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Speaking

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.

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11 October 2014, Seoul—I was part of a panel on Science Day at the Innovation Forum of Digital Art Weeks held at Seoul National University Museum of Art. Dr. Denisa Kera of Swiss Hacketeria and National University of Singapore gave the keynote speech. My fellow panelists included Dr. Tae-Sub Chung of Yonsei Medical School, Dr. Min Suk Chung of Ajou University School of Medicine, and Dr. Tai Hyun Park of the Advanced Institute of Convergence Technology of Seoul National University. The panel was moderated by Dr. Sunghoon Kim, Director of the Integrated Bioscience and Biotechnology Institute at Seoul National University.

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The Innovation Forum is a three-day symposium spread out during Digital Art Weeks Seoul, which runs until December. Science Day explores common themes on the crossroads between Neuroscience and Aesthetics in the arts and Bioinformatics and Biohacking art movement, bringing in and raising questions about the creative process, scientific inquiry and realm of empirical aesthetics. The panel I was on, “Convergence in Arts and Sciences”, raised questions around convergence of science and art and how they have been inseparable.

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I gave a talk on “Art, Science, and Planetary Futures”, chronicling my experiences in science and art through the different residencies and fellowships I’ve had in the world. I spoke about how art and science converged to give people new experiences, to empower audiences, and to break traditional formats. It was great to see familiar faces in the audience—from fellow alumni of the School of Visual Arts, the staff at the National Art Studio of Korea (now known as the MMCA Residency Changdong), and the Future Cities Laboratory. Even Denisa is a familiar face—she moderated our panel at ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands last year. It was like going to a big family reunion. Thanks, guys!

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Thanks to DAW International for the invitation, SNU MoA for the lovely venue and staff, and Kate Kirkpatrick for the photos.

[Seoul, South Korea] I’m happy to be back here in Seoul for a bit for some exhibitions and talks. One of those talks is in the interestingly named Emotion Engineering Department at Sangmyung University. Professor Jieun Kwon, my dear friend and fellow SVA graduate, warmly invited me to give a talk in her class and to observe the lab.

In the beginning of my afternoon in the program, I was impressed by a class assignment—the students had to draw diagrams about the definition of Service Design, and it was interesting to hear a design class in another language. Professor Kwon will be asking them to do another one at the end of the term so they can observe the difference and witness the breadth of what they have learned.

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They gave me a tour of the Emotion Engineering lab. We played with a Star Wars game that uses brain waves. Here we had to make the ball rise to the top.

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I took a few minutes to successfully do so—I thought my brain died—and Professor Kwon was a lot faster than me.

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Afterwards, I gave an artist talk about my background and how I came to do my projects on art and science.

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I’m really happy to be back in Korea; I have, as you know, a lot of great memories from this place and it’s great to be meeting new people. I think it’s fantastic how art, science, and technology are explored in different countries around the world, and how collaborations bring about the coolest projects.

Sangmyung University's Emotion Engineering program with Professor Jieun Kwon

Sangmyung University’s Emotion Engineering program with Professor Jieun Kwon

Warm thanks to Dr. Kwon and her class at the Sangmyung University’s Emotion Engineering program for hosting me!

 

Last November 16th, I spoke on the panel, Negotiating Cities of the Future, part of the ArtScience Conversations hosted by ArtScience Museum, together with fellow artist-in-residence Michael Doherty, Shannon Lim, William Hooi, and Luther Goh. The museum was kind enough to send me photos from my part of the panel.

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My talk was entitled, “The Apocalypse Playbook: Strategies for the End of the World.” I spoke about my previous work that led me to do The Apocalypse Project.

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For example, I talked about the Seoul43 project. Even talking about it made me recall the exhaustion of climbing more than 43 mountains. Ha.

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I also spoke about my previous sensory projects, such as The Hug Vest.

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I also talked about how I came to value interactivity and experience-based design through my previous jobs and lives. As a youth correspondent at The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of my favorite series of articles was something I called Temporarily Yours, where I took on a job for a day and wrote about it. My favorite one was about being a mascot for Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food chain. This is an 11-year newspaper clipping. In the job, I wore both suits, but for that particular photo, I was the blonde girl on the left.

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Oh hi again, my Art, Science, and Design slide.

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Dr. Margaret Tan, Fellow at Tembusu College and Director of Programmes, introduced us.

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Denisa Kera, professor at the National University of Singapore, moderated the event.

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Yep, I was wearing the Apocalypse Suit. I should wear that at all times. It’s comfy with a lot of pockets. It’s probably one of the few outfits I wouldn’t mind wearing everyday, other than a dobok.

This week, I and my fellow artist-in-residence Michael spoke in Tembusu College’s Singapore as Model City class.

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It looks like I’m singing, but I’m not. I was just saying hi and asking if they could hear me. Thanks, Dr. Margaret Tan, for the photo.

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I think I like it when the stage design is reversed and I’m looking up.

I won’t elaborate on parts of my talk that I’ve posted before, such as what happened during The Apocalypse Workshops or the comments on DrawHappy that made me rethink what the project could be about. So instead, I’ll emphasize some of the things I learned about experience design and collaborations between art and science.

Experience and memory
The image my have the last word, but for me, experience is the one that stay with you forever. I referred to a series of articles I wrote when I was a young journalist, oh so many years ago. This is a photo of me when I was 19 years old:

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In this photo, I was wearing the costume on the left, although I also wore the one on the right. These are mascots from Jollibee, a Filipino fast food chain that, for me, is one of the icons of modern Filipino culture and taste. It was for a series of articles called Temporarily Yours, where I took on a job for a day and then wrote about it. Looking back, these are exercises in empathy, albeit short ones, where I realized how it was to be on the other side of the fence. Most of these jobs were in food or customer service, such as a barista or a sushi chef. Others were about performance, such as a magician’s assistant or a zookeeper. In this particular article, I wrote about how it was to be a mascot and embody a character beloved by children. I still vividly remember these experiences more than a decade later, such as how the head of Hetty (the female character, short for “spaghetti”) was so big and difficult to balance, and how Jollibee’s butt was so huge, it took two guys to shove me through a door. You know, good times.

Projects like these have shaped my views on how I execute future projects. Though I don’t feel that my work fits just one area of inquiry, I think that the common thread between all of them is that of experience. Experience is very powerful. The image may have the last word, but in a world where we are saturated by images, I believe that experience makes these images last longer and gives them more meaning.

Korea and Experience Booths

My views on experience design have also been honed through seeing South Korea’s experience booths in festivals, which will always mark my memories of that country. In festivals in the US or in Europe, I would usually find people selling me a finished product, let’s say a ceramic pot. But in Korea, I will be sold the experience of making or painting my own pot. In this case, I will find myself sitting down at the booth and getting messy at the table, thus slowing down, making my experience more personal, and hopefully have a longer lasting memory than just having the generic festival experience. Perhaps I will end up treasuring the pot I made myself rather than just another cheap souvenir. I also think these booths give wonderful creative opportunities for families, children, and the elderly.

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A Korean experience booth on printmaking

Korea can get quite creative with their experience booths, such as this one I saw down south in Hampyeong.

I believe that the role of artists / scientists / designers is not just to have these unique experiences through their work, but to share these with others. Typically, we share that experience by writing about it for others to read. Through that reading, perhaps someone will profoundly connect with our writing. However, I think that human bonds can be stronger through a shared experience. Your audience can create their own experiences for themselves and yield results that are unexpected, like what I’ve learned from previous projects. This is when you realize that your audience teach you something as well, which is a wonderful thing. Projects become a conversation between creator and audience, which will only serve to fuel human creativity and progress.

Art, Science, and Sustainability

Personally, I believe that the wealth of human knowledge is too vast to just break down into two, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with these two fields: art and science. As I have been trained in both, I have felt what it was like on each “side”. I have been “the scientist” in an art/design studio, and “the artist” in a science lab. Both types of experiences have been very unique to me. Both sides have their own ivory towers. Those who choose to be in those towers, I think, should quickly parachute off. Our world is too vast and our problems too complex for petty squabbling. Unexpected things can happen when ideas from each side, as they say, have sex. Here is a nice comic by Bird and Moon that shows that.

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Image copyright by Bird and Moon

Collaboration is especially important in the realm of sustainability, which is a world I did not expect to enter. It’s quite a booming area, especially in Singapore. Everyone and your mother is doing sustainability.*  (That, and “cities” and “resilience.”) I referred (again) to this Ngram by xkcd.

*Did I really say that in a university class? Yes, I did.

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Instead of being a part of the echo chamber that such “trending” fields create, perhaps new solutions can emerge by letting disciplines hang out together, as they used to do, way back when.

In the end, I emphasized empathy to these bright eyed young students who are in the middle of creating sustainable urban interventions for their class. I said this as someone from the Philippines, a developing country. I cannot tell you how many international consultants in there right now, wanting to save it from XYZ problems. Now, I am very grateful that these brilliant people are there, and I am sure they have great intentions. Certainly foreigners can see opportunities locals may have overlooked, as I have had, being a foreigner in four other countries. But I’ve seen enough projects that never get implemented or never have their full potential realized because of these gaps in empathy. I believe we can do better.

Here at my art residency in Singapore, I’m busy this week giving workshops to students at Tembusu College, National University of Singapore. Before the workshop, I gave a short intro talk on The Importance of Talking to Strangers.

Having done participatory art for years now, I discovered that it’s imperative to engage people in these kinds of activities (workshops, experiments, etc) in the development of a project. The things that come out of these things are always insightful.

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For this week, I didn’t want to give another artist talk, as I wasn’t going to be the artist for the night. Instead, I talked about the things I learned while talking to strangers. Because these students are, after all, strangers to me. I gave two example projects and the lessons I learned from them.

The first project is Rorsketch. This project became more enlightening for me because strangers saw things I did not see. (Visit the project site here.)

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(Yes, the never-ending drawing-what-you-see-in-clouds project.)

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From this, which was initially something I did for myself, expanding it to include other people. Asking four people what they saw in this image will yield four different interpretations. I ended up embracing the inclusivity of the project—nothing was right or wrong.

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For the second project, I learned that strangers can extend my project beyond what I set out to do.

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I tried, but this project just won’t die. Viva drawing your happiness! Check out DrawHappy’s site here.

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Beyond the sketches people have sent me, what became additionally interesting were the comments left on the site, most of which are submitted months or years after I uploaded the drawings—a good case for putting everything online. I was already emotionally finished with the project, or was I? These comments made me think otherwise.

Here is one that made me think DrawHappy should be turned to DateHappy:TembusuWorkshop.030

And here is another that made me think of Craigslist Missed Connections (names are protected because by now, I’ve learned that the world is so small):

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As the one who actually administers the site and monitors and publishes the comments, I can’t tell you how I had to pick up my jaw from the floor when I get notified by email. I can’t wait what this apocalypse project gives me. Stay tuned.

Last May 5th, I gave an artist talk entitled Art, Science, and Interactivity at the Hangaram Art Museum in Seoul Arts Center for the International Sculpture Festa for a small audience. I and my friends from the National Art Studio were in the category “What Can Sculpture Be?” As an interactive artist, while some of my work can be classified as sculpture, I don’t really consider myself one in the most traditional sense of the word. Unlike most sculpture where Do Not Touch is written beside the piece, my work usually comes with a set of “experience instructions”—such as “Please Smell This Wall,” “Please wear this vest and hug someone,” etc. etc.

These are my notes and slides from the talk:

Art, Science, and Interactivity

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Annyunghaseyo. My name is Catherine, and I’m an interactive artist from the Philippines. I come to you from three fields of study, and from three cities around the world. The first is science, where I studied molecular biology and biotechnology in Manila. The second is Barcelona, where I studied contemporary art and poetry. The third is New York City, where I lived for five years and did my MFA in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts.

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Coming from many different worlds, I often asked myself what was the core of my interests? Finally, I realized that it was human perception. Our senses, or how we perceive the world. More specifically, I investigate perception and how it can bridge memory and play. The more aware we are of the world, the more we can explore and go beyond what we know, and the more we go beyond, the more we add to our storehouse of memories.

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1. Sculpture can facilitate human connection

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The Hug Vest
This is a vest made out of thermochromic fabric, so it changes color, from purple to blue when you touch it. For the past two years, I have been wearing this, and other versions of this vest, and hugging people with it. In these exhibitions, I invite people to hug me, and invite them to wear it and hug other people as well. Being able to tangibilize the hug through a color change seems to make hugging more fun, and gets people to touch more. What this project has taught me is that sculpture can facilitate human connection.

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2. Sculpture can go beyond sight

An Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities
For the next project, I want to first show you this image. Who can tell me what was going on here?

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Smell and memory are closely interlinked. In neuroscience, we learn that smell is processed in the region of the brain where memory is also processed. This explains why we can unearth deep-seated memories from decades back.

I’ve been doing experiments on olfaction, where I ask people to smell these pieces of paper with microencapsulated smells, so they’re very concentrated. Afterwards, I ask them what memory came to mind. The results were very surprising, because many of them recalled memories from a long time ago, as far back as twenty years.

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I was inspired by the results, so I created an Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities I’ve lived in – Manila, New York and Barcelona.

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It contains printed smells with my memory of the place. Of course, if you smelled this book, you have your own memories of the smell, and this creates a conversation among those perceiving art.

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So from this project, I learned that sculpture can go beyond sight, which is the most overused and oversaturated sense, at least for us who are not visually impaired. With smell, sculpture can be remembered longer, and the memory of the art persists.

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For this exhibition, there is a little wall of smells with twelve different smells on it, which you can sniff.

3. We can enable the audience to create his own experience with art.

Mondrian Hopscotch II
During my residency in Changdong, one question I wanted to explore was, Can you play with art?
So I created this hopscotch board in the style of Piet Mondrian, whose aesthetic is well-known and almost lends itself to the framework of a hopscotch board.

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I believe that my primary audience is children, so I invited some elementary schoolkids near the studio to play with the art.

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This taught me that sculpture can be played with, and in the course of playing, each person creates his own experience with art.

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4. Sculpture can build communities

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I’m in my fourth month of my residency here in Korea, and among the many things that fascinate me is this.

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The hiking culture in Korea is truly mind-blowing to me, and has led me to investigate the people doing it—mostly your elderly, the economics behind it—the fashion industry from high end places such as the North Face to the cheaper ones like those in Dongdaemun markets, to the exercise machines I see.

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Midway through my residency, I learned that there are 37 mountains in Seoul, and I decided to hike all of them. During each hike, I borrow a small jar of soil and track my hike with a smartphone app.

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The goal here is to hike all 37, take soil, and for the next time I exhibit this piece, get the audience to plant using any mixture of soil from all these mountains. After the exhibition, I hope to get 37 volunteers to plant these flora back to all the mountains, thereby returning the soil to where it came from.

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I’m interested in the idea of the earth giving me material, and instigating this human intervention that does something positive to a community and also to the earth. I’m also interested in doing a big project that is ephemeral. From this project, I see potential in sculpture that can help build communities, with consequences even after the exhibition.

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Thanks very much.

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