[SIARGAO, THE PHILIPPINES] From January 27 to February 2, I participated in ColLaboratoire 2020, a week-long Research Residency program in multiple-disciplinary research and sustainability, especially in the context of Philippines. During the residency, ColLaboratoire Fellows explored applying imaginative, methodologically innovative, and radically multiple-disciplinary approaches to six Research Challenges related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For one week on the island of Siargao, a Protected Landscape and Seascape that is home of the largest marine protected area in the Philippines and is famous for its surfing, ColLaboratoire Fellows looked at innovative ways to address the Research Challenges that combine teaching with applied and multiple-disciplinary research practice.
Inspired by the successful ColLaboratoire 2016 research summer school, ColLaboratoire 2020 is a collaboration between the University of the Philippines Open University, the University of Plymouth, the CogNovo Foundation for Cognitive Innovation, and local and international partners from industry and civic society.
Having chosen the sixth Research Challenge, Reimagining Sustainability, this is what the brief included:
Different definitions of sustainability have been offered, and many of these emphasize the idea of development without compromising the needs of future generations. We start from the premise that like all conversations, the one around sustainability is a product of its time. To what extent are the UN Sustainable Development Goals shaped by current dominant ideologies, and how have ideology and language historically shaped the way people have thought and talked about sustainability? What happens when we consider the related notions of deep time, deep history, deep future, and geological thinking in our understanding of the problem? To what extent do current definitions of sustainability promote an endless perpetuation of life as we know it? What happens when we look at provocative or radical ideas surrounding sustainability to build a reconceptualization of it that pushes the boundaries (such as Angelo Vermeulen’s notion of “molecular sustainability”)?
Because sustainability is generally predicated on concern for multi-generational well-being, how might we bridge the gaps in priorities across populations and sectors, given that the most marginalized sectors–who comprise the majority of the world–are often concerned with pressing concerns of daily survival? To what extent can we leverage popular activities (such as digital and mobile games and esports) and arts-based practices as potential research tools or interventions, in order to develop critical perspectives and interventions on sustainability?
Working with other fellows from different disciplines and guided by facilitators, we focused on identifying gaps in sustainability and mapping out frameworks on what these are and what projects we could create around them. I appreciated how we spoke about our work and everyone in my group were given an opportunity to give feedback from their own perspective, which gave me a lot more ideas to keep moving forward. We were also mixed with the other groups sometimes in order to cross-pollinate ideas.
I was happy to share what I have learned from all my art residencies and fellowships, especially from The Apocalypse Project series. As my audience for that morning had a lot of younger people, I emphasised an attitude of continuing despite logistical or personal challenges, and how I was able to build a body of work over time despite initial failures and rejections.
One thing that I stood out to me in our discussions was talking about the divide between academic thinking and what actually goes on in the real world. I have always felt that academic jargon, while helping to unify concepts into a discipline, have also served to exclude a lot of people and further, to make things less clear. The English language is lacking when it comes to articulating indigenous concepts, and even the Filipino “translation” of sustainability—”likas-kayang-pag-unlad” feels like a forced concatenation of Filipino words of “nature”, “capability”, and “development” that still feels off the mark. We reflected on how local words like “pakikiramay” (“to grieve with”) or “kapwa” (“the self in the other”) are more understandable to local communities and feel like more authentic translation of academic terms such as “staying with the trouble” or “multispecies entanglement”.
Gaps in Sustainability
Looking at gaps in how sustainability has been defined and discussed, here are some gaps the Reimagining Sustainability group noted:
- Redefining Prosperity: post-consumerist resignification of well-being, mental well-being
- Questioning the Growth Dogma: post-growth paradigm for the SGDs
- Affective Education: Integration of cognitive and somatic knowledge (senses, emotion)
- Scale: Integrating techno-scientific and indigenous knowledge (ritual, liminality, connectedness
- Temporality: Deep history, space, time
- Revolution as a movement not as strife and chaos
- Need for chaos and disruption
- Multi-agency perspective
- Enveloping dynamic membrane
- Decolonizing sustainability
- How to avoid a “prison” – excess?, systems that open and close as required
- Commons/emergence – top-down monopolies
- Complex systems
- Thriving arts and culture
- Media literacy
- Council to oversee
- Only top-down management
- Lack of expertise, knowledge, co-creation, education, disaster recovery plan / budget, long-term planning, basic needs
At the end of the week, each group proposed a project to do for the next few months. Here is what we came up with:
A Creative Sustainability Policy that allows for the issuance of a Kapwa Certificate (“self in the other”) when a person goes through Liminal Space Training that Culminates in Padayon Fiesta (“to continue”) that aims to educate and empower the community on sustainability through arts and sciences
- A sustainability council that comprises different sections of the SDGs with members from marginalized communities such as women, etc. that issues a Sustainability Compliance Certificate that we call a Kapwa Certificate. This certificate allows them to design products and run businesses etc.
- The Kapwa Certificate can be earned by a Liminal Space Training or a Shamanic Somatic training that occurs year round.
- Experiential Role Play – disaster gym, aging simulations, environmental empathy, planetary renewal spa
- Floating evacuation center that functions as a community center when not in use
- Art classes in school where outcomes are to be exhibited in the fiesta, mangrove nurseries,
- The Padayon Fiesta (padayon means “to continue”) is a one-week fiesta that happens before the rainy season that serves as a culminating event to the training as a way for people to look forward to discussing these gaps in sustainability and as a tool to evolve a thriving community. Apart from base funding, the fiesta operates through a barter system where people can contribute their time and resources in exchange for knowledge and food throughout the fiesta.
- Citizen science scavenger hunts to get people on fact finding missions to generate knowledge for the community
- Tourists who come can barter their skills
- Disaster gym
- Teleserye that educates people on sustainability concepts
- Poetry workshops to define sustainability concepts in their language
- Cook-a-thon of ingredients that are remaining after a disaster to get people creative with their recipes
- Intergenerational talks to share resilience stories, design their community’s future, etc.
Beyond these five days, one of my favorite moments last week was reconnecting with some members of Biomodd, a socially engaged art installation that creates symbiotic relationships between plants and computers, and ignites conversations among the community around them. I was the Internal Communications Coordinator 11 years (11! My triplet cousins are this old!) ago in the Philippines before I moved to Barcelona. I checked the website and our old bios (and photos, lol) are still on it! Glad to reconnect with Diego Maranan, Collaboratoire 2020 project co-lead and Angelo Vermeulen, Biomodd founder, senior TED fellow and Collaboratoire 2020 Reimagining Sustainability co-facilitator, an Al Librero, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines Open University. Oh, you rockstars.
Reflecting on this week now that I’m back in Sydney, ColLaboratoire 2020 took me away from my usual ideate-as-fast-as-you-can thinking that years of being an artist-in-residence has developed in me. While thinking fast on one’s feet is a useful skill to have, I think this type of big-picture meta thinking is refreshing and definitely necessary in world with very integrated systemic challenges—something that short periods away from the studio such as ColLaboratoire and the Obama Leaders convening have given me. Thinking like this allows me, as an artist with very specific projects that can continue on indefinitely, to see how these connect with larger issues and what impact they can possibly have. I realise the utopia we were in, being in the amazing island of Siargao, while the bushfires, Taal volcano eruption, and coronavirus outbreak happened around the world, and it was quite a privilege to be able to be in a space like this. I look forward to what’s next.
Many thanks to the ColLaboratoire 2020 team, especially Project Co-Leads Diego Maranan and Mona Nasser, and Reimagining Sustainability facilitators Mona Nasser and Angelo Vermeulen. ColLaboratoire 2020 gave me a scholarship to attend the residency, while the UNSW Scientia scholarship facilitated my travel from Sydney to Manila.