I’m stoked to be interviewed by Jo of Occupational Hazards! Thank you for having me!
• • • • • • Catherine Sarah Young is an award-winning artist, designer, and writer. She uses her background in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design to create interdisciplinary, experimental artworks on the environment.
We discuss her unique approach to climate change awareness, including taking inspiration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to produce art on the Australian bushfire crisis, as well as creating perfume and sewer soap to make the effects of climate change more tangible (because, as she points out, we all have “dying polar bear fatigue”).
Cat has collaborated with researchers, industry, and non-profit organizations all over the world. She is currently a Scientia scholar at UNSW Sydney working on climate change and sustainability, an Obama Leader for Asia-Pacific, and part of Team HB6 of @homewardboundprojects for Antarctica (100 women with a background in STEMM – science, tech, engineering, math, and medicine).
Despite the international acclaim she has received, she places more value on “milestones of resilience” and incremental improvement, drawing from her taekwondo training (she’s a second-degree black belt) to impart life lessons.
This episode is dedicated to all the interdisciplinary thinkers, martial artists, anyone trying to approach a problem from a creative new angle, as well as everyone going through the process of “unlearning.”
OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS is a series of candid conversations with inspiring people as they share their path to finding their calling and all the gritty realities of their jobs. Whether you want to demystify your dream job or get a peek into other people’s work lives, then this is the podcast for you.
Available via the link in bio, Apple, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
Happy 75th anniversary to the Fulbright Program! I remember my time as a Fulbright scholar at the Interaction Design program of the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 2010-2012, where I explored my multi-hyphenate path art, science and design path with some wonderful mentors and colleagues. Almost a decade later, the projects I did as an MFA student remain the foundation of my art practice today. It was an honour to turn all my thesis projects into TEDx talks I delivered at Yale. Living in New York was one of my most memorable times, including my interning at the American Museum of Natural History, reading poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club, training for my first degree black belt in taekwondo, and giving my first (very nervous) talks. Capping my experience was graduating from Radio City Music Hall with Laurie Anderson as our keynote speaker. Living in NYC was life-changing—it supercharged my resilience and skills in working with others from diverse backgrounds. These were some of the best two years of my life that launched a lifetime goal of pursuing art, design, and research to address planetary issues and positive change.
The Fulbright Program now operates in 160 countries and has provided over 400,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and in all fields the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to complex global challenges. Learn more about the world-changing work of the program at Fulbright75.org.
It just got real for #TeamHB6! I can’t wait to be your artist at Antarctica!
From Homeward Bound:
“What better day to introduce to the world the amazing cohort of women that make up Homeward Bound’s 6th cohort? Happy #InternationalDayofWomenInScienceand Welcome #TeamHB6! This inspiring group of women are all at different stages of their careers, they work across a huge range STEMM disciplines, and are spread across the globe, but they all understand the need for more women at the table.”
One of my wonderful PhD supervisors here in Sydney asked me a bunch of questions about what martial arts to get her kids to learn and suggested it would be helpful to get all my comments in one post so here I go:
I’ve trained in taekwondo for more than twenty years in various countries and was taught by over 40 coaches (only two were female) with some former Olympians / Asian Games / ASEAN Games medallists and military guys. If I had a favorite part, it was poomsae (forms / patterns that simulate a fight) and all the kicking drills. I never competed despite some cajoling by some coaches because I felt like I already have to compete so much at work with all these art fellowships and competitions that I just wanted something for myself. I picked taekwondo because it was one of the most available and standardised, so wherever I am in the world, there would be a dojang to train in. I don’t think there is a “best” martial art despite what some people say. I have nothing against any of them and just stuck with one as you gotta commit so you can progress in your skills. I think having a good coach that instills the right values and proper skills in you as well as training consistently are the most important things.
Here are the martial arts I’ve tried:
• Taekwondo (mostly kicks) / Hapkido (a bit of everything, including traditional weapons…I find this to be one of the more balanced martial arts) / Karate (mostly striking) / Kung fu or wushu (training methods inspired by old Chinese philosophies; a lot of animal mimicry and traditional weapons) / Aikido (self-defense that also protects the attackers from injury) —These are all great and usually easy to find a gym to train in if you’re in a major city.
• Kendo (swords) and capoeira (There’s singing and musical instruments which hits my Filipino side, and I find that capoeristas tend to be the friendliest and most socially well-adjusted martial artists.) — These are great, too, though I have a harder time finding studios and may try them out if I find one nearby.
• Judo has a lot of flipping and jujitsu a lot of grappling and I’m not so keen on these as I don’t like the idea of my head hitting the mat or touching a bunch of sweaty guys, but go for it if it’s your thing.
• I’m also throwing in Eskrima/Kali/Arnis/Silat and other Southeast Asian martial arts as someone who did some of these for gym class growing up, though these are more niche and I recommend these for older kids. I sometimes do arnis and capoeira to cross-train with taekwondo. I like giving arnis sticks to my taekwondo coaches as goodbye presents, too.
I personally recommend any of the martial arts with a strong belt system—these develop discipline and perseverance in kids because they know they have to go through a certain training period before progressing to the next step which is a great metaphor for life. Many coaches will incorporate some lessons from other martial arts; for example, I often trained hapkido self-defense moves in taekwondo. Some people think martial arts are not practical but these are about self-control and not getting into a fight to begin with. Most of the deadliest people I know are the most zen and have the highest emotional intelligence and empathy.
For me, the location of the studio was very important because it meant I could train more consistently. The dojang I got my first degree black belt in was three blocks away from design school in New York and the one I got my second degree black belt was six doors down from my first art residency in Seoul so I trained almost everyday. I don’t think being a black belt is the end of anything or that I’m the best at anything, but it does signal some level of competency and more importantly, a sense of transcendence and the beginning of something bigger.
Over the years I’ve seen that many people (myself included) get into martial arts because of problems—either external ones such as issues at work or school or in relationships, or internal ones such as behavioral issues and anger problems, etc. Martial arts is great because you learn to take hits and keep going despite setbacks, and most importantly, to learn and master oneself. I’ve had depression twice as an adult and taekwondo was the one of the things that pulled me from the abyss. I knew growth was happening when instead of bringing my depression to training, I ended up bringing what I learned in martial arts to the real world, and now I feel like I can take on anything. As a woman who’s more on the femme side and seems too happy in training (nothing makes me happier than the sound of my foot hitting a kickpad), no one is more shocked that I “graduated” than me, but that’s just because I kept at it and didn’t see the black belt as the end. (On a side note, never ask “How long does it take to get a black belt?” to a coach. It irritates the beejezus out of them and from what I’ve seen, those were my classmates who usually don’t achieve it because they never stuck around long enough and were too impatient.) It took me 13 years to get my black belt because I travelled a lot and had to unlearn some things from the previous studio, and so on.
While the coaches are obviously important, I also don’t want to place excessive value on them, as I would learn later on as an adult. The guru-fication of masters (hello Cobra Kai) feels like how Gwyneth Paltrow gooped yoga; the best coaches I’ve had taught me to be self-reliant and resilient even when I left the studio and the country.
I think the best thing about martial arts is traning a sense of responsibility for yourself and for others, and knowing that everything in life is part of your overall training to be a good human. You know when you’ve progressed a bit when you’re assigned to teach someone who is new to class, and some of the most humbling moments I’ve had were having to help teach kids with behavioral issues, or in one class, a mom and her young son who were a survivors of domestic violence.
As a kid, I had some romanticised notion where I thought of martial artists as the most well-rounded people in society (i.e. not just kick-smart, but also book-smart and current events-smart). We do not live in an ideal world and so while I love taekwondo to bits there have been not-so-happy times, such as being around the dumb jock and/or sexist archetypes, those who turned out to be conspiracy theorists (LOL), and a mild sexual harassment case nine years ago in New York that was quite traumatising and gave me PTSD for years afterward and almost made me give up the sport. I think this is partly an effect of the extreme commercialisation of martial arts (and everything else in our neoliberal world) that prioritises belt progress and competition above overall character development and education; I imagine there are academic papers out there that write about athletes’ bodies being used for political gains in events like the Olympics only to toss them aside once they’ve earned their medals, for example. But it has brought me some of my best friends in the world; a sixth sense of showing up, following through and finishing what I started; and I think this has protected me as a woman in the art world (and any world) especially as someone who has lived and worked in many countries in challenging situations. I have never had to hurt anyone and I hope I never have to, and that’s when you know your training worked.
Some other things to think about when finding a gym/studio/dojo/dojang:
• Coach – Obviously they must keep students safe, train them with honor, start and end class on time, etc. I like the studios with assistant coaches especially if the class Is large.
• Culture – Some studios are designed to get students to compete and rack up medals, while some are mainly for fitness. I am an old lady and choose the latter.
• Alignment with the international governing body (e.g. World Taekwondo, World Karate Federation, etc.) as these are how they standardize the curriculum so you know it’s legit. If you or your kid transfers to another studio then at least you’re not starting entirely from scratch.
• Practical things like equipment and uniforms and whether you have the budget to buy and maintain them
One can debate forever as to which martial art is the best one for you and your kid, but I think the most important thing after trying some classes and narrowing your choices is to begin. The second most important thing is to see it to the end and get your black belt. The third most important thing is to keep going even after. Now isn’t that what we must do in life as well?
I hope this helps! Get your kids (or yourself) into martial arts!
I’m beyond excited to be selected for cohort 6 of Homeward Bound, a ground-breaking, global leadership initiative, set against the backdrop of Antarctica, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet. I will be joining 99 other women in STEMM, first through a virtual leadership program, followed by an expedition to Antarctica in 2022 (depending on the Covid-19 situation).
Thank you to friends and mentors who encouraged me to say yes, and to my colleagues and friends at SEAD and the Obama Leaders Asia-Pacific—my first leadership programs—to make an artist feel that she’s up for this!
I can’t wait for the journey of growth ahead. Stay tuned!
(US)—I’m stoked to be on E-Squared Magazine, featuring work from the Climate Change Couture series.
E-Squared is an international print publication that draws from both art + science and is the embodiment of this synergy. Issue No. 5 is about the Water Cycle and includes work from artists around the world in 170 pages.
Founded & directed by Emily A. Dustman and archived in Stanford Libraries, E-Squared sets out to present new and groundbreaking ideas developed by artists, scientists, engineers, and all thinkers alike. By blending art and science, E-Squared seeks to generate questions, creative thought, experimentation, collaboration, and innovation with the hope of sparking real social and cultural change.
The works above come from various exhibitions, including The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures (2015) and my residency in Medellin, Colombia (2016).
I’m stoked to contribute my first academic book chapter in Communicating in the Anthropocene: Intimate Relations” edited by Vail Fletcher and Alexa Dare. I’ve given the final chapter: Subversive Art: Communicating the Climate Crisis on a Planetary Scale, which details my art practice, specifically The Apocalypse Project body of work.
The purpose of Communicating in the Anthropocene: Intimate Relations is to tell a different story about the world. Humans, especially those raised in Western traditions, have long told stories about themselves as individual protagonists who act with varying degrees of free will against a background of mute supporting characters and inert landscapes. Humans can be either saviors or destroyers, but our actions are explained and judged again and again as emanating from the individual. And yet, as the coronavirus pandemic has made clear, humans are unavoidably interconnected not only with other humans, but with nonhuman and more-than-human others with whom we share space and time. Why do so many of us humans avoid, deny, or resist a view of the world where our lives are made possible, maybe even made richer, through connection? In this volume, we suggest a view of communication as intimacy. We use this concept as a provocation for thinking about how we humans are in an always-already state of being-in-relation with other humans, nonhumans, and the land.
The book is edited by C. Vail Fletcher And Alexa M. Dare with contributions from Carol Adams; Paul Alberts; Katharina Alsen; Anne Armstrong; Joshua Trey Barnett; Christianna Bennett; Peggy Bowers; Suzanne Brant; Chelsea Call; Laura C Carlson; Patricia Castello Branco; Amal Dissanayaka; Marybeth Holleman; Jessica Holmes; Kathy Isaacson; Deepani Jayantha; Michaela Keeble; Marianne Krasny; Libby Lester; Todd Levasseur; Lyn Mcgaurr; S. Marek Muller; Anna Oehlkers; Peter Oehlkers; Elizabeth Oriel; Emily Plec; Joshua Potter; Paul Pulé; Jenny Rock; Madrone Kalil Schutten; Ellen Sima; Richard Stedman; Carie Steele; Mark Terry; Mariko Oyama Thomas; Keith Williams; Çağri Yilmaz and Catherine Sarah Young.
It’s been a strange year yet I tried to make the most of it. Here is how my 2020 rolled:
• I did my lone residency outside Australia for Collaboratoire in the Philippine surfing capital of Siargao island for the Reimagining Sustainability module.
• Now in Sydney with a travel ban, I did residencies and fellowships online with the Space Art Summer School hosted by the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics, Saari Residence, and The Curator is the Weather with 68Art Institute Copenhagen.
• One of my short stories, “Good Harvest”, won first place at the Bright21st Stories of Inspiring Futures and Alternate Realities. I wrote for or was written about in the Culture360 magazine of the Asia-Europe Foundation and Tvergastein Interdisciplinary Journal of the Environment in Norway.
• “The Weighing of the Hearts” was exhibited at das weisse haus in Vienna and The Peace Studio in the US; and “The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store” continues its odyssey with the Victor Papanek retrospective in the Museum del Disseny in Barcelona, the Design Museum den Bosch in the Netherlands, and C-mine design centre in Belgium.
• The year-long virtual program of the Obama Leaders Asia-Pacific with the Obama Foundation ensued, and I had a lot of fun running Supercharge art sessions with some of the leaders’ communities and the children of some of my fellow Obama Leaders.
• I spoke in Speculative Futures Bangkok, Speculative Futures Sydney, inVivo Conference for Planetary Health, and the University of the Underground as one of their educators for their New Politics and Afrofuturisms program.
• I now speak better German and some basic Russian. I also learned some more making skills thanks to the immense patience of the UNSW Design Futures Lab.
• I passed Year 1 of my PhD! Hurray!
If you’ve been a part of my year at all, thank you very much! I hope 2021 gives room for more ways to make art and connect with people and make the world better for everyone. See you all next year!
Earlier this month, the inaugural cohort of the Asia-Pacific Obama Leaders officially wrapped up its year-long program in a virtual celebration. It has been an amazing and humbling opportunity for an artist to be engaged with 199 fellow leaders in the region working on making the world a better place and I’m really excited for ways to be more engaged in the next year and beyond.