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The past year or so has seen me venturing into the mysterious field of “speculative design.” In The Apocalypse Project, I’m trying to see possible futures under climate change, which are generally not pretty visions of tomorrow.

There are lessons I’ve learned as well as experiences whose lessons I’m still trying to find. Here they are:

1. Stories rule.

When it comes to something as dry and political as climate change, the best way to get people to care is to let them find a personal story. Climate change is humanity’s story, not just a few individuals’. It is also complex and multilayered; a photo of a melting glacier might trigger the emotions of people living near them, but it might not be as effective to a person who has never experienced a winter. Here in Southeast Asia, I notice that people paid more attention to stories about rising sea levels, extreme heat or supertyphoons, because those are the things that they have personally experienced and have something to say about.

However, this isn’t to say that people in the tropics will never care about polar bears. I think that another property about the climate story is that so many things are connected—a melting glacier may further alarm people who are experiencing drought, for example—and there are opportunities to connect these dots that people never realized existed.

2.  The power belongs to the people.

When people want to buy these hypothetical products, I’m taken aback and get a conscience attack of sorts. My goal was to show people how bad it could get, but instead people’s consumerist tendencies prevailed.

But then, why wouldn’t they want to buy these? I had made them so real that they only thing that was missing was a PayPal button.

I realized the power of people as consumers; the exchange of money for product allows for the existence of these objects. These transactions keep these products—and the ideas behind them—alive. If people refuse to buy the product, then it marks the end of it.

What does this mean for futures? For me, it gives me a barometer to see what types of people are out there. I’ve realized that the point of speculative design is to ignite debate. By making these projects, people have the opportunity to talk about these issues. There are so many opinions out there that

Should I sell these? This is something I keep thinking about. Perhaps letting people buy them allows for even greater awareness, as long as they know the intentions behind it. Let me get back to you.

3. The true test is converting a denier.

The bulk of the people who have emailed me or tweeted about how the like the project are usually futurists, artists, or other people who are already aware of climate change to begin with. While I’m extremely grateful for this, especially for the future collaborations that it could ensue, to put it bluntly these people are already smarties. The next cohort of people that I’ve impacted are the “laymen”—those whose work has nothing to do with design or sustainability, but are folks who can see their personal stories in these projects. I think this is wonderful because I’ve always wanted my designs to exist beyond, well, design. Children have always been among my primary—and usually the sharpest—audience and I usually prototype my ideas on them to see if I’m being too unnecessarily confusing.

Perhaps the pinnacle of “success” in doing projects like this is when I am able to convert a climate change denier. This is the final cohort of people who are going to be the hardest to convert but are those who will give me the greatest pleasure to impact. When the initial wave of press for my projects hit, I get trolling tweets from climate change deniers literally seconds later. It’s usually how I know that my projects are being written about. I would often joke to my friends about how they’re usually just a bunch of old white guys, usually in the US, who’ve never experienced the scale of a tropical typhoon and probably don’t get out much anyhow so who cares. I never engage in them, but the more I think about it, these are the ones that, if converted, means that I was extremely effective in conveying ideas.

But I just think they’re so gross. What to do, hmm. Any ideas?

4. Everyone can contribute to this.

In Future Feast, I got a bit floored towards the end because I truly felt that it was transformative for a lot of people. Having multiple talents together—musicians, artists, designers, scientists, etc.—can feel like high school because they have very different personalities, and I as the one behind this was a bit anxious that the dots wouldn’t connect because everyone had their own vested interest in the project. However, I realized that it was in this multilayered experience that gave people a meaningful experience. In the end, it was great to feel that it wasn’t just my project anymore—it was everyone’s, which was the point.

I’m still evaluating the impact of the work I’ve done in the past few months. Stay tuned here for updates on what’s next, and thanks so much for keeping up with the projects!

 

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!

 

Climate Change Couture
Volume 1, Singapore

A preview, my fellow earthlings.

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Climate Change Couture: Haute Fashion for a Hotter Planet

This project explores the future of fashion as climate change continues to impact our lifestyle. This first collection is borne out of my Art Science Residency Programme, collaborating with researchers from the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory. The models of these clothes are active researchers or have a science background. Visit The Apocalypse Project for future updates!

Last November 10th, The Apocalypse Project was exhibited at the Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. Here are some photos of my part of the show at the Inspiration gallery:

There were five mannequins dressed Climate Change Couture, four standing projectors that introduced the parts of the project and the Mission Apocalypse game, and screen at the back that showed all the drawings made during The Apocalypse Workshops.

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The Apocalypse Project – Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum

On the left is an interactive station where people can do The Apocalypse Workshop.

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Climate Change Couture: The Trash Suit and The Bubble

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The Apocalypse Project – Sunday Showcase at ArtScience Museum

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It was great to see  friends and strangers alike. Here’s Vinod, a Tembusu student and part of the Earth vs Humans: The Court Trial trying on the Smell Mask:

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Dr. Stamatina Rassia of the Future Cities Laboratory dropped by.

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And here’s Dr. Ingmar Lippert from Tembusu College.

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Here’s squad member Yuen Kei Lam manning The Apocalypse Workshop. I’m so happy to see this photo—she started out being a participant in the first workshop I held, and now she’s facilitating one. Dr. Connor Graham of Tembusu College is also at the table.

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I also had a photo booth where people can try on some of the Climate Change Couture clothes. On the right is squad member (and taekwondo classmate) Yerim Ku, an exchange student at the National University of Singapore.

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I turned the Inspiration Gallery into a game of a sort, called Mission Apocalypse. The audience had a piece of paper with tasks on it.

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The paper had 25 clues in a 5×5 grid that made them explore the gallery.

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Each clue led to a question about climate change.  If you get five correct answers vertically, horizontally, or diagonally (like in Bingo), you get an Apocalypse Project sticker. Or you can answer everything and get a poster.

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Oh hey, here’s Professor Gregory Clancey, Master of Tembusu College (and also my neighbor):

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This is one of my favorite photos. This kid was so great. He’s seven years old and working on climate change questions in Mission Apocalypse.

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He also drew this superpower for The Apocalypse Workshop:

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This is the happiest I’ve been in a show. You can tell—I’m grinning like a Cheshire Cat on the left and in mid-frolic. 
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Lastly, but most importantly, thank you, Apocalypse Squad, Batch 1. The more complex my projects get, the more I’ve learned to delegate. Thank you, all.

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I’ll be putting everything about the project online here. It’s crunch time again for me (a chronic problem for chronic travelers), but it’ll all get done. The other day, I finished posting all the workshop submissions, which led to me reaching Tumblr’s posting limit for the day. I think I broke the Internet that day. Do follow that site for more updates!

Photos in this post by artist and Apocalypse Squad member Sandra Goh. Now this is exhibition photography, people. I’m taking down notes. 

I can classify the past few days as Learning Things I’m Very Interested in But I Probably Won’t Want a PhD In. It’s great to be learning from others while on a residency. Here are two events:

1. Numbering Climate Change: A Carbon Workshop by Dr. Ingmar Lippert

It is the middle of my residency, and one thing I realize is that while I am currently doing a project on climate change, I don’t want to label myself as a “climate change artist” necessarily. I think that I specialize primarily in how I do things, instead of what I do them for (i.e. a focus on systems over outcomes, though it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the latter). There has been and always will be a leaning towards environmentally themed projects—something I cannot undo, since I travel a lot and I’m usually outdoors. But I don’t think the bulk of my day has been about reading climate change reports (thank goodness). As an interaction / experience designer I have mainly been looking into turning bigger, more macro issues, into personal experiences that people can relate to (and hopefully care about after they encounter the project).

That being said, I think that projects should have a lot of research going on in the background, even those things I’m not particularly thrilled about. And in this case, it meant me voluntarily going through a workshop this Saturday on how the carbon market works. Led by Tembusu instructor Dr. Ingmar Lippert, it was about the politics of carbon trading and how the carbon market entered its current state.

Ingmar, laughing at my horror of dry academic papers. Thanks, man.

It was a whole day affair, and I missed taekwondo that day (and you all know that never happens). But for the record, I was very enlightened and I do not regret doing it, even if it meant reading all these depressing academic papers. I also caught myself repeatedly talking about how the users (meaning the people) should have been more involved in these systems, especially as local communities suffer the most during carbon offsetting projects. Like I said, I’m definitely here as a designer. Does anyone remember this line from a certain awesome movie?

2. Is Singapore a Model City?

This Monday, the Tembusu Forum hosted four speakers to talk about and debate  the question, “Is Singapore a Model City?” Included were Professor Heng Chye Kiang, Dean of the School of Design and Environment of the National University of Singapore; Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director, Centre for Livable Cities, Ministry of National Development; Professor Ian Smith, Principal Investigator of the Future Cities Lab; and Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, CEO of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board and Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of National Development (a wonderful speaker, by the way!). Professor Tommy Koh introduced the speakers and moderated the discussion afterwards. They gave great talks, but it was even better when the students asking really smart questions. As an expat, it’s always interesting to have a crash course of a city’s history and dreams for the future.

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L-R: Prof. Heng Chye Kiang, Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, Prof. Tommy Koh, Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Dr. Ian Smith

Here are some sneak peeks into the things I am working on for this residency.

I am reaching that point when my projects are deemed too crazy by people that I have to be the one to model it. The first photo is by the lovely Cheryl Song of the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory, who has patiently put up with me.

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Follow the project site at http://www.apocalypse.cc.

This week, I got two groups of students from Tembusu College here at the National University of Singapore, to voluntarily participate in my Apocalypse Workshop. The goal was for them to imagine a climate change apocalypse.

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The first activity was called My Apocalypse. These were my instructions:

Name and describe your favorite place in 50 years as climate change affects it. (Write about it and draw it.) This could be a city landmark, the family farm, your apartment building, your favorite cafe, or any other place you feel like speculating on. Please be as specific as possible. Scenarios can be positive or negative. (Some questions to ponder, but please don’t limit yourself to these: What does it smell like? What plants and/or animals are present, if any? How hot or cold will it be when you are sitting there? How will you get there? Can you see clearly? Will your pet be happy living there? What is the color you see when you look up? Are there walls, and what are they made of?)

I asked them to name the actual place (and not just write, “the world” or “the city”) because I wanted them to be as specific and detailed as possible. The participants were also more likely to choose different places and thus provide a wider range of descriptions.

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The second activity was called Superpowers for the End of the World. These were the details:

If you had a superpower to navigate through what you described in Activity 1, what would it be?
Examples of superpowers can be the ability to: smell an incoming tsunami, be invisible to animals, turn into ice during a heatwave, or anything that your current senses and abilities can’t let you do right now. It can be an extension of your biological abilities, or a device that performs it. You can list more than one superpower.

I wanted to frame it in this way so that people will find it more fun and exciting and really think outside the box when it comes to climate change. Nothing like superpowers to get the creative juices flowing!

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The last activity was called The Apocalypse Lookbook, where I gave them fashion design templates:

What will you wear to the apocalypse? Use the templates provided. Define the function of each wearable.

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I let them do each activity for twenty minutes, and afterwards, they shared what they made to the  group. These university students all had taken a class on climate change, or were in the middle of one.  They came from business, economics, engineering, and communication majors. I also had one participant who is a professional environmental engineer.

Here are some photos from the sessions:

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I’ve given lots of workshops in the past few years—this definitely yielded among the most imaginative results. I’ll be sharing those soon. Thanks to all the participants, and also to those from all over the world who sent their answers online!

While researching for my residency project on climate change, I came across a dialogue between Emma Maris, environmental writer and reporter,  and Erle Ellis, Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems, in which they discuss a very thought-provoking question, “Is the Anthropocene…Beautiful?”

Because of the apocalyptic nature of my project, when I think of the Anthropocene, it’s hard not to be a curmudgeon. It’s hard not to dislike our species. But on the other hand, there is no question that our species can make beautiful things, although I suppose the notion of beauty is subjective.

I think back on Seoul43, which is the project that made me want to do this, my first intentionally environmental project. I remember the ones with physical evidence of Korea’s history—the eunuch cemetery, the fortress, the centuries-old temple. But these are human interventions that are seen through rose-colored glasses because of their age. As one who hiked past them all, I found it interesting to trek through these unwitting museums of a country’s past. If they were to be built today, perhaps they will be met with resistance. But because they are relics from the past, they are instead seen as something to be preserved. From personal experience, I found the centuries-old fortress on one mountain to be charming, but the modern apartment building on another to be jarring—the former contributed to my experience while the latter hindered it. I wonder if, centuries from now, if someone from the future encounters this present-day apartment and sees it as a relic of architecture?

Watch the video below: