABLE
  • 85% think SGM is distinctive to other galleries
  • For 79% the program challenged their thinking
  • For 86% it sparked conversations they wouldn’t usually have

Dr. Jefferies also wrote that, “DISPOSABLE has also been our most sustainable season, with Science Gallery now following a Sustainability Action Plan, participating in the University of Melbourne’s Green Impact Challenge and significantly reducing our waste.”

The Sewer Soaperie at DISPOSABLE. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

It was also great to see this piece at the Parliament of Victoria for National Science Week:

The Sewer Soaperie at National Science Week, Parliament of Victoria. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

I’ve had this work exhibited before, but Science Gallery Melbourne’s team is one of the most exuberant I have ever worked with, and I couldn’t help but feel excited as though this were the first time. It also made those long hours worth it.

More images by Science Gallery Melbourne:

DISPOSABLE by Science Gallery Melbourne. Image by Brent Edwards

Some viewers participated by washing their hands with the soap, though for those who passed, no one blames you.

Images by Brent Edwards

Among the hallmarks of Science Gallery are their mediators, who are there to help their largely young audience to connect with the works. Science Gallery audiences are, from my experience, very curious and ask a lot of excellent questions, which is why I love exhibiting with these guys.

Image by Nicole Cleary for Science Gallery Melbourne

According to Ellie Michaelides, one of Science Gallery Melbourne’s mediators, here are some feedback from the visitors:

“It feels just like normal soap! But less lather”
“I make my own soap at home, I never thought of adding my own left over cooking fat to it!”
“Sewers?! Yeah, nah…”
“Are you sure it’s really clean?”
“That’s really smart, can I buy some?”
“I thought it would smell more”

“It doesn’t smell bad”
“I wish I could buy some”
“I feel like the colour should be less clean”
“I wanted to see what the original fat looks like”

More images by Nicole Cleary:

I, too, have learned a lot as an artist who was a part of this. Back in 2016, this project seemed outlandish, almost in the realm of conceptual art. But human impact on the environment and on cities have increased over time, and so The Sewer Soaperie is in its own way now a legitimate design solution. I am happy and fascinated with how well this been received, including how it provoked many people. For me, art can have a confrontational message and propose solutions in addition to other things it can do. I think this is the strength of interdisciplinary art-science work: it can bring about new dimensions and divergent ways of thinking, and as we continue to negotiate our environmental futures, this can be among the ways by which we can transform society.

It was also inspiring to have this piece be exhibited with these amazing projects. There’s also been a lot of media coverage about DISPOSABLE; do check them out:

Thank you to the Science Gallery Melbourne team!

Hurray, SGM team! Image by Brent Edwards

(Norway / Chile) I’m excited to share the news that the book, “Our Entangled Future: Stories to Empower Quantum Social Change,” is now available and free to download. My contribution, a short story version of “The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store,” won third place, and I’m stoked to be part of this wonderful collection.  The book will be launched tomorrow, October 15, at the Transformations 2019 conference in Santiago, Chile, and will be available in ebook and paperback versions.

The nine short stories presented in Our Entangled Future are rooted in the complex reality of the climate crisis. Rather than painting a dystopic future, they present agency-driven characters whose insights will inspire readers to contemplate and realize the potential for quantum social change.

The book is co-edited by Karen O’Brien, Ann El Khoury, Nicole Schafenacker and Jordan Rosenfeld. Many thanks to the team, the jury and my fellow writers!

Download the book here.

An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest. Image credit: Science Gallery Dublin 2017

My work, “An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest”, is in the book, “Research in the Creative and Media Arts: Challenging Practice” (2019, Routledge) by the inimitable Prof. Desmond Bell, award-winning documentary filmmaker and fellow of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where he was previously Head of Research. I’m truly honored and now feeling like a dinosaur.

With this, I am also reminded of the current struggle of Brazilian researchers, artists, and citizens in general, and hope that my work as an artist creates some impact, no matter how infinitesimal. I have a bunch of Amazon-themed projects in the pipeline, and I’m always happy to share.

Kudos to Prof. Bell and Science Gallery Dublin where the work was exhibited as well as LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute for Amazonian Research in Manaus who supported this work. Thank you, obrigada, go raibh maith agat, salamat and xie xie!

Get the book here.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store now also exists as a short story and won third place at the “Our Entangled Future: Short Stories to Empower Quantum Social Change” held by the University of Oslo. This is my first literary prize in, well, a while, so I am both happy and amused. The open access book will be launched in October at the Transformations 2019 Conference in Santiago, Chile. The book will include one of our studio photos.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store. Image by Studio Catherine Sarah Young

The story revolves around a female perfumer who lives in a future time when climate change has eradicated a lot of scents and she tries to preserve as many of these as possible. One day, she receives a knock on a door from a client who searches for her to create a perfume that has not been smelled in a very long time.

A perfumer in a future under climate change. Image by Studio Catherine Sarah Young

The actual olfactory art is still at the “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” retrospective with the Vitra Design Museum and their staff told me it will travel to the Barcelona Design Museum also in October.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store at “Victor Papanek: Politics of Design”. Image courtesy of Vitra Design Museum

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store (T.E.M.P.S., or French for “time”) is part of The Apocalypse Project body of work which explores climate change and our environmental futures. Other extensions of this work is An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest exhibited at Science Gallery Dublin in 2017 as part of my residency with LABVERDE in Manaus, Brazil.

An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest. Image courtesy of Science Gallery Dublin

Also part of The Apocalypse Project is The Sewer Soaperie, currently at the DISPOSABLE exhibition of Science Gallery Melbourne. What fun to connect with all of these places with one of my favorite projects! Thank you to the jury and all the curators and institutions who have supported this work in the fields of art, science, design, and now fiction.

The Sewer Soaperie, part of The Apocalypse Project body of work, will be at the month-long DISPOSABLE group exhibition by Science Gallery Melbourne beginning August 1.

The Sewer Soaperie is an interactive experimental art project about turning raw sewage and used fats into soap to raise awareness on the fatbergs clogging sewer systems around the world, and how this will worsen flooding brought about by the more intense storms of the Anthropocene.

From observing the consequences of fatbergs in Manila to pursuing it as a residency project in Medellin, to being exhibited at 1335Mabini art gallery and presented at a USAID Climate-Resilient development conference in Bangkok, The Sewer Soaperie finally goes back to its interdisciplinary art/science roots with Science Gallery.

The DISPOSABLE exhibition is a month-long pop-up of installations, experiments, and events. From the programme:

The lid has been lifted on human wastefulness, but what next? Science Gallery Melbourne’s pop-up season, DISPOSABLE, takes you on a dumpster dive to find creative solutions to our throwaway culture. 

Curated with young adults for young adults, the season will be an experimental trash bag of installations, exhibits and events at sites throughout Melbourne.         

The Sewer Soaperie will be at Testing Grounds, Southbank from July 31 – August 3, and The University of Melbourne at Macfarland Court from August 5 to 18. It was also be part of the Extrasensory exhibition at the Parliament of Victoria on August 10 from 6PM to 10PM for National Science Week.

The audience will be invited to wash their hands with the soaps, but please do so at your own risk. There are three types of soaps: those made from palm oil, those made from used oils, and those made from sewage. These were all boiled and then mixed with the appropriate amount of sodium hydroxide method to create soap. If you’d rather not touch the soaps (I don’t blame you), there are other ways of perceiving the work, such as through sight (Observe the physical differences and ask what type of fats might be in these different-colored soaps?) and smell (Some have said they smell like cookies, others have said chicken. What do you think they smell like?)

Follow the hashtag #SewerSoaperie for updates!

Image credits: First image – 1335Mabini; all the rest: Studio Catherine Sarah Young (Photography by Rache Go, hair and makeup by Rori de la Cruz). Thank you to Science Gallery Melbourne curators Tilly Boleyn, Veronica Dominiak, and Ryan Jefferies, and the fantastic Science Gallery Melbourne team!

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

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

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

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

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

The Planetary Renewal Spa in Cambodia!

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

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

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

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

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

2. Open Studios at Red Gate Gallery

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

4. Holding a Letters for Science Workshop

5. Interacting with the elderly in Beijing

6. Spending time with kindergarten and grad school friends

7. Thinking about food futures of China

8. Training! Hurray!

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

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

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

 

Eco Art Challenge by Global Shapers Beijing

 

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

Year for the Planet
Why go plastic-free

You can download a pdf of my talk here:

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

I just wrapped up a fellowship with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (Un-)Learning Place! These were five wonderful days with fantastic people from around the world challenging institutions, our assumptions, realities, etc. Many thanks to HKW and the facilitators of our track, Spaces of Theory, including diffrakt: center for theoretical periphery and raumlabor berlin! Here’s a collection of my thoughts via my Instagram account: