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The Apocalypse Project‘s Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest are exhibited in the first Manila Biennale in the walled city of Intramuros. The theme, “Open City,” refers to Intramuros as the origin of Manila’s culture. It is a tribute to the walled city’s beginnings as a port for the Galleon Trade, a time when Intramuros opened itself up to the world and welcomed new ideas, products and people.

Image credit: Manila Biennale

The Sewer Soaperie consists of soaps made from different points in the cycle of oil in human consumption, from palm oil to used oil to raw sewage and fatbergs, to highlight the effects of our impact on cities. Support for this project was given by Arts Collaboratory, Ministry of Culture of Colombia, and Medellín-based arts organizations Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, where I did a residency in 2016.

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest features scents based on the travel narratives of 19th century explorers of the Amazon, where naturalists such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Alexander von Humboldt encountered this ecosystem for the first time, which relates to the “openness” theme of the biennale. Visitors are allowed to smell these scents and inhale the stories of how these explorers encountered the Amazon. On the wall is text that features the passage of the books where I based these scents from. This project was inspired by my residency in the Amazon in 2017, with the support of LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute of Amazonian Research.

Manila, Medellín, and Manaus are cities that are similar in their colonial history, richness of culture and stories, and vulnerabilities to climate change, which the works highlight. It’s been great fun to bring these together for this historic biennale as well as be reminded of my enriching residency experiences in South America, of which the Philippines share very similar characteristics.

The Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest

This edition of An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest interprets the olfactory memories of 19th century explorers into scent, based on their travel narratives

The installation can be viewed at the biennale lounge. Image credit: Manila Biennale

Manila Biennale 2018 is led by Executive Director Carlos P. Celdran, and this installation is curated by Alice Sarmiento. Thank you!

Image credits: Photos 1-4 by Studio Catherine Sarah Young, 5-7 by Manila Biennale

I was dressed for sailing. At least, that’s what I thought I was going to do when I jumped in the car with some friends early this Sunday morning on the way to the Manila Boat Club in Sta. Ana, Manila. “Boat” has a lot of variations, similar to “house” or “garden”. But it turns out we were going to be rowing. With oars. As a team. Oh dear.

It was a fascinating history lesson as I walked up to the second floor of the old building that served as the club’s headquarters. The organization started in 1895 and is the oldest club in Manila.

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Manila Boat Club

Though I was not dressed for the occasion, we only live once and so I got in. With my feet strapped to the boat, I held oars for the first time. In front of me was the president of the club, James, who regularly came to row. I had to follow his rhythm, which was a challenge since I barely knew what I was doing. It was quite mortifying to be clumsy at my first strokes, and I kept bumping my oars with his and my friend’s behind me.

The dock

The dock

With the coxswain (This is the first time I’ve ever had to use this word!) expertly and patiently guiding us, we rowed along the newly rehabilitated Pasig River, which is now a far cry from the toxic dump it used to be. As I learned how to row, I couldn’t help but remember my cybernetics studies in grad school, whose root word means “to steer”. One wrong move from anyone and the boat changed its intended course or we slowed down. The coxswain gave us corrections to set us back on the path. This is such a great metaphor for every project and exhibition I have ever been on.

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It was a beautiful Sunday morning.

The boat didn’t capsize. All in all, it was a win of a Sunday morning.

Thanks, Manila Boat Club! Check out their site here.

In the middle of an exhibition opening, climbing 43+ mountains, and recovering from said mountains, I turned thirty years old last week. I almost forgot about it, until the studio surprised me with fruit and cake after another long hiking day. While it is a big number, perhaps due the hysteria and excitement that I’ve seen people my age show with this milestone, I felt that with everything that has happened in the past years, it was absolutely time to turn 30. Finally! The level of growth and travel that transpired made the passage of time very natural.

I also realized that I reached certain milestones in the cities I have lived in. Not just traveled to as a tourist, but lived in, for at least six months. For practical reasons, six months is usually a time when most receiving countries require you to get an alien registration card that states why you are living in that country. You are meant to declare your goals, and as such, you engage in activities that define your identity while in that place. This is in contrast to being a floating tourist for several weeks or a few months, having “fun” and getting inebriated. When you are an official resident of a country, you come out with something tangible, be it a degree, an exhibition, a portfolio. For personal reasons, well, growth just takes time. And with time often comes silence and reflection.

Now that I’m thirty, I would like to take some time from post-project recovery and thank the four cities that defined my twenties, and why:

1. Seoul, South Korea
For being the city I am happiest in (for now)

What could be better than turning thirty in one of my favorite cities in the world! In the six months of living here, I did the hardest project I have ever done, I have made some of my dearest friends, I do my favorite sport everyday, and I’ve broken a lot of personal boundaries. I love the people here,  I’m constantly challenging myself with doing new things, and I love visiting new places in the country. Because Seoul is the safest and most efficient city I’ve lived in, I can feel lost in my thoughts and let creativity take form. Perhaps it’s because this is the country where taekwondo was born, perhaps because I look like a local, or perhaps it’s because Korean and Chinese cultures have many similarities, but I feel least alien here. Go figure.

2. New York, USA
For training me to go forward

New York, without a doubt, trained me to go against anything. Five years in the City that Never Sleeps made me keep going because no one was going to do it for me. As the hardest city I lived in, it taught me not to sit on my ass and to keep working hard. There is no time for self-pity in New York. I think my years at graduate school were very formative, and started what I hope will be the trajectory of my life’s work. Oh, and I got my black belt there, so I’ll always remember it. But New York wasn’t just about the harshness or the push-ups—I also loved seeing the most diverse people, which I haven’t encountered in any other city I’ve lived in or visited.

3. Barcelona, Spain
For showing me beautiful things everyday

I ran away to Spain after one of the most difficult times in my life, and there was no better city for rejuvenation than Barcelona. You can eat the city with your eyes—it was just so beautiful in ways both small and big. I will always remember going through the old city, feeling the bullet holes in the walls and then coming across a guerilla art piece by Space Invader. I read many of the books that I still reference in my work, discovered poetry, saw some of the most astounding art and architecture in the world, and made some wonderful friends.

4. Manila, Philippines
For letting me dream

I only realize it now, but I am extremely grateful for the Philippines for having such outspoken women. I deliberately write this in a city where I feel that women do not have as many rights. Here in Seoul, I am constantly being gawked at as an Asian woman who can be very assertive with few inhibitions. I think most of the women in the Philippines, particularly my mentors, are among the toughest women I have ever encountered. Most people reference the Philippines for its beaches and natural wonders (which are better in person), or for the other extremes, such as gates-of-hell poverty (also true), but I see it as the city that allowed for the incubation of my dreams.

So that’s four cities in my twenties. I write this in gratitude, but also as a reminder to myself that the world is huge and there are more places to explore and languages to learn.

As I said, there is no momentous “whoa-I’m-30” occasion—in Korea, I’m already 32.

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.

In the middle of art/science projects, I do say yes to doing graphic design, especially for awesome people. Creatively speaking, it’s a good break from the grind and practically speaking, it’s good to know that I can still do things like logos.

So this is a logo design project for a shop called La Monja Loca.

Yes, The Crazy Nun.

It’s the gift shop of Carlos Celdran. You may have gone on his tour. You may have seen the headlines. You may have seen him with his iconic top hat.

Years ago, I designed the logo for his Intramuros tours. Yes, it’s a top hat. And if you’ve received his Intramuros poster, yes, I designed that, too, many, many moons ago. Fun, fun project.

So. La Monja Loca. The brief given to me by Ria, the project manager / producer, was to generate an iconic crazy nun with one eye that was a cross between Clockwork Orange and Twiggy’s spiky eyelashes. In the beginning, I sketched out variations of eyes.

Version #9 was chosen. I also did some research on the wimples that Carlos wanted. These are called “cornettes.” (Hey, I didn’t know that! Now I do.)

The fourth one was the one they picked. I tried sketching out three different poses. First was one facing right (viewer’s angle). It was a bit too Clockwork Orange.

I sketched another version facing left.

Finally, I sketched a frontal symmetrical version, which was ultimately chosen. I like that version best, too.

They also liked the script lettering from the second version. It fits because a lot of script calligraphy fonts recall the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, which is the time period that the store evokes.

To make sure things are symmetrical, I sketched the nun on graph paper. I always feel more connected with my work when I first draw them.

Afterwards, Carlos wanted the wingtips flattened so as not to resemble horns. He also took out the bib. I gave him a number of time-appropriate script fonts to choose from and he chose Flemish Script.  I then worked to make the resulting logo a bit older, “inkier” and less sharp to match the period. Carlos, Ria, and Tesa Celdran offered feedback last weekend. And voila, here we go:

Next time you’re passing through the Walled City of Manila, do check out the store! It’s located at the Plaza San Luis, Calle Real, Intramuros, Manila. Follow the store’s Tumblr here.

This project made me think of all the logos I’ve ever made. Check them out here. *tears*

Ok, now back to my regular sketching and prototyping and making grind.

You know you’re home when old projects haunt you like spirits.

While my work is primarily about the “intersections of science and art,” I do, from time to time, do design work for things I care a lot about. Here are two of them that have appeared on my radar, physically and online, almost as if to say, “Hi! Remember me? Look at me now!”

It’s as though they were orphans I raised and gave to caring homes.

So, here are the children I gave away:

1. A logo for the Philippine Taekwondo Association 

As my friends and colleagues know, taekwondo is something that’s really important to me, but not in a competitive way. I think it has helped me a lot personally and professionally. I wanted to give back, not through competing (which I assure you, does not suit me) but through something else—design. Around 2008, I reached out to my old teacher, Coach Jobet Morales, a former medalist and currently the Philippines’ national coach, who said that coincidentally, they needed a new logo. I already had something in mind, but I also met with Coach Morales and Grandmaster Sun Chong Hong who discussed what they needed. (I remember that day! It was lunchtime and I thought that being with these two black belts was the safest place in the world. We had Korean bibimbap.)

The logo they approved has the association’s initials, rendered in the colors of the Philippine flag. The blue letter has the profile of a bird, symbolic of the Philippine eagle. The red letter is a roundhouse kick, which was a compromise because I initially suggested a side kick (better suited with the T shape), though was told that roundhouse kicks were more frequent in taekwondo (actually, true). The yellow letter has a sun from the Philippine flag.

Now it’s 2012 and, training at the central taekwondo headquarters in Manila, I keep seeing it all the time. On certificates, belts, chest guards, banners, etc. It’s quite an honor, and I’m thrilled they’re still using it.

2. A poster for Carlos Celdran’s Intramuros tour

My friend Carlos, who does these awesome tours in Manila, tagged me on this photo emailed to him by some European tourists and newlyweds. The poster on the right was my first graphic design poster, which Carlos gives away on his tours. I did this around the same time as the taekwondo project, and both remain among the graphic design projects closest to my heart. What he has done for the Philippines is fantastic, and while his tours are primarily performance art, it has contributed to the discourse of critical issues in the country.

(To the people in this photo, shoot me an email if you’d like to be identified. And thank you so much! You made my day. Oh, and congrats!)

A Disclaimer

I did these projects without any graphic design education at the time. The only things I had experience in were molecular biology and journalism. I was just a girl with a curiosity for Adobe Illustrator and a thing about “making the world a better place.” Years have passed and I’m done with an art residency and an MFA in Interaction Design, and looking at back at these projects made me both smile at the exuberance of youth and cringe at some tiny mistakes. (The kerning! Rats. I need to fix that.) But my friends / clients still seem happy about them, so I suppose that’s what counts. That brief time I was in Manila, I just loved their work and what they’ve done for me, and I thought that this was the best way to help them out. I may never be in the Olympics or Games of any sort, but at least my logo will! And helping cultural gems like Carlos’s work is something that’s always rewarding to do.

I have a cold. And this is probably why I’m sentimental.