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As an interdisciplinary artist who works on environmental and social issues, discovering Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat was an incredible experience. Having grown up in the Philippines, I was no stranger to its bountiful nature, but this time I was on a mission. I had, not so long ago, finished an artscience residency in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and to discover that the Philippines had something very similar was beyond exciting. I did not have to go that far to see a rainforest, after all. I was very grateful to accept Great Escapes Philippines’ invitation for their inaugural Give Back Weekend Adventure. It was a great opportunity for me to research the area in light of a forthcoming art residency and collaboration with the Centre for Sustainability Philippines, an environmental NGO based in Palawan and one of Great Escapes’ partners.

Such joy to be back in the rainforest!

Brazil and the Philippines are antipodes; that is, if I dig a hole in my house in Manila and kept going until I reached the other side of the earth, I would end up in Matto Grosso in Brazil. But despite being half a world away, the Amazon and Palawan share similarly rich natural resources, colonial history, and immediate and long-term threats. Both embodied a certain type of wild beauty under peril, where traditional ways conflict with contemporary lifestyles. It was easy to relate these two ecosystems together as I experienced similar lush greenery and clear river water. As an artist, it was a good time to reflect on how I can possibly continue my work to raise awareness on both of them.

Brazil vs the Philippines

Halfway around the world! From http://www.antipodesmap.com

But there were stark differences as well, not just the fact that Brazil was a Portuguese colony and the Philippines, of Spain. (I saw the basketball court of the Batak community and immediately thought of the football field in the Baré community of Nova Esperança in Brazil that we visited.) CNCH was less explored than the Amazonian reserve I was in, and so the trails were not as defined and were steep in some areas. It made for quite an adventure, though even beginners will be able to make it. (Be prepared for a good sweat!) A tip for those like me who are terrified of descents—when in doubt, just slide. I was very grateful to the CS staff and intern who helped me through my Descent Anxiety.

Entering the Batak community

 

A basketball court in the Batak community

Give Back + Adventure

There are terms to unpack in the phrase “Give Back Weekend Adventure”. Give back to whom? There is the Cleopatra’s Needle itself, a 41,350-hectare area that was recently declared a Critical Habitat, thanks to the staunch efforts of the Centre for Sustainability. It took four years to get this declaration, and not a moment too soon, as this ecosystem is under threat from, among other things, illegal quarrying and climate change.

More specifically, participants give back to the Batak community, which CS collaborates with on different projects so that their culture and livelihood are preserved. It was good to meet members of the community, such as the elders, chief, and families who were having a church gathering.

One of the highlights of the CNCH weekend was getting to know the Centre for Sustainability’s Almaciga project. The Alamaciga tree, whose resin makes it a cash crop for the Batak tribe, takes 30 years to mature. When its seeds disperse, it takes a trained eye to spot the tiny seedlings, which are then marked. Participants in this weekend adventure can help out by spotting the marked seedlings and removing dry leaves and other detritus so that they can grow optimally. This project helps establish an alternative livelihood for the Batak community.

Caring for an Almaciga seedling. Photo courtesy of Joni Andrea Ong

Another highlight was hiking towards Pulang Bato, a part of the Tayabag River that had red rocks due to a still-to-be-researched material. We stopped to have lunch and to swim in the river, and as we lay on the shore, it was relaxing to watch the different kinds of butterflies that flew on the other side, oblivious to us intruders, while we washed ourselves with organic bath products.

 

Ready, get set, give back! Behind us are the red rocks of Pulang Bato. Photo by Monique Buensalido

Clear waters of the Tayabag River

 

Conscious Hiking

As a supporter of indigenous rights and the environment and an avid (though very slow) hiker, it was wonderful to have an opportunity to combine two of my passions. While one will not save the rainforest in one weekend, being able to do some useful work for a legitimate long-term project while meeting like-minded people and being educated about an important part of the environment is definitely time well-spent. Importantly, conscious hiking habits are employed here, and we all picked up trash along the hike during the two days. We were tired after the trip, but it was the best kind of weariness. It was also a great time for ideation—when my fellow participants knew my intentions, we had a blast thinking about potential art projects. It was easy to do, as we were jaded urbanites that were briefly surrounded by so much nature.

Thinking about art while hiking with Solomon Calago of the Centre for Sustainability. Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

At camp! Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

Breakfast time! Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

Food is fuel. Photo by Joni Andrea Ong

 

New friends while hiking! Photo by Monique Buensalido

 

My feet needed some Nature Rx

Sustainability is one of my main artistic themes, and through my experience, I have learned that tourism can have positive and negative effects to the planet. Many ecosystems around the world face threats from human impacts, and it is a moral imperative to integrate sustainable practices as we travel. Personally, I have grown weary of going to high traffic beaches and touristy areas that encourage so much wasteful consumption; it’s time to look at other parts of the country that still gives us much to learn about the planet and about ourselves.

For more details, check out the website of Great Escapes PH, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

With Joni Andrea Ong of Great Escapes Philippines

Thank you to Great Escapes Philippines, Centre for Sustainability PH, and The Superfood Grocer for supporting this trip!

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The Apocalypse Project‘s Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest are exhibited in the first Manila Biennale in the walled city of Intramuros. The theme, “Open City,” refers to Intramuros as the origin of Manila’s culture. It is a tribute to the walled city’s beginnings as a port for the Galleon Trade, a time when Intramuros opened itself up to the world and welcomed new ideas, products and people.

Image credit: Manila Biennale

The Sewer Soaperie consists of soaps made from different points in the cycle of oil in human consumption, from palm oil to used oil to raw sewage and fatbergs, to highlight the effects of our impact on cities. Support for this project was given by Arts Collaboratory, Ministry of Culture of Colombia, and Medellín-based arts organizations Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, where I did a residency in 2016.

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest features scents based on the travel narratives of 19th century explorers of the Amazon, where naturalists such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Alexander von Humboldt encountered this ecosystem for the first time, which relates to the “openness” theme of the biennale. Visitors are allowed to smell these scents and inhale the stories of how these explorers encountered the Amazon. On the wall is text that features the passage of the books where I based these scents from. This project was inspired by my residency in the Amazon in 2017, with the support of LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute of Amazonian Research.

Manila, Medellín, and Manaus are cities that are similar in their colonial history, richness of culture and stories, and vulnerabilities to climate change, which the works highlight. It’s been great fun to bring these together for this historic biennale as well as be reminded of my enriching residency experiences in South America, of which the Philippines share very similar characteristics.

The Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest interprets the olfactory memories of 19th century explorers into scent, based on their travel narratives

The installation can be viewed at the biennale lounge. Image credit: Manila Biennale

Manila Biennale 2018 is led by Executive Director Carlos P. Celdran, and this installation is curated by Alice Sarmiento. Thank you!

Image credits: Photos 1-4 by Studio Catherine Sarah Young, 5-7 by Manila Biennale

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Climate Change Couture: Colombia No. 3
Shot on location at Buenos Aires, Medellin, Colombia

This shoot was made possible by Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, where I did a residency supported by Arts Collaboratory and the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

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Climate Change Couture: Colombia No. 1
Photos taken at Platohedro’s Manga Libre
Model: Jeferson

This residency at Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios was supported by Arts Collaboratory and the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

This November I find myself in Seoul for the Bio-Art Seoul 2015 Conference. It’s great to be back here in Korea, which is turning into a yearly homecoming of a sort. Annyunghaseyo!

For my bit in the show, I presented the second volume of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store. There were eight new scents I debuted here. The line was called “A Walk Home” and it was based on the scents of my childhood in the Philippines. These olfactory memories were especially potent when I moved to Manila last year after ten years of being away.

 

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store: A Walk Home has these eight scents: Recess, A Chinese Apothecary, Time with My Mom, Swimming Lessons, Wild Grass, Manila Sunsets, Carnival, and Moments of Solitude.

Oh you kids. <3

Oh you kids. ❤

During the exhibition, it was fun to see families smell the perfumes. My favorite part was when I saw the little kids trying them on, especially the really small ones who had to tiptoe to reach the bottles. It was so cute when one group of little boys gathered around, each taking a bottle, and sprayed it on himself. (I pity the ones who got the perfumes marked “Recess” and “A Chinese Apothecary”.)

kids

Some of my favorite target audience.

 

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

And now, a cathartic release by writing about an embarrassing moment. It was the exhibition opening, and man, I was so excited to do my first Korean ribbon cutting—complete with the white gloves and golden scissors, yo! I was nervous to cut it in advance like I’ve seen people do when what I should have been worried about was not catching the darn things after you snip them.

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

I’m the sad chick second from left with the pile of ribbons on the floor. Sigh. No one ever tells me these things. Hmph.

Epic fail.

“Oh sh*t” was the first thought that entered my head. Epic fail.

For the record, I still think it’s a lot cooler to let everything dramatically fall to the floor. Hello. It’s a grand opening. Just kidding.

Artist Talk: Wet Media Conference

In Sogang University’s Department Art and Technology, artists (including yours truly) gave talks on their work. My talk, entitled “Living SciFi: Bio-Art and our Futures” drew on my journey through science, art, and design, ending with the show at the Institute for the Future and what I’ve learned here so far.

It was also great to meet some bio-artists. Personally, I identify more with the terms “conceptual artist” and “sci-art” since I currently work with so many different fields of sciences and haven’t stuck to just one, so it was great to learn from these guys, especially those whose work I’ve heard so much about. Mad props to Anna Dumitriu, Vicky Isley and Paul Smith of boredomresearch, Sonja Baeumel, Roberta Trentin, etc. It was cool to meet you guys!

Workshop: Making Smells of Perfumes

You know I'm in Korea when I'm doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

You know I’m in Korea when I’m doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

A week after the opening, I also did a perfumery workshop with some high school and university students in Korea. There was a group of biology students that were accompanied by their teacher. In the beginning, the students participated in my olfactory memory experiment where they were given mystery smells and then were asked to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

Later, I asked them to do a Smell Walk and gather objects from nature that they want to make a perfume of. We distilled essential oils and also used some from my own collection of essential oils. It was exciting as one distillation flask caught fire (the kids put it out in time and no one was hurt).

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

 

The haul from the Smell Walk

The haul from the Smell Walk

 

Gathering fragrant things in nature

Gathering fragrant things in nature

 

Mashing things up for distillation

Mashing things up for distillation

 

A simple DIY distillation set-up

A simple DIY distillation set-up

 

Whattup, Korea!

Whattup, Korea!

I loved that one of the museum staff participated and insisted on making a banana-flavored perfume. He was a fun student. For the record, I insisted that he tuck his tie so it wouldn’t catch fire.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

After the distillation, I also got them to create perfumes using the commercial essential oils I have in my personal collection.

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

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Making perfumes

 

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

I gave them Apocalypse Project Commander badges as a reward for all their hard work. Thanks, guys!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Aaaannnd that’s officially it for me for 2015. No more exhibitions, talks, workshops, interviews, etc. for the rest of the year. I’ll be in Seoul until November 29th reflecting on the year that was and what to do next. You know I’m not a big fan of this part. A bit of Korean hiking should knock me to my senses. Are you in town? Come join me!

Many thanks to Bio-Art Seoul 2015, Biocon, Seoulin Bioscience Co., and Digital Art Weeks International. Thank you especially to Dr. Sunghoon Kim and Helen Kwak!

 

 

For the past few months, I have been involved with a project by The Mind Museum, called A Glass of the Sea (AGoS), an exhibition about the Coral Triangle. Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences have been exploring the Verde Island Passage of the CT and have been discovering an abundance of new species. The Verde Island Passage may well be the apex of marine biodiversity on the planet. How amazing!

The AGoS team was led by The Mind Museum curator Maribel Garcia, Bryant Cabantac, Cris Mora, Carlie Dario, Dem Bitantes, Awesome Lab, and myself. The exhibition is made possible by a grant from USAID.

I did the graphic design of the exhibition. I was inspired by kimono fabrics on my visit in Japan, especially their vibrant and classy colors. We applied this to priming tunnels that are shaped like Asian folding fans as well as English and Filipino signage throughout the exhibition.

Welcome to A Glass of the Sea!

Welcome to A Glass of the Sea!

Enter the waves...

Enter the waves…

You haven’t lived until you’ve done graphic designs of bilingual translations about science. For real. Here’s a fun shot of Darwin and I during installation, while we wrestled with industrial strength velcro.

I did the visual design and Darwin Cayetano did the Filipino translations.

I did the visual design and Darwin Cayetano did the Filipino translations.

In “A Story of the Science of the Sea”, visitors are invited to take a wooden sculpture etched with a sea creature on top, and place it on an NFC reader to watch it come to life on screen. Audio narration gives more information about the creature. This was designed by Cris Mora.

You can choose a  wooden sculpture and put them on an NFC reader to know more about the creature. Video footage provided by California Academy of Sciences.

You can choose a wooden sculpture and put them on an NFC reader to know more about the creature. Video footage provided by California Academy of Sciences.

We also made specially designed video games that each highlight one problem in our oceans. I designed the games while the awesome people at Awesome Labs programmed them.

One game is Garbage Catch, where the user has to prevent garbage from reaching the ocean floor.

You can catch garbage before they fall onto the ocean floor and hurt sea creatures!

You can catch garbage before they fall onto the ocean floor and hurt sea creatures!

A visitor plays Garbage Catch.

A visitor plays Garbage Catch.

Another game is Net Escape, where you prevent unsustainable seafood from swimming into a large net.

Net Escape is a game where you prevent unsustainable seafood from swimming into a large net.

Net Escape is a game where you prevent unsustainable seafood from swimming into a large net.

A visitor plays Net Escape

A visitor plays Net Escape

The last game is Sustainable Seafood Market, where users are given two seafood options at a time. They must pick the sustainable over the unsustainable seafood. This was the toughest game for me to design, but it’s my favorite among the three. We initially called this Sushi Tinder (which is way catchier). I dedicate this to the chick I met who said she eats shark’s fin soup in weddings because “it’s already there”. RAGE.

Sustainable Seafood Market is a game where visitors have to pick the sustainable over the unsustainable seafood.

Sustainable Seafood Market is a game where visitors have to pick the sustainable over the unsustainable seafood.

After each game, the user can make a pledge to take care of the ocean. The pledges are all different and specific, such as “I pledge not to eat or buy shark’s fin soup from restaurants.”

You can pledge to take care of the ocean and have your photo taken by raising your arms like a starfish.

You can pledge to take care of the ocean and have your photo taken by raising your arms like a starfish.

Your Role in Sea Life highlights your impact on the ocean. Cris Mora made these amazing shadow sculptures out of garbage, showing an impaled turtle (one of the many species that suffer because of what mankind is doing to the oceans), cities which contribute to ocean problems, and the earth in the palm of a hand.

Shadow sculptures made of garbage made by Cris Mora

Shadow sculptures made of garbage made by Cris Mora

AGoS is made of primarily sustainable materials, such as the bamboo framework that houses the exhibition.

A Glass of the Sea features a sustainable bamboo frame.

A Glass of the Sea features a sustainable bamboo frame.

It also features an education space entitled “Ocean in Motion” where visitors can make their own sea creatures, learn about marine protected areas, etc.

Here is our education space where visitors can make their own sea creatures, learn about marine protected areas, etc.

Here is our education space where visitors can make their own sea creatures, learn about marine protected areas, etc.

We launched this yesterday, July 16, at The Mind Museum. The exhibition will stay there until October and then will get to travel all over the Philippines. Hurray!

The core team of A Glass of the Sea: Bryant Cabantac, Cris Mora, Maribel Garcia, Carlie Dario, Catherine Young, Darwin Cayetano. Not in the photo: Dem Bitantes and Walter Wong.

The core team of A Glass of the Sea: Bryant Cabantac, Cris Mora, Maribel Garcia, Carlie Dario, Catherine Young, Darwin Cayetano. Not in the photo: Dem Bitantes and Walter Wong.

Thanks for coming, Mom!

Thanks for coming, Mom! <3

Thanks for coming, Mom! ❤