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Ni hao, you guys! I’m honored and excited to be selected from a pool of 700 artists for the 5th Crystal Ruth Bell residency by China Residencies, from November to December in Beijing. What an awesome way to round up the year! I’m looking forward to continuing my work in climate change and sustainability with the residency theme, Nourish. The last time I was in China was more than 10 years ago, on a journalism assignment / youth ambassador thing before the Beijing Olympics, so another visit is long overdue. Let’s get this Mandarin restarted, y’all. I even have my reusable chopsticks ready.

This is the second time I applied for this grant, so kids, it just goes to show: If at first you don’t succeed, eat your feelings then try again.

Xie xie, everyone! 我很高興!

More here: https://www.chinaresidencies.com/news/205

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I’m honored to be listed as one of the ten Future Greats by ArtReview Asia with me selected by Poklong Anading, one of the region’s top artists, for their Summer 2018 issue. This is truly the kindest thing anyone has ever said about me that’s Google-able, and it’s more than I deserve. Thank you very much!

“I was invited to be on a jury for a residency in France, she applied and that’s where I first came across her name. She’s not so active in the local scene in Manila and more into producing works through residencies outside the Philippines. Nevertheless, it was a real surprise that no one in the local scene knew her. I find her work very interesting because there is a scientific base to it (she has collaborated with scientists, local communities, corporate entities and chefs), and it’s rare to see this. You have to study her work to really feel it, because it has a delicate nature. She’s concerned with the environment in a way that’s not so close to my own concerns (even though I’m doing some research on sewage systems in various countries): she has a way of working that’s more accurate, more responsible.

Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be part of the art scene: why are we making art rather than fixing society? The more art that is made, the more it spreads and the more problematic it becomes: we talk about a problem rather than addressing it. But Catherine uses art to bring extra perspectives to bear on environmental and social issues, which leads to a better understanding of the problems, and that’s what impresses me. Works from her Climate Change Couture (2013) series, part of The Apocalypse Project (2013–; an interdisciplinary platform that seeks to reveal the humane face of climate change), for example, draw on the disciplines of design and fashion to produce artworks in the form of wearable costumes that speak about what humans might have to do to adapt to climate change. I trust her knowledge. For me artmaking is more poetic, but I see the weight of knowledge behind her work as giving it importance. More than that, she plays with things and mixes things up. Her Sewer Soaperie series (2016) uses research into so-called fatbergs, conducted in Manila and Medellín, to trace the journeys of various cooking oils, ending up in the saponification of various used cooking oils and greases collected from sewers and open pipes in Manila (interestingly the saponification of used palm oil raised questions about how pure it was in the first place). She has a sharp mind and is very serious about what she does.”
—Poklong Anading

Works featured here are from The Apocalypse Project, a body of work that explores climate change and our environmental futures, specifically Climate Change Couture (2013) done during a residency at the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory, and the Sewer Soaperie (2016) created during a residency at Casa Tres Patios and Platohedro.

I’m very cognizant of how I’m able to do my work thanks to residencies and fellowships, as well as the generosity of time and resources of a lot of people. I’m going to work really hard for this to come true. Many thanks to all my previous and current collaborators!

View the article here.

I’m delighted to announce that The Apocalypse Project is in the running for the Best Climate Solutions 2018 Award for “Communicating Climate Change Threats and Opportunities”! I’m hoping to fund a future series of projects benefiting an indigenous rainforest community in the Philippines, and to create an arts-led curriculum that outlines the frameworks of the climate change adaptation projects and workshops I’ve been leading in all of these places in the world you’ve seen me in.

The online voting procedure will be open from September 24, 2018 until October 15, 2018 (5.00 pm CEST).

View the entry here.

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!

 

Wild Science debuted at the group exhibition of the artists-in-residence supported by the Austrian Federal Chancellery and KulturKontakt Austria. Shown in the exhibition are Der Tiergarten 1.0: Human Forces in the Animal Kingdom, Scientific Method, The People’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Letters for Science, and Poetic Microscopy. The show runs from June 11 to 21 at the exhibition hall of the Chancellery at Concordiaplatz in Vienna, Austria.

 

Last April 16th, I gave a talk at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, together with some of the other artists in the residency. I’m writing about some highlights for those who missed it.

I often talk about being part of the different worlds of art, science, and design, and when I was younger, I used to think deeply about their definitions. What was “art”? What was “science”? What was “design”? One can slide down a very long rabbit hole.

But nowadays, I find it more relevant to use all of these skills and knowledge to address environmental and social concerns of society.

I talked briefly about some of my projects in The Apocalypse Project. This year is its 5th year, hurray!

In the years of doing art about climate change, I sometimes see some art projects as a way to curb the disturbances that prevent systems from running smoothly.

I’ve also had lots of opportunities to think about making and distributing this thing we call “art”.Then I segued into why I was beginning a new body of work, Wild Science. It was because the discussions we have around sustainability have changed over the years. Since I started The Apocalypse Project, the world went from wondering what is climate change to fighting climate change denial to finally starting to address the broken systems that got us to where we are today.

Here in my residency in Vienna, there are two general things I have been doing. The first is finding artistic responses to historical knowledge in the context of our post-truth, filter bubbled era.

For example, looking at the Globe Museum, while it may seem old and stuffy, I find it to be extremely important especially since we live in a world where some people still believe the world is flat. I loved looking at the old globes—essentially old models of what we thought the world was like and thus, what our place in it was—and am thinking of the other arbitrary lines and divisions we have made.

Another thing I’ve been obsessing about in Vienna is their cake culture. I love cake, and there is cake in all the other places I’ve lived in, but here in Vienna they do cake very differently. From the well-trained servers to the logos that declare the confectioner to have baked for emperors past, it has become a symbol of something that no longer exists—the old dynasty—and still we consume it.

I’m currently looking at the power dynamics of cake. How does it go from an exclusively imperial institution to something that commoners and tourists can now partake in? There are 360,000 Sacher tortes that are made each year and 1/3 are shipped overseas. That’s a lot of demand for chocolate cake that is kinda dry.

I talked about what i think art can give—a set of alternative norms to counteract the present norms in society. I believe that art can change mindsets and behaviors if we can do it convincingly enough.

I ended with one of my favorite quotes: “Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous.” So my fellow artists, let’s go out there and be a menace.