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Digital Art Weeks International, whose exhibition “Hybrid Highlights” was held in Seoul last year, just published their free book, On Science, On Art, On Society: Interviews with Innovators”. Edited by Arthur Clay, Monika Rut, and Timothy J. Senior, it features a collection of twenty-five interviews from practitioners originating in diverse fields and opposing outwardly.

Divided into three separate chapters, the authors illustrate to the reader models of hybridity that can validate convergence as a method for nurturing innovation across disciplines. Readers interested in innovation and the processes that drive it, will find that each of the chapters of the book addresses a particular area of ​​knowledge and that each of the interviews offers its own perspective on the subject at hand as well as examples that could offer theory into practice.

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I was one of the interviewees in this interesting project. I’m in very cool and amazing company and it’s quite intimidating to be with them, such as Denisa Kera, Davide Angheleddu, Ruedi Stoop, etc. Download it here from iTunes now!

ClimateChangeCoutureLookbook

In my interview I talk about artscience collaborations, The Apocalypse Project, and climate change and cultural change. It also featured a photo from Climate Change Couture: Singapore (the Thermoreflector, modeled by Cheryl). Here is the interview, courtesy of DAW International:

Where Art & Science Coexist
An Interview with Catherine Young

Interviews with Innovators: As an artist, your work primarily explores human perception and its relationship to memory, creativity, and play. In a way, your story as an artist begins with studying molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. What inspired you to move into the arts, and what did you take with you from the sciences?

Catherine Young: I come from a family of artists and doctors. Although my grandfather was a photographer, my mom was a genetics professor so I grew up with a lot of Punnett Squares and DNA lessons. I love science and initially wanted to do only lab-based research, but I realized that I didn’t want to be just cooped up in the lab – there were so many other ways I wanted to pursue my ideas. I moved to New York City at 21 and just saw the endless possibilities available instead of the stifling path I had ahead of me. I moved (or more specifically, “ran away”) to Barcelona and rediscovered art, but also discovered for the first time how art and science could work together. From there I chose to study interaction design for my MFA in the US (which was a relatively new field at the time) because I felt it was a discipline where art and science could coex- ist and be effectively communicated to others.

IWI: You have worked in a variety of traditional forms including draw- ing and painting, but also with less-traditional media such as dirt or soil. What role has artistic and scientific practices played in helping you break away from traditional formats?

CY: When two things collide, new relationships can be formed. For exam- ple, visual art is usually composed of traditional fields such as painting or sculpture—works that the public shouldn’t touch else you destroy the work. But this doesn’t hold true with interactive pieces where the work has to be touched to be experienced. The convergence of art and science leads to new ways to offer stories for people to explore, and unique opportunities for empathy. Also, advancements in science along with new ways of expression in art are leading to greater diversity in the type of work that can be done. For instance, there’s been a relatively recent interest in art investigating smell because of research that shows that olfaction is linked to memory. So if I were an artist interested in memory, this sense is now a channel for me to investigate that theme. Science can inform art and vice versa; each enriches the other.

I don’t really look at my projects and say, “Ok, what is the ‘art’ and what is the ‘science’ here?” I start with the questions I want to explore, and then test those approaches that I feel will best communicate the ideas I want to share with people. My different experience of artistic and scien- tific fields has exposed me to a lot of different ways for investigating top- ics and then presenting them to a wider audience. Science for me involves a lot of data collection, something which I often do in my current work. Artistic methods help me explore the many ways in which I can show that work. Each exhibition of a project is also like an experiment to me, so my work continues as I check how people respond to it. Person- ally, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between art and science because both ask similar questions. However, there is a great difference in the professions of art and science because of the systems we have created to practice them, such as the galleries, the festivals, the labs, academia, industry, and so on.

IWI: “Disclosure of knowledge” or “lifting of the veil” is how you describe your Apocalypse Project. Here you are trying to physically animate an in- quiry made concerning environmental futures. Can you tell us about this research in general and what the process was that transformed an en- quiry into an artwork?

CY: I started The Apocalypse Project during my participation at the 2013 ArtScience Residency Program in partnership with ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Tembusu College National University of Singapore, and the Singapore-ETH Zurich Future Cities Laboratory (FCL). I was talking to the scientists in FCL who were doing very interesting research on climate change and sustainability. But while their work was important, I saw a gap between their research and the public understanding of climate change.

In parallel to this, I was doing workshops with high school and college students in Singapore, asking them questions about what climate change looked like to them, what superpowers they wished they had to combat climate change, and what they would wear to a climate-change apocalypse. The last question resonated really well with the majority of the stu- dents, more so than my other questions. I realized that fashion is one thing that people can relate to – clothing is both a means of survival and a form of self-expression. This was the beginning of Climate Change Couture. I took the research of the FCL scientists and designed clothes and narratives that would fit a world that was uninhabitable, highlighting the problems that the research projects addressed. For the first collection, members of the FCL staff were the ones who modeled them and I think it was wonderful to see them outside the lab and being models.

IWI: Besides showing the actual objects themselves, how else have you tried to communicate the fact that climate change is real and “the heat is on” as they say?

CY: The projects are all about experience, so rather than just showing the clothes or the perfumes I developed, the visitors are invited to try on the clothes and smell the perfumes. In this way, they are able to place themselves in the story. I also hold public events, such as Future Feast at The Mind Museum in Manila where I got to collaborate with chefs to think about dishes of the future. It was a real feast with local musicians per- forming, scientists explaining topics about climate change, the chefs talking to people about why things like worm meat and sea vegetables could be future sources of nutrition, and included activities for the whole family. I think doing these inclusive and fun events reframes climate change from a doom-and-gloom political issue, meant to be discussed only by governments, to a human issue about creativity and resilience that everyone should act on.

IWI: Some of the garments that you have put on exhibition connect traditional design culture with what we might call “a fashion of necessity”. Does the inclusion of traditional elements make the message clearer that climate change and cultural change are synonymous?

CY: I think culture has always had to adapt to the environment. For example, the Barong Tagalog, which is a traditional dress for men in the Philip- pines, was designed to be lightweight because of the country’s tropical climate. I re-imagined it with a hoodie because of the unpredictable weather the country now has. When designing for a particular city, I like to research their traditional garments because the message resonates bet- ter with the audience if the visual imagery is familiar and they can relate to it. A lot of my projects deal with future loss, and so the audience has to imagine a world where some things are not available to satisfy the needs of their traditional practices.

IWI: Which of the methods used to carry over your message have been the most effective in motivating and empowering people to become co- creators of a more tangible future?

CY: I think it’s the fact that I do multiple projects, so I give people different ways to engage with environmental futures. If one doesn’t do it for them, another one might. Each project is also exhibited through multiple platforms and in multiple cities, and uses different types of media. Some people knew about the projects through the Internet, but for most peo- ple the work was more powerful when they saw and experienced them in person. From what I’ve observed, I think the work becomes most effec- tive when people are able to share their experience (and the memories that these projects evoke) with other people. This allows conversation about climate change go beyond the exhibition or the festival and into the people’s normal everyday lives. Another is that I target a wide audience. I’m particularly interested in the reactions of young children, because they have the most honest reactions. They will also bear the worst consequences of climate change, so I think they need to learn about it and how to take care of the environment as soon as possible.

IWI: Knowing that the research you have draw upon is the intellectual property of an institution with clear guidelines on representation, do you feel that there are any dangers of misrepresenting such research if presented through art objects and in a museum context?

CY: Yes, which is why I’m extremely careful about collaborations. There are a lot of conversations in the background, with me talking to my col- laborators (be it scientists, chefs, artists, students, companies, etc.) about what the project is, why I’m doing it, what possibilities could follow once we exhibit the work in public, as well as an opportunity to say no. I send out updates from time to time, and I update all my websites regu- larly so everyone knows what I’m up to. I’ve been on fellowships and grants for a long time, so I’m used to accountability and making sure eve- ryone is on the same page so that we’re all happy. For the information and images I have to send out to the press, or that I publish online, I always make sure everyone involved has reviewed it and has no issues with it. I think life is really short and there is no sense in prolonging suf- fering, so if I or the other person is unhappy, and all possible solutions have been exhausted, I probably will end the collaboration and just change the direction of the project.

That said, though, in my experience, if the finished project is successful – and I define “success” here as when a project gains an audience, when the message about climate change is effectively transmitted to another person, and when the collaboration was pleasant and we want to do it again – everybody wins: the artist, the collaborator, the space it was exhibited in, the audience who has had a positive experience. If the project fails at any point, such as if a blogger completely misinterprets it, it’s only me that has to bear it, and I try to rectify it by reaching out to the writer with more information and an invitation to get in touch. Either the writer updates his article or I’ll be working on another project to further make the point. The public events are, to me, critical, because I usually have attendants (I call them The Apocalypse Squad) who are trained to talk about the project and assist the audience if needed. The online presence of the projects is also important because that’s where I put all the information. I’ll get the occasional troll in the exhibition or on the Internet – usually climate change deniers – but I just ignore them.

Catherine Young is an artist, scientist, designer, explorer, and writer whose work primarily explores human perception and its relationships to memory, creativity, and play. Her work combines art and science to create stories, objects, and experiences that facilitate wonder and human connection. Her first solo exhibition was in a science museum. She re- ceived her degree in molecular biology and biotechnology from Manila, fine art education from Barcelona, and has an MFA in Interaction Design from the School of Visual Arts in New York as a Fulbright scholar. Previously, she was on residencies and fellowships in New York, Barcelona, Seoul, Singapore, and Manila.

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In a conversation with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, we exchanged ideas about the senses, particularly about smell. She mentioned a book she was reading called The Scent of Desire by Rachel Herz. A part of it discussed olfaction as a way for human beings to choose mates and how the birth control pill may be a culprit for divorce.

The Scent of Desire by Rachel Herz

Research suggests that birth control affects women’s taste in men. It’s all in the MHCs, or major histocompatibility complexes, hidden in the scent of men. Studies show that females prefer men whose MHCs differ from their own, perhaps to increase chances of  survival—the resulting offspring will then bear more diverse MHC profiles.

But being on the pill creates a preferential shift towards men with similar MHCs. Relationship troubles can then start when the woman gets off the pill; she begins to be attracted to MHC-dissimilar men and is less attracted to the MHC-similar guy she’s with.

In simpler terms, being on the pill can make you attracted to Mr. Wrong, and you realize it when you get off the pill.

(Read more at Psychogical Science.)

Returning to a city after many years is both pleasurable and vexing.

You are both resident and stranger. The shapes, sounds, and smells have both changed and remained the same.

My three major “homes” so far—Manila, New York, and Barcelona—are all port cities. In both historic and modern times, they have been the site of international trade, cultural intermixing, and political upheavals. Their faces dissolve and stabilize with the ebb and flow of both tide and time.

I am reminded of Cities of You, a beautiful project by Brian Foo, a web developer and “joy evangelist” whom I first encountered online when he submitted a sketch for DrawHappy.

Cities of You is a project that envisions people as imaginary places. It was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Each artwork represents a person and also a relationship. Brian writes:

“I travel through each city and describe their special properties—how the buildings are built, how the people live, its history, culture, and reputation. As the project progresses, I revisit some cities, describing how they evolve over time or enter unexplored parts of the cities. The intended result is to be able to imagine relationships as dynamic spaces in which one can visit, walk through, and explore.”

I enthusiastically backed his Kickstarter project, which surpassed his initial goal of $2,000 and raised $11,000. The project is the publication of the first 41 cities he designed. His book is a gorgeous labor of love, alive with drawings, paintings, and prose. An overwhelming response from his supporters also led him to upgrade all the rewards, including a lifetime of gifts. (Yes, you read that right. I and 140 other backers are looking forward to receiving annual presents for the rest of our lives.)

Cities of You, volume 1. Image by Brain Foo via his Kickstarter project page

A couple of weeks ago,  Brian drew me as a city, too. Voila, I’m City #44! It’s quite an honor. Even though we haven’t known each other for very long, I think he nailed it:

“If you walk through the city of Orynnaci, the buildings are tall, bare, and ordinary. However, if you stare at a building, look away, then look back again, the building may change. Or sometimes, a building can disappear, or merge with another one. As a tourist, you may begin to recognize past cities you have visited if you stare long enough. Some buildings lose their form entirely. Walk down Main Street and you will see most citizens standing still with their head tilted back, tracing shapes with an outstretched arm. On the face of city hall, three words are inscribed in Latin, loosely translating to ‘Imagination, Perception, Metaphor’.” —Brian Foo

City #44: Orynnaci
24 x 18″, Gouache and Colored Pencil on Paper
Image and Text copyright by Brian Foo

Visit the project’s site here.

Due to my fascination with smell and its relationships with memory, I wrote and published a book that contains smells from Manila, New York and Barcelona—three cities I have lived in and have given me a lot of memories.

Each spread contains the memory on the left and the actual smell micro-encapsulated and printed on paper on the right.

Here’s one from Manila:

Burnt rubber
On busy streets
Particularly EDSA
The site of many a revolution
You can smell the worn tires.

Here’s one from New York:

Pumpkin pie
My first ever pumpkin pie was in 2007 on a martial arts retreat.
I remember not just the pie, but the knife lessons. We had a meditation room and went to a cemetery. We broke arrows with our throats.

Here’s one from Barcelona:

Strawberry
A birthday picnic for Harriet, up on Montjuic but closer to the museum. We wrote poems on a green Olivetti typewriter that we decorated with wildflowers.

Here are some people smelling my memories:

More photos up on Flickr.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was without a plan and without a clue. And yet, on this plan-less and clueless visit, there were two things that captured my attention amidst the remnants of Mardi Gras beads, tourists with stale beer in their go cups, capybara sightings, and fascinating reptiles.

1. Puzzle animal sculptures by Peter Chapman

My absolute favorite store in New Orleans is undoubtedly The Idea Factory, a wonderful shop that sells interactive wooden toys in the French Quarter.

The Idea Factory is located on 838 Chartres Street in the French Quarter.

The Idea Factory in New Orleans sells wonderful interactive wooden toys.

The store carries works by several artists, and while I loved the trains, the puzzle boxes, and the animals on wheels, what made me so incredibly happy were these three-dimensional interlocking wooden animal puzzles by Peter Chapman.

3D wooden animal puzzles by Peter Chapman

The eyes of the animal serves as the “lock”—remove it and it becomes possible to dismantle the puzzle. What makes it even better is the surprise inside each animal. An egg lies inside the brontosaurus. A finger falls out of the piranha.

On the last day of my visit, I caved in and bought one (the dinosaur, naturally). His name is Max.

2. The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites

The book that held my attention during idle moments this week was Thomas Thwaites brilliant (!) book, The Toaster Project, the documentation of his MA project  at the Design Interactions program in the Royal College of Art. In it, he chronicles his misadventures of creating a toaster from scratch, showing how he obtained materials such as steel, mica, plastic, copper, and nickel. Apart from being a modern quixotic tale of a seemingly impossible and foolish task, it is also a poetic reflection of sustainability and global capitalism.

Thwaites' toaster. Image via the designer's website. Photo credit: Daniel Alexander

As a designer of a more speculative and conceptual kind, and one who is sometimes weary of seeing only apps, websites, and flowcharts, I feel encouraged at seeing projects like this. I think my favorite part was when Thwaites was writing his thank-yous:

“…for making the Design Interactions MA a place where toasters can be made from scratch, and saving me from a life as a bad web designer.”

Spot on.

***

I am not embarrassed to admit that when I see things like Chapman’s puzzles or Thwaites’ toaster, I jump up and down with glee and spread the joy by telling everyone in my path. I love being humbled and reminded that wonder can go beyond our digital devices and can actually reside in simple materials and objects such as wood and toasters. Wood isn’t just wood; it can stoke the fires of human imagination and hide delightful secrets. Toasters aren’t just toasters; they contain histories of our technology and consumption.

There is always the potential of poetry in everyday things.

The Translation Project, which marks a new beginning for The Poetry Society of New York, bridges the Poetry Brothel of New York and the Prostibulo Poetico of Barcelona. Poets from each poetry brothel were paired to translate each other’s work. Edited by Nicholas Adamski and Stephanie Berger of the Poetry Brothel in New York, and Kiely Sweatt of the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona (my lovely madame!), the book is a collection and translation of work by emerging poets from diverse cultures that is a valuable and lacking element of the culture at large.

The Translation Project, volume 1

Please support us! The book is now available on Amazon.

***

On another poetic note, this reminds me of last month’s BOWWOW poetry reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club where I read or listen to poetry once a month.

Bowery Poetry Club

At that time, writer Claire Basarich and I, who met as poets for the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona and have remained great friends, saw each other again after two years. I read the following poem and she read the French translation she wrote (blogged here with permission).

Euclid’s Lament, or the Infinity of Primes
by Catherine Young

Perhaps the only things that are greater
Than the lonely wanderers on earth
Are prime numbers. Are there more of them
Than the stars in the galaxy or the
Grains of sand on the shore? Stars can
Die, after all, while sand can be washed away.
Should we pity their solitude, or envy their
Indestructibility? It seems that we humans are the
Fragile products of shattered pieces that are
Easily divided with drunken inexactitude.
But nevertheless, to list them all is madness—
They will outlast us all.

La Lamentation d’Euclide
by Claire Basarich

Peut-etre que les seules choses qui sont plus
Importantes que les pauvres vagabonds sur terre
Sont les nombres premiers.
Sont-ils plus nombreux
que  les étoiles dans la galaxie ou les
grains de sable sur le rivage? Les etoiles peuvent
mourir, après tout, tandis que le sable peut etre emporté.
Devrions-nous plaindre leur solitude, ou envier
Leur indestructibilité? Il parait que nous les humains sommes
des produits fragiles de morceaux brisés qui sont
Facilement divisés avec une inexactitude ivre.
Néanmoins, en faire la liste est de la folie—
Ils nous survivrons tous.

In the wonderful If There Ever Was: A Book of Extinct and Impossible Smells, Robert Blackson commissioned some of the “finest noses in fragrance production” to design accords of things that were absent. For instance, smells of Hiroshima (inspired by the vibration of the atomic blast), surrender (as manifested through incense, which was burned as an indication of defeat in ancient Egypt), the space station Mir, and the sun, become blank pages of olfactory fascination. One of my favorite smell artists, Sissel Tolaas, created the scent of communism.

If There Ever Was: A Book of Extinct and Impossible Smells by Robert Blackson. Image via Amazon.uk

Currently, I think smell is, for lack of a better word, “trending” in design. Consider Tolaas’ work in MoMA’s Talk to Me exhibition last year, the delightful Olly by Mint Digital, or the slew of smell sensors that are or will be available on the market. And not a moment too soon for one of our most visceral and powerful senses. Blackson writes:

“Smell is an unlikely subject in the aesthetic discourse of contemporary art. The tendency to exclude our sense of smell from philosophical and art historical discussions began in the Age of Enlightenment. It was then that philosophers such as Kant and Descartes argued for the power of vision over our ‘lesser’ senses. These thoughts were further reflected in scientific advancements such as Louis Pasteur’s breakthrough that germs rather than miasma (foul stenches) were the carriers of disease.”

Thanks to designer Nikki Sylianteng who lent me this awesome book.