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Being in this project in Singapore for three weeks now, I’ve had a lot of flashbacks from my previous lives before this residency. It feels interesting to be in a lab and be officially an artist and not a scientist, to be around academics and understand their academia-speak as though it were a second language I’m hearing again, and to be designing workshops instead of looking for art materials in this initial phase.

Having had different roles and modes of training and experiences, I think I’m coming into my own model of what my three primary fields (art, science, and design) are about, which isn’t to say that these do not intersect in an individual’s practice.

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I’m doodling this as a note to myself, and wondering if I’ll be thinking the same in four months’ time. Hmm.

When I am working through creative problems, I like going out for walks. This afternoon, I went to Fort Canning Park, intending to visit the National Museum of Singapore. I wanted to say hi to a favorite art piece of mine, Suzann Victor’s “Contours of a Rich Manoeuvre,” an installation of moving chandeliers. Sadly, it was under maintenance, but when I peeked outside the entrance, I saw flying people. Specifically, there were two women swinging on the facade, and another three on a crane.

It’s the French group, Retouramont, practicing for their performance at the Singapore Night Festival.

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They remind me of Mary Poppins. In a good way. Sychronized sky dancing by real people is definitely better than one done by chandeliers. Thank you, ladies! I needed this today.

When one wakes up in another world, the previous one seems like a dream. Korea, magical as it is for me, seems like it ended a year ago instead of just last month. I’m now in Singapore for the 2013 Art Science Residency Programme in partnership with ArtScience Museum™ at Marina Bay Sands, Tembusu College National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore-ETH Centre’s Future Cities Laboratory.

It is such a wonderful opportunity, and a very timely one as well. I am very grateful. Because of the Seoul43 project, I realized that one potential application of my work is the environment. The things I saw while I was in the mountains made me care about what humans are doing to nature in a more visceral way. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always cared about recycling, global warming, and polar bears, but having my hikes directly affected by what humans were doing to the environment (and ultimately affecting the direction of the project) was very unnerving. That project wasn’t too long ago, and I still have more questions than answers. (Visit the project site here.)

Climate Change and Environmental Futures

I am working on the theme, Climate Change and Environmental Futures. My project is about a potential “apocalypse” that may ensue in the future because of climate change. I aim to design objects that examine our perceptual lifestyles when that occurs. So. How will we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, etc. when we need to adapt to a less habitable earth? And on the other side of the spectrum, what can be designed along the lines of perception when we are able to mitigate climate change? These are questions that intrigue me and will keep me happily preoccupied in the next four months of this residency.

This project is also an experiment for myself and the direction of my work. I suppose this is why despite my excitement, I want to proceed with caution. This is definitely my science background talking. There are enough people misleading others about climate change; I don’t want to be one of those. I’m happy to have scientists and humanists in the college to give me their perspectives and share their research, thus informing my work.

Cousteau

I never thought I would work along the lines of climate change. And yet, I did kind of foresee this last year. Because of my passion for nature and exploration (and flying up in an ultralight), I came across the works of Jacques Cousteau, marine explorer and conservationist. In his book, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus (Bloomsbury, 2007, co-authored with Susan Schiefelbein), he said that “Had I known where I was going, I would not have gone.” This resonated with me, along with him quoting Albert Szent-Gyorgyi’s distinction between Apollonians and Dionysians. I fear applied research sometimes, because when one drops a product into the real world in the hopes of solving something, oftentimes there are consequences you did not account for. That, plus I think my best ideas and projects are those when I was just in states of play.

The Anthropocene 

In the past few weeks, I’ve done a lot of research on recent findings and ideas in our Anthropocene. I am encountering a lot of very interesting work by artists, scientists, journalists, etc. I will be updating this site frequently, so check it out for my progress. 

Goals

There are specifics of this project I will be working out within the next few weeks. But now that I am here and have seen the labs and met with the staff, I have a better idea of what I can and cannot do. But just like my previous projects, I aim for these qualities:

1. Inclusivity—I hope to engage not just people from within the field of climate change, architecture, sustainability, and urban design, but also the people outside of it. I want to reach out to those who have no professional stake in my project, because I believe that climate change is a human issue that affects all of us.

2. Interactivity—I intend to create pieces that people can have an experience with and engage their senses, instead of just making something people will look at.

3. Empathy—I aim to collaborate with both the sciences and the humanities. The former is to ground my work in facts, and the latter is to allow for profound human connection. I hope for the audience to move from mere awareness of environmental issues to mindfulness where they are spurred to act and maintain positive environmental habits for the long-term.

The Weekend with the Eameses

This past Saturday, as part of my research, I visited the wonderful ArtScience Museum, where we artists-in-residence are supposed to give a talk and be part of their Sunday Showcase sometime in November. I loved the Mummy exhibition and the National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs, but it was the Eames exhibition that made me rejoice and gave me some level of encouragement as I begin this admittedly crazy project.

I loved seeing the Mobius Band from their Mathematica exhibition:

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And thanks, Charles, for this:

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Oh well, as always, here goes nothing.

(Written last week, posting only today!)

It’s hard to pack when one hasn’t unpacked, I tell myself as I examine my suitcase whose contents have not been voided in the past four weeks of transience in Manila. I had left Korea and am now en route to Singapore for another project.  I chide myself, because the reality is quite the opposite. As the ninth (?) move, I realize my luggage hold the memories of my most immediate past. There is little to give away, and little to buy. Everything I need is in this big red bag that has traveled the world with me.

It is a suitcase that has known many stories, from its first trip more than 10 years ago, when I visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a potential graduate candidate. (I didn’t get in, but it was amazing seeing Barbara McClintock’s lab!)  This bag was with me in the interrogation room in the train station in Barcelona, when security, in their amusement, told me I was not allowed to bring training sai during my trip. Outraged, I pointed the blades to my neck, took a stab, and cried, “Mira! Mira! No sangre! Estan no peligroso!” (Look! Look! No blood! They’re not dangerous!) They let me take them in the end. I brought this bag with me again to New York, with my Fulbright bag tag on the strap (I figure if potential thieves think it’s just full of nerdy books, they will never take it.)

A few weeks ago, a couple of well meaning friends asked me where is home? It’s in my heart, distributed in pieces, all over the world, I gamely quipped. It was midnight, and I was working like mad on my computer, beating another deadline. I stopped thinking about this question in recent times.

These past few weeks have been a sharp change from the constant busyness and preoccupation in Korea to the downtime and quietness in Manila. From mowing a mountain in a monsoon and getting swept up in the flurry of goodbyes, I finally had a lot of time for thinking about how things might be in the next few months. And I realized I didn’t have a clue.

When one starts out with the mentality of an explorer, of going into the unknown (and the fearlessness of a child with that nagging curiosity of sticking her finger in an electric fan) it is difficult to discern where one will end up. In between the lives I’ve led, I found it necessary to have moments of reclusion—of, as I recently coined to a friend over dinner, my “armadillo mode,” to refer to the shell I have to ensconce myself to have time to process what just happened.

There are few things one can take with her when the airline only allows for baggage weighing 20 kg. I suppose we leave part of ourselves behind with the people we love and take only what is necessary for the next life.

In the middle of an exhibition opening, climbing 43+ mountains, and recovering from said mountains, I turned thirty years old last week. I almost forgot about it, until the studio surprised me with fruit and cake after another long hiking day. While it is a big number, perhaps due the hysteria and excitement that I’ve seen people my age show with this milestone, I felt that with everything that has happened in the past years, it was absolutely time to turn 30. Finally! The level of growth and travel that transpired made the passage of time very natural.

I also realized that I reached certain milestones in the cities I have lived in. Not just traveled to as a tourist, but lived in, for at least six months. For practical reasons, six months is usually a time when most receiving countries require you to get an alien registration card that states why you are living in that country. You are meant to declare your goals, and as such, you engage in activities that define your identity while in that place. This is in contrast to being a floating tourist for several weeks or a few months, having “fun” and getting inebriated. When you are an official resident of a country, you come out with something tangible, be it a degree, an exhibition, a portfolio. For personal reasons, well, growth just takes time. And with time often comes silence and reflection.

Now that I’m thirty, I would like to take some time from post-project recovery and thank the four cities that defined my twenties, and why:

1. Seoul, South Korea
For being the city I am happiest in (for now)

What could be better than turning thirty in one of my favorite cities in the world! In the six months of living here, I did the hardest project I have ever done, I have made some of my dearest friends, I do my favorite sport everyday, and I’ve broken a lot of personal boundaries. I love the people here,  I’m constantly challenging myself with doing new things, and I love visiting new places in the country. Because Seoul is the safest and most efficient city I’ve lived in, I can feel lost in my thoughts and let creativity take form. Perhaps it’s because this is the country where taekwondo was born, perhaps because I look like a local, or perhaps it’s because Korean and Chinese cultures have many similarities, but I feel least alien here. Go figure.

2. New York, USA
For training me to go forward

New York, without a doubt, trained me to go against anything. Five years in the City that Never Sleeps made me keep going because no one was going to do it for me. As the hardest city I lived in, it taught me not to sit on my ass and to keep working hard. There is no time for self-pity in New York. I think my years at graduate school were very formative, and started what I hope will be the trajectory of my life’s work. Oh, and I got my black belt there, so I’ll always remember it. But New York wasn’t just about the harshness or the push-ups—I also loved seeing the most diverse people, which I haven’t encountered in any other city I’ve lived in or visited.

3. Barcelona, Spain
For showing me beautiful things everyday

I ran away to Spain after one of the most difficult times in my life, and there was no better city for rejuvenation than Barcelona. You can eat the city with your eyes—it was just so beautiful in ways both small and big. I will always remember going through the old city, feeling the bullet holes in the walls and then coming across a guerilla art piece by Space Invader. I read many of the books that I still reference in my work, discovered poetry, saw some of the most astounding art and architecture in the world, and made some wonderful friends.

4. Manila, Philippines
For letting me dream

I only realize it now, but I am extremely grateful for the Philippines for having such outspoken women. I deliberately write this in a city where I feel that women do not have as many rights. Here in Seoul, I am constantly being gawked at as an Asian woman who can be very assertive with few inhibitions. I think most of the women in the Philippines, particularly my mentors, are among the toughest women I have ever encountered. Most people reference the Philippines for its beaches and natural wonders (which are better in person), or for the other extremes, such as gates-of-hell poverty (also true), but I see it as the city that allowed for the incubation of my dreams.

So that’s four cities in my twenties. I write this in gratitude, but also as a reminder to myself that the world is huge and there are more places to explore and languages to learn.

As I said, there is no momentous “whoa-I’m-30” occasion—in Korea, I’m already 32.

The best thing after a particularly grueling hike (hello, Inwangsan!) is a cute note from the elderly guy who runs a pizza place with his wife across my street. After learning I was Filipino-Chinese, here is what I opened the box to:

Philippine / China Korea <3

The initials stand for:

Philippines / China
Korea

In barbecue sauce.

Aww, shucks. I love you back, Korea.

Flowers are starting to bloom in Korea. Hurray!

Color. Finally.

Color. Finally.

On the way to pick up my fourth passport from the embassy—Oh the luxury of smelling and touching a crisp new passport!—even this bear agreed:

Yes, little bear. Yes, it is.

Yes, little bear. Yes, it is.

Fare thee well, the winter of our discontent.

Unofficial holidays meant for love are quite an event here in Seoul, with people filling out specific roles. In Confucian Korea, I’m quite pleased when people break out of the norm, or when I break it (usually out of ignorance of the custom) and they appreciate it anyway. (For example, last Valentine’s Day, when women are supposed to give out chocolates to the men of their desire, I handed out origami hearts to everyone I knew.)

The month after Valentine’s Day, March 14, may be Pi Day for those mathematically inclined, but here on this side of the world, it is also White Day, a day where it’s the men’s turn to give out hard candy to women they like. Like my belief in Valentine’s Day hacks, I appreciate it when guys do the same and hand out goodies to their friends.

My haul for my first White Day is chocolate from a married studiomate and lollipops from my taekwondo class. The four big lollipops are from Master Kim who handed out an entire box’s worth to the class while the two were from one of the kids. We may not know each other’s languages and have different opinions on eye contact, but hey, there are definitely other ways to communicate. This was, literally and figuratively, quite sweet.

White Day haul. Aww, shucks. <3

White Day haul. Aww, shucks. ❤

Say it with sugar. Arigato and kamsahamnida, gentlemen!