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11 August 2018, Manila—Last weekend, I was one of the three speakers asked to give a talk at this art space in Makati called Gallery in the Gutter (G.i.G.) about something other than climate change (woohoo!): mental health. Specifically, I spoke about how I take care of mine. But along the way, i debunk some stereotypes about artists, too.

As someone who regularly travels on residencies and exhibitions, I’ll be the first to tell you that this amount of travel can put mental health in jeopardy if one is not prepared. Here are some things I’ve learned about mental health, and how I’ve learned to take care of it through the years:

1. Mental illness can be inherited (whether you are an artist or not).

…And I wish I knew that anxiety ran in the family earlier than December of last year, when an aunt told me. I have a cousin who needs medication for anxiety, and some others who may be vulnerable to it, too. However, as they were raised in the US and me in Asia, our upbringing was different. I grew up in a disciplined Chinese environment where mental health was never discussed. If you had anxiety, that was disciplined out of you. I definitely recommend seeking help; speaking about mental health is thankfully not as taboo as it once was. Through the years, I have also developed my own strategies to cope. I still believe that the state of the world makes it difficult to not be worried about things, and so with years of learning different ways to be resilient, I’ve never needed medication (and hopefully never will).

I also talked about other misconceptions of artists, such as the left brain / right brain fallacy, and ways that artists’ brains are in fact unique, such as some structural differences.

2. Capitalism has made people work so hard at jobs they don’t love to buy stuff they don’t need at the risk of their relationships and happiness.

I believe in this point so much I placed it on two slides. This made me think of a recent article that said that artists’ brains are not motivated with money. But because we still live in a world of capitalism and unending growth, holy crap, what now? I think of this as an artist still early on in her career, where I count myself fortunate to still be able to do what I love and push myself to ask better questions through the auspices of the grants that have supported me, where I get paid to not conform. In between, I do get increased anxiety levels thinking about whether I should just stop all this and just, oh I don’t know, work in a bank or marketing or something. *shudder*

3. The strength of our relationships is the most important predictor of long-term happiness.

I didn’t say this, scientists did. When researchers tracked men for about 80 years, it turns out that the primary determinant for well-being was how satisfied they were with their relationships. My relationships—and the gratitude that comes with having good people in life—are definitely among my primary values. If I’ve ever given you one of my Ritual cards, thank you for being part of my life!

Another way I go this is by making Memory Boards where I print out photos of me with my friends. I think it’s great to have a physical way to remember people, instead of always seeing them online. Also, having photos of myself looking so happy has a mirroring effect, which is especially helpful when I’m at my lowest—if I felt that happy once, I can be that way again one day.

4. A healthy diet promotes good mental health.

Last year, you may remember the Year for the Planet: Food project I embarked on, where I fixed my eating habits for the sake of the environment. This accidentally made me a plant-based, meal-prepping, buy-in-bulk consumer with a fraction of her plastic waste (for it is impossible to be completely zero-waste in some cities). My unwitting foray into healthy eating also improved my moods and productivity and I’ve been a lot happier ever since. It also prevents me from eating junk when traveling.

I also spoke about where I get my information, seeing that misinformation abounds especially on the internet. Scientific literacy is something I spread in my work, and in my personal life, I tend to question everything. I am categorized a “Questioner” in Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies Quiz, and being a Questioner, I took this test multiple times in different points of a year and still got Questioner. I digress. When it comes to food, my go-to source is Dr. Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts website—I like how he references studies and how they got to specific conclusions.

5. Rituals are the safety net that holds everything together.

If I have been with you on an art residency, I may have offered to give you a facial massage. This isn’t for vanity purposes, though it has the effect of making one look years younger. (I am also at the age when getting carded is no longer a flattering affair, so really, this has more to do with general well-being.) Doing this every night relaxes me, an insomniac, into preparing for bed. I’m also one of those artists who don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, and instead I bring a bottle of lavender oil everywhere to help with anxiety.

Also, I’ll never forget how taekwondo has put me on the right track to self-care. Hurray for martial arts!

6. Nature heals.

Forest-bathing is a miracle. I would know; in my last residency in Vienna there was a forest right outside my house and I hiked two hours every day and felt fantastic. Coming back to Southeast Asia and the chaos of Bangkok and Manila right afterwards was quite a shock, and I snorted half a bottle of lavender to keep me sane. In Manila, I wish we had more parks where I could at least see something naturally green, or to wake up with birds or see a random fox on the grass.

7. Meaning is healthier than happiness.

Having a purpose or working towards something bigger than you is definitely better for overall mental health than chasing after petty pleasures. I’m really thankful for everything my projects have given me—friends and colleagues with similar values, a healthy lifestyle, an a realization that it’s not as hopeless after all.

Thank you, Mrs. Elizabeth S.P. Lietz and Alexa Arabejo for the kind invitation!

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February 24, Manila—I spoke about The Apocalypse Project at Dulo MNL’s “Proseso”, a creative forum focusing on the creative process of different collectives, artists, brands, and initiatives. It’s a free-format discussion among keynote speakers and attendees.

Photo by Instagram user @raizeleanor

 

P R O S E S O (ii): Sustainable Brands explores the hows and whys of local “sustainable” concepts that are making waves in raising awareness and growing environmentally conscious consumer cultures.

It was cool to speak with Dulo MNL founder, Alexa Arabejo, as well as Denuo, a clothing brand based in Manila that focuses on reclaiming, upcycling, and repurposing clothing through ethical practices and mindful means. Thanks so much for the invite!

It’s almost the end of 2016, so here’s a final wrap up of the talks I did by the end of the year:

1. Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange in USAID Asia

The Sewer Soaperie! Climate change! Cybernetics! More here.

Speaking at USAID's Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange

Speaking at USAID’s Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange

 

The Sewer Soaperie at USAID Asia

The Sewer Soaperie at USAID Asia

 

Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange

Climate-Resilient International Development Exchange


2. Bio-Art Seoul 2016 at Gwacheon National Science Museum in Seoul

Perfumes! Design! Cute kids! Climate change! More here.

Speaking at Bio-Art Seoul 2016

Speaking at Bio-Art Seoul 2016

 

Kids and parents at Bio-Art Seoul 2016

Kids and parents at Bio-Art Seoul 2016

3. New project

And finally,

I launched another project. Future Rx will house all my workshops, sustainability experiments, and other practical things I have picked up over the years. Check out the website here.

Future Rx: Make better choices for the planet

Future Rx: Make better choices for the planet

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!

SAMSUNG CSC

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!

 

 

The lovely Alexa Smith, founder of ArtFuture, sent me these clips of her interviews with me during The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures exhibition. Thanks, Alexa!

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store

The Weather Millinery

Climate Change Couture

This was after all the events we had, so if I look a wee bit exhausted to you, it is not a coincidence.

Also check out my and my friends’ talks here at swissnex San Francisco’s Apocalypse Project: Ideas for a Hotter Planet event, courtesy of the awesome Fora.tv!

It was fun talking about The Apocalypse Project, specifically Climate Change Couture, at Stage the Future 2: The 2nd International Conference on Science Fiction Theater. I couldn’t physically be there (boo), but I Skyped from Manila, waking up at 5 in the morning. It was a miracle I woke up at all, and even more miraculous that my wifi connection held up.

My view from a few thousand miles

My view from a few thousand miles

Many thanks, Chris Callow, Boyd Branch, Erika Hughes, and the rest of the conference organizers! Check out the conference site and their Twitter feed—I think it’s really great to have cool gatherings like this!

Ok, now I’m going back to bed.