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SEAΔ Program

(Yangon, Myanmar)—From September 16-19, the SEAD1 fellows gathered at the Pansuriya Art Space in Yangon, Myanmar for the final part of the SEAD program.

SEAΔ is a program co-created by Mekong Cultural Hub and British Council which creates space for cultural practitioners to reflect on how their work in arts and culture can contribute to sustainable development within South East Asia through their individual and collective leadership.

On Day 1, we looked back on what SEAD has done for us in the past year and what the future might hold for us. As an interdisciplinary art-science person, I really appreciate how much more exposed I am towards social and environmental issues, and also as a former journalist I shared my experience in communicating my work especially on the internet.

In the evening we prepared a Burmese dinner together, thanks to the fantastic team of Sa Ba Street Food Tours. I really love the tea leaf salad, and what a great introduction to delicious Burmese food.

 

On Day 2, we spent time getting to know some inclusive art spaces in Yangon, such as the Pansuriya Art Space where the fellowship was held, and The Able, a cafe and community space which employs hearing-impaired people. We also mapped out our networks and listed our skills, reviewing them as we slowly move forward from SEAD. It was a great say seeing how art can permeate different communities, and how far we ourselves have come.

 

In the evening some of us went to the beautiful awe-inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda, currently my favorite pagoda in all of Southeast Asia. I really liked the animal sculptures that all had some kind of symbolism.

On Day 3, the last day, we thought about our assets as artist and I realized I had more resources than I thought, and ideated on our insights, values, questions, and redefinitions that we had over the course of the nine-month fellowship. Critically (at least for me!) we worked out what our ladders of success (whether vertical or horizontal), and I diagrammed “The Art Dojang”—how I mapped out an arts career to taekwondo, because, well, what better metaphor do I have? We wrapped up the day sharing stories that connected us, and also filmed a message for the future SEAD2 fellows.

We wrapped up our time in Yangon at the wonderful Burma Bistro. It was quite a wild ride for the past nine months! This is the first fellowship I’ve had where I didn’t need to bring hot sauce. I’m really happy to have said yes to this opportunity to reconnect with my Southeast Asian half in a nurturing and safe environment and to think about the divergent ways I can manifest being an artist. I’m thinking about this experience in the context of a very productive year with very timely gigs, starting from The Unlearning Place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt to China Residencies and then Southeast Asia. .

My deepest thanks to the Mekong Cultural Hub’s Frances Rudgard, Jennifer Lee, and Patty Chan; creative facilitators Nicola Turner and Sudebi Thakurata; and the British Council’s Katelijn Verstraete, Daniel Donnelly and Julia Davies for taking great care of us and helping me grow through this process, and my fellow SEAD friends for being my teachers as well as colleagues. Very excited to take all that I have learned in the next steps. Can’t wait to begin again in Sydney! .

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From June 29 to July 4, the SEAΔ fellows of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council were at the “Asia on the Rise?” Conference hosted by the Association of Asian Studies at the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok, Thailand. There we presented the outcomes from SEAD Create, which our group held in Kampong Thom, Cambodia.

It was quite fun to discuss what we did with the local communities in Cambodia, from the workshops we held and the culminating Art and Environment Festival. At the very least, as I have learned presenting in different conferences, it was unique to have artists in an academic setting who actually reached out to communities that academics are studying.

Moreover, it was a joy to reconnect with my new friends and colleagues from all over Southeast Asia and the UK, comparing notes on what went well and what did not. We were divided into three groups and there were three very unique projects. Our group’s project, “Adapt to the Future” focused on how art can contribute to adaptation in the climate crisis. Through performances, exhibitions, and workshops for social development, the project inspired co-creation and action of Cambodia’s collective futures through the lens of climate change.

Another group, “Clayground Theater”, was a workshop series in Thailand using dance and craft to explore childhood memories. The third group, “Three Women and a Duck”, connects with groups inside several markets in Vietnam and Lao through an intimate sharing space, coming up with workshop sessions and recording stories, music, and objects.

Finally, it was fantastic to connect with so many amazing people in the conference and the Bangkok art scene. Bangkok is a dynamic, pulsating city packed with people in art and sustainability. We had field visits at the Fine Art Magazine office where we met Tawatchai Somkong, artist, editor-in-chief, and curator of the Thai Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale; the community in the beautiful Bangkok 1899, Chris Oestereich of Linear to Circular and the Circular Design Lab, and others thanks to MCH regional representatives Siriwat Pokrajen of Thailand and Mimi Heaungsoukkhoun of Laos.

Even on my days off, I was still meeting people, such as a chance visit to the traveling exhibition of the National Museum of the Philippines where they presented the pineapple silk cloths of the tropics, and some people from the UK and China art scene in the Airplane Graveyard. If I can still work in the decaying corpse of a Boeing 747, I know it was a good trip.

I learned many things during this trip. Among others, I have no doubt that it is imperative for the arts to be integrated into other disciplines to reach the communities that the latter aim to serve. I am so excited to be in this unique position to come from both the arts and the sciences doing projects on the environment, and to work with all of these incredible people. I look forward to how these experiences will shape me in the years to come.

All in all, it was a great week in Bangkok. Next up, SEAΔ Reflect in Yangon, Myanmar. See you, fam!

Thanks to Jennifer Lee and Patty Chan of Mekong Cultural Hub, our creative facilitators Nicola Turner and Sudebi Thakurata, Daniel Donnelly and Julia Davies from the British Council, and the Association for Asian Studies!

(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!

It’s almost 2019, and what a year 2018 has been! Here’s a year in review:

Personal

I started the year decluttering my parents’ house, stopped needing a cane from a hip injury, went back to training in taekwondo again, made lots of new friends, and reconnected with old ones. My dad was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and is back in Manila from treatment in New York. Apart from residency/fellowship travel (see below), I visited Lucerne (to see a friend), Bratislava, Berlin, Salzburg, and Bangkok (with extended family).

Research: Philippine jungles

I visited Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat sponsored by Great Escapes Philippines and Centre for Sustainability PH.

Exhibitions: Manila, Germany, Dublin

The Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest were part of the Manila Biennale in February. The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store was part of “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in September, and was also part of Science Gallery Dublin’s In Case of Emergency exhibition which closed in February.

Projects, Residencies, Fellowships, Awards: Vienna, Beijing, Taipei

From April to June I did a visual arts residency with KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery. I produced another body of work, Wild Science, which explores the role of science in society. There were fun collaborations, such as with Dr. Gerhard Heindl of the Schönbrunn Tiergarten for this piece, Der Tiergarten 1.0: Human Forces on the Animal Kingdom, and a photo shoot with some cool herpetologists and taxidermists at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Natural History Museum, Vienna). I also produced Letters for Science and asked youth from Eferding, Austria to write letters to climate change deniers.

In Manila in September, we finished photo and video shoots of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store and The Sewer Soaperie. I also started doing research for Wild Science on religion and beliefs in Quiapo, a part of Manila where Catholicism, Islam, and paganism intersect.

In Beijing in November for part 1 of the Crystal Ruth Bell Residency with China Residencies and Red Gate Gallery, I performed The Planetary Renewal Spa for the first time and did research for Future Feast. I’ll be back in March 2019 to finish the project.

I’m one of the ten inaugural SEAΔ fellows of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council with part 1 held in Taipei in late November. We were divided into four groups, and mine will meet in Cambodia in May 2019 to execute our project. We will all be together to present the outcomes in Bangkok in June and reflect on the program in September.

I did the second Year for the Planet edition, focusing on my clothing choices.

The Apocalypse Project was shortlisted for Best Climate Solutions Award by Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC).

This year’s Ritual Card is a Sunset Wheel, based on the cyanometer used by Alexander von Humboldt.

Talks: From Mental Health to Art and Social Norms

I spoke about artists and mental health in Manila, and spoke about art, science and social norms at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in Crossboundaries Beijing.

Media

I’m one of ArtReview Asia’s Future Greats for their Summer issue and was featured in my alma mater, the SVA NYC’s Visual Arts Journal for the Fall issue. I wrote an article for Vienna-based contemporary art magazine Springerin, entitled “A Different Shape of Progress: Contemporary Art and Social Inclusion.” I was part of a podcast by America Adapts (Episode 78: Flooding, Climate Change, and Art).

If you have been part of my year at all, thank you very much for your support! Here’s to another productive year. May 2019 be full of new work, growth, relationships, and life!

—Catherine

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It’s that time of the year when I finish all residencies, fellowships, talks, and exhibitions, and reflect on the year that’s about to pass. It’s been a wonderful year of learning from different cultures and finding other ways of pursuing my practice. In 2018, I held residencies and fellowships in Vienna (KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery), Beijing (China Residencies and Red Gate Gallery), and Taipei (Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council). This post recalls some of my favorite memories during Part 1 as a SEAΔ fellow. Head to this post for thoughts about my Vienna residency, and this one for my Beijing residency.


Hot off the heels of my residency in China was my fellowship as part of the inaugural SEAΔ Program of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. I flew to Taipei from Beijing and got to work.

SEAΔ is a program co-created by Mekong Cultural Hub and British Council which creates space for cultural practitioners to reflect on how their work in arts and culture can contribute to sustainable development within South East Asia through their individual and collective leadership.

The inaugural SEAΔ fellows from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, and the UK, together with staff from the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. Image credit: Mekong Cultural Hub

Each year 10 Fellows are selected from 10 countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. The program has 4 main gatherings spread over a one-year period where Fellows get together. Each gathering takes place in a different country and has a unique purpose: exchange, create, share then reflect.

The first gathering, SEAΔ Exchange, was held in Taipei, and after the week-long exchange, we were split into four groups based on our proposed projects, which we were going to iterate for the second part of the program, SEAΔ Create. I was with my co-fellows Sinath Sous (Cambodia), Zikri Rahman (Malaysia), and Thet Oo Maung (Myanmar)—a great fit since we were all working on sustainability in some way. For SEAΔ Create in May, our group will gather in Cambodia to execute the project.

Our project is in conjunction with Arts and Environment Festival 2019 in Kampong Thom, which SEAΔ fellow Sinath Sous is spearheading.  The platform will be opened for artistic exchange to encourage experience sharing of arts and environment to better address climate challenges. The objectives are to focus on capacity-building workshops based events to support the team in climate action and to promote local knowledge among development experts and governments on this topic of sustainable development project in the future. My part here involves co-designing art workshops and scavenger hunts for the participants to reflect on climate change impacts in Cambodia.

During the exchange in Taipei, the fellows finally met each other and it was great to learn about their work. We engaged in design thinking workshops, met with the creative community of Taipei, and learned from stellar speakers who shared their work. We also had opportunities to go outside of the city, such as meeting the staff and artists of the Bamboo Curtain Studio. Taiwan is an island bustling with creativity and promise.

The SEAΔ program was the most unique in all of the fellowships I’ve had, and certainly stands out among all of the things I’ve done this year. Frankly, this is one of the few fellowships I’ve had in Southeast Asia—an involuntary choice, seeing that most opportunities available to me have been in the West and in East Asia where I felt more culturally adapted to as a Chinese-Filipino who grew up in a Chinese community, and in the Philippines where American culture is widely available. While I have tried to pursue projects in my home region, such as a research trip earlier this year to Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat in Palawan, the Philippines with the Centre for Sustainability PH and Great Escapes Philippines, and the art residency I did with Plan International and the International Climate Initiative last year, finding funding for the projects I want to do will take time (and a bigger network and fairy dust), and it has been a lot easier and more logical to accept all these foreign opportunities while there were available and while I was within their age limits.

Applying to SEAΔ was my way of filling in the gaps in my world experience, and to be able to find something worthwhile to do considering that this region will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and am really excited for the rest of the fellowship. It was my first time in Taipei—a personal revelation according to my childhood friend Barbie whom I reconnected with in my Beijing residency was that the books we read in Chinese school were actually Taiwanese. This would give me a bigger identity crisis if my grasp of the Chinese language were any better. But the people were wonderful and the parks were free and the food was fantastic. Cambodia will also be a whole new world for me. I can’t wait for 2019!

SEAΔ Exchange, the first part of the SEAΔ program, happened from November 26-30, 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan. SEAΔ Create for my group will take place in Kampong Thom, Cambodia. Thank you to the wonderful staff of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council!