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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!

 

 

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Hello, apocalypters! I’m excited to announce that as a culminating event for The Apocalypse Project: Imagined Futures, The Mind Museum is collaborating with Radio Republic to bring you Future Feast, a celebration of human creativity and our hopes for a sustainable future. The event will be on July 26, Saturday, 12PM to 7PM at the Special Exhibition Hall of The Mind Museum.

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With the theme of Redesign, I am working with chefs who are creating new dishes for a Convenience Store of the Future. Radio Republic is bringing in their featured artists for July: Slow Hello, Jireh Calo, and Brisom. There will also be a performance by special guest artist Joey Ayala. This is an event for all ages, so bring in your families and get the kids to play at the Tinker Studio, watch spoken word performances and science shows, dress up in clothes from the Climate Change Closet and have your photos taken at the photo booth, smell the perfumes of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, participate in Mission Apocalypse Scavenger Hunt and win an Apocalypse Project Commander Badge, and think of how you can help build a sustainable future by making an Earth Pledge.

Future Feast poster by The Mind Museum, which highlights activities

Future Feast poster by The Mind Museum, which highlights activities

Future Feast poster by Radio Republic, highlighting featured artists, special guest artist, and the chefs

Future Feast poster by Radio Republic, highlighting featured artists, special guest artist, and the chefs

Ticket prices are as follows:

EXPLORE TICKET (All Day Pass to the galleries of TMM, Access to Live Performances, Mission Apocalypse Scavenger Hunt & Climate Change Closet): 500.00 PHP

TASTE TICKET (Access to Live Performances, Future Tastes (6 dishes), and Climate Change Closet): 300.00 PHP

DISCOVER TICKET (Access to Live Performances and Climate Change Closet): 200.00 PHP

TINKER TICKET (Access to Tinker Studio: Make your own Animal Art): 150.00 PHP

You can buy tickets online here. You can also buy your tickets at the museum on the day of the event. No reservations are required.

See you there!

 

Recently, a teacher of one of the classes to whom I gave a workshop during my residency here in Korea asked me if I benefited from the visit as much as the students did. On that day, I gave a short talk in the exhibition hall, and the children drew, created their own games, and together we went through my studio upstairs. I suppose that for most people, these would fall into the category of Favors You Don’t Really Want to Do But Feel Forced To—”occupational hazards” that goes with the territory.

But as one who operates on interactivity, and one who is still in the “emerging” process, I think I actually need these visits. I’ve done three talks/workshops in Korea in the five months I’ve been here, and for one of those, I was actually the one who asked the program manager to find young people who would want to visit the studio. This doesn’t apply to all artists, of course, and quite a lot of my favorite artists prefer to be left alone, as I do most of the time. Creativity for me thrives on solitude, and anything that takes me away from my primary goals is an interruption.

But visits, particularly of the workshop-py kind and particularly from children, are special to me. (Personally, I prefer kids who are 12 years old or younger, and with at least one chaperone, thanks!) Giving a Keynote presentation is just 20% of the experience. The other 80% is about the conversation that goes on between them and me, between them and my work, and among themselves. Here are five reasons why I think I should make a conscious effort to get out of the confines of my studio and make sure I keep bringing people below five feet tall to see both process and finished piece.

1. Children bring me back to the essence of the work by asking the toughest questions.

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Thankfully, children do not ask me any pseudo-intellectual academic queries. I also know they probably don’t care  (at least directly) about the institutional strings that come with my work, such as the artist statement, the photos, the website, the design, the branding, the talks, the tweets, the blog posts, and all the administrative work I have to do in the background. Apart from the fun they have during those few hours, they will likely not care about my work or me once they step out of the studio—it’s just another day for them, and they have no ulterior motives. I think this is why they ask me questions that make me go, “Yikes, I didn’t think of that.” It makes me think more deeply and objectively about my work.

2. Children ask questions of themselves and of each other.

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When children use my projects as frameworks for self-discovery, it is incredibly rewarding. I remember telling a friend after one workshop that the peak of a project’s “happiness curve” (yes, I have that for all the things I have done) was that day, seeing excited kids jump on my work and doing drawings, instead of the exhibition that came soon afterwards.

3. Children are great prototype testers.

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…because they know what to do and they don’t even have to ask questions and it’s faster to get results and oh my god with adults sometimes you have to FORCE that window of childlikeness and wonder open with a metaphorical monkey wrench and geez at the end we’re both exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. With children, it’s just easier. There, I said it.

4. Children make me admit my mistakes without shame.

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This is something I had to admit to myself only after discussing my work a number of times to different people, but I discovered that with children for an audience, my intention is to delight, while with adults as an audience, my intention is usually to impress. Guess which one is a lot more fun?

5. I am forced to clean up.

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This seems like a silly thing to add, but it’s good to be forced to make sure the studio is tidy, that I have sensible presentations on hand, and that I am showered and presentable. Before, you know, I go down that rabbit hole.

 

Each year, thousands of locals and tourists alike gather in the island of Jindo, where Korea’s version of Moses’s parting of the Red Sea occurs. Here, the tide goes down and opens up a 2.9-kilometer “sea road” from Jindo to the island of Modo.

On cue, the crowds start to move forward.

Off to Modo

Off to Modo

It’s not everyday one walks the sea!

All of us bought brightly colored boots for sale during the festival.

All of us bought brightly colored boots for sale during the festival.

The sea level progressively decreased as I walked.

The tide goes down.

The tide goes down.

I only made it halfway to Modo when local officials on boats started ringing bells and ordered everyone to go back to the shore, as the tide started to return. It was a dash of panic as we stumbled on the uneven sea floor back to shore. I recorded my walk panicked run back to Jindo with the MyTracks app.

Turning back halfway

Turning back halfway

Although scientifically, the main reason for this phenomenon is tidal harmonics (a nice explanation of it appears in this National Geographic article), the local legend goes that a tiger used to terrorize the people on Jindo, who finally fled to Modo, leaving Grandma Mulberry behind. She missed her family and prayed to the Dragon King, who appeared in her dream, telling her that he will set a rainbow bridge over to Jindo. Indeed, a rainbow bridge appeared, and villagers from Modo came over the bridge to look for her. She passed away soon after.

This statue commemorates the legend.

Grandma Mulberry and the tiger

Grandma Mulberry and the tiger

This is definitely the coolest thing I’ve experienced in Korea so far, especially since it was a beautiful and unusual mix of science and culture. I definitely want to go back next year.

In Seoraksan, a mountain in the east of South Korea, it’s like a calligraphy painting that came to life. It was a grueling yet doable trek, with me giving high fives and fist bumps to the friendly elderly Korean people who regularly climb these mountains. It seemed as though they do it without breaking a sweat.

(I want to be an ajumma when I grow up. Such respect for these badass people who are so physically fit and look as though they just stepped out of a hiking catalog.)

It's like a calligraphy painting that came to life!

It’s like a calligraphy painting that came to life!

I bet it will look beautiful in the fall. I bet that’s enough reason for me to go back.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

There is nothing like getting physically and mentally pushed to my limits to power me through the second half of this residency. Hwaiting!

Last December 1st, I held my first draw-a-thon. (You know what a marathon is, right? It’s just like that, except that you’re drawing.) It was at the Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum) of Manila, Philippines, for their Children’s Advocacy Program. I brought in two of my projects, DrawHappy (a global art project on drawing your happiness) and Rorsketch (a visual perception project where you draw your interpretations of clouds). After showing them some current sketches and making them warm up their hands, we got to drawing.

Kids, I have to say, are not only talented and completely open to new experiences, but also insatiable when it comes to pouring their imaginations on paper. The terror of a blank canvas doesn’t apply much. Here are some of the sketches:

Rorsketch

DrawHappy

And some photos of how it rolled:

Then we had chocolate ice cream, fudgee bars, and grape juice. Oh, to be eight years old again!

Thanks so much to the Museo Pambata for hosting me! Visit them on your next trip to Manila. And do emaill me at theperceptionalist[at]gmail.com if you’d like to do a draw-a-thon in your school or organization.

My dreams of the sleeping kind are often about flying, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I’m considering aviation. However, as someone who nearly fell out of a building at 8-years-old, I am afraid of heights. But childhood trauma be damned! As a tiny yet tangible step to being an actual explorer, I went on an ultralight for a ride overlooking the Philippine city of Angeles (about 1.5 hours from Manila) two Sundays ago.

Rorsketch: The Flying Edition

The desire to fly, or be up in the sky without the stressful ordeal of commercial flights, to which I am no stranger, also has something to do with my cloud project. For years now, I’ve looked up at the clouds. It would be awesome if I can actually be at the same height as them!

Arayat is a mountain with its own share of myths that feature gods who battle other gods and/or giants in nearby mountains or disguise themselves as humans.  It’s pretty. I want to climb it. But that will be another story for another day.

On the way, the clouds were already teasing me:

Arayat. With clouds! Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping the car.

Arayat. With clouds that look like the food chain. Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping the car.

It’s difficult not to imagine the Wright brothers, who worked on planes and gliders of a similar size. The smallness of it! It’s like a bike with wings. But here goes nothing:

So this is an ultralight. From afar, it's like a dragonfly.

So this is an ultralight. From afar, it’s like a dragonfly.

Fist in the air! I'm afraid of heights, but it was not the time to think about that. Photo by Steph Tan.

Fist in the air! I’m afraid of heights, but it was not the time to think about that. Photo by Steph Tan.

Up, up, and awaayyy!

Up, up, and awaayyy!

A bicycle in the sky

Flying via small planes has often been compared to being on a roller coaster with invisible tracks. Unlike commercial flights, which can give you the similar, and sometimes even better views, there is no barrier between you and the atmosphere. You control the vessel (well, Captain Max who was sitting on my right did, but he let me work the controls for a bit) and it is like riding a bike in the air. It’s quite exhilarating. And the skies told their stories:

The clouds are like the net that's catching the moon! Do you see it?

The clouds are like the net that’s catching the moon! Do you see it?

What I like about flying in relation to this project is that it makes me a part of the canvas now.

Yes, I'm in there! Photo by Steph Tan.

Yes, I’m in there! Photo by Steph Tan.

The change of height and vessel also brought about one crucial, if not obvious, thing: I can see the ground below. And so grass and fields and roads turned into playgrounds of visual perception as well. Living in big polluted cities all my life, it is always startling to see huge patches of green. While we were rocked by scary gusts of wind, it was air that tasted of rain and sunlight and coconuts.

I see a tangram. Sort of. You?

I see a tangram. Sort of. You?

Broccoli!

Broccoli!

That day, my friends and I witnessed another plane doing aerobatic sequences in the sky using a bright yellow biplane. My jaw dropped, and I stared for several minutes. Then I started squealing. I can’t wait to do that eventually.

It's a bright yellow biplane and it's absolutely gorgeous.  And I think it was doing the sky equivalent of cartwheels.

It’s a bright yellow biplane and it’s absolutely gorgeous. And I think it was doing the sky equivalent of cartwheels.

A hangout in the hangar (Yes, puns are not funny)

When the plane landed, I marched up and interrogated the pilot, Captain Mike, who humored us and described how the plane was made. Back in the hangar, he pointed out a pair of wings being made. Each part has its own paperwork so that it can be traced should anything go wrong.

The skeleton of a wing.

The skeleton of a wing.

Even the hat and glasses are very steampunk. Look!

I want that hat.

I want that hat.

Planes in the hangar. Valet parking provided.

Planes in the hangar. Valet parking provided.

On the way back, we had fresh coconut juice from the roadside. The sunset painted the clouds a pale orange, and I caught two that looked like dolphins. The day was almost too cinematic.

I see kissing dolphins!

I see kissing dolphins!

I grew up loving Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and was thrilled to learn that the author himself was actually a pilot. I’ve devoured his other writings, especially Wind, Sand, and Stars, Night Flight and Flight to Arras. I think traveling in general allows for creativity, but traveling alone allows you to get lost in yourself and discover these pure grains of truth that shape you without you consciously knowing it. I think this has been the reason why I keep moving and seeking new and strange experiences, and once you start, it’s difficult to stop.

Steph and Kristel Tan, and me. Thank you, ladies!

Steph and Kristel Tan, and me. Thank you, ladies!

Thanks to Stephanie (@StephLTan) and Kristel Tan, The Angeles Flying Club, Captain Max, and Captain Mike!

Rorsketches to be posted soon. But check out previous ones here