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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”.)

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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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October 2014, Seoul—The Apocalypse Project’s Climate Change Couture is now on view at Seoul National University Museum of Art. My piece is on the second floor and features six garments from Climate Change Couture’s Singapore, Manila, and Seoul collections, as well as six photos from the Singapore collection.

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Curated by Arthur Clay, founder and artistic director of Digital Art Weeks International, and Jeungmin Noe, senior curator at Seoul National University Museum of Art, the exhibition blurs the boundaries between art and science and enlarges the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaborations.

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The exhibition runs until December.

Many thanks to Digital Art Weeks and SNU MoA

Seoul43 has given me a lot of moments to reflect on the impact of humanity on nature. This, of course, was not my initial intention. I wanted to climb all these mountains as a personal challenge. A city with mountains—how wonderful! I still believe it is one of the reasons that I found Seoul to be a clean city, compared to the other capitals I have been to. Before Korea, I had hiked only one mountain in the Philippines. It was a disastrous and traumatic experience—I nearly fell off of the peak, slipped many times on our descent, and slowed everyone down. I was, in chemistry terms, our group’s limiting reagent.

44 - Bukhansan

My second intention was to get people to share my experience. This is why I brought the soil from these mountains so that people can plant with them and then bring them back. “Borrowing” instead of “taking” the soil was an important part. It has always been my view that no one is exempt from environmental responsibility, artists/scientists/explorers/designers included. The tasks I asked people to do were also deliberately chosen. I wanted to ensure that this project had some positive environmental and cultural impact.

What I didn’t expect, aside from the extreme fatigue, were my unique experiences for each mountain. Many pushed me to my limits, some nearly killed me, others were places I found so fascinating that I want to revisit them. A number disappointed me for their smallness (This is it? Really?) while others made me ask a lot of questions.

As these are mountains in a bustling capital, one thing I found consistent about them was human activity. If Seoul’s mountains were a system that ensured the coexistence of nature and humanity, then it was determined by these parts:

First, there were the modern city officials, or whoever governing bodies that mandated which trails should be open to the public and what was allowed to be done. They were the ones who permitted the landscaping and gardening of these mountains, who added trails, tennis courts, exercise machines, trail signs, and other things that make them “usable” to the public.

exercise ajumma - Ansan

Second, there were the citizens and tourists, both young and old, who use these mountains everyday. Hiking is an everyday activity for many Seoulites. Although I always hiked alone (which was a stupid idea, but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to come with me), I was never really alone—there were always groups of ajusshi, ajumma, or young people who were also on the trails and giving me a hand. For the smaller mountains that served as neighborhood parks, it was the residents’ way of getting away from urban noise. Indeed, I could not help but think of these mountains as refuge in a city whose aging population is affected greatly by Korea’s rapid change.

lonely old man - Achasan

Finally, and no less importantly, are the people from Seoul’s past—the historical figures who added fortresses, cemeteries, and many a Buddhist temple to these mountains, turning them into rich canvasses that illustrate a city’s past and provide interesting questions as to how they fit into contemporary culture.

temple - Suraksan

The historical and cultural value that these manmade structures add undoubtedly “elevates” the status of a  mountain to something more than just a park. The exercise machines and other sports amenities added in recent years add utilitarian value for the citizens who make physical fitness a priority. These make me pause to think, because as a naturalist, one would balk at mankind altering nature, and yet, adding something of historical and utilitarian value perhaps encourages the city to preserve it better.

Because Korea is a very mountainous country and one that rapidly urbanized, I observed that: 1) Many mountains that used to be bigger have been “broken” into smaller ones because of apartment buildings, schools, etc. that found their homes in the lower areas, and 2) Some mountains seem to have all but disappeared because the buildings were right on top of them. Is it alright to do this to make room for city dwellers and businesses, as the country has so many? Indeed, as the official list I obtained from Korea’s Forest Service dates back to 2006-2007, I think that 43 will not be the number once they review the list once more. It will be interesting to see how the face of a city changes and how modernization affects these natural structures that are as old as time.

Originally posted on the Seoul43 site.

Heejung sent me this photo of our friend Kaya jumping on my hopscotch board at the Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival (ASYAAF 2013), which ended last week.

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I’m neck-deep in climate change articles and meetings with a lot of brilliant people, so this was such a nice email from the life I just left. I love that beam of light on the right. It looks as though Kaya was beamed there from space.

Thank you, ladies! And I miss you, Korea!

For my Seoul43 project, where I hiked all the mountains in Seoul and borrowed soil samples from each mountain, the public was invited to plant using the mountain soil. Afterwards, people were invited to go on scavenger hunts to plant the soil back to the mountains of their choice. I have held two children’s workshops where participants planted using the soil, and together we went to a nearby mountain to do the scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt is designed to use small tasks that will promote positive hiking habits in the participants.

1. Greet and bow to the elderly.*
2. Give candy to fellow hikers.
3. Pick up trash.
4. Arrange fallen leaves or flowers into a sculpture.
5. Recite poetry.
6. Balance rocks.**
7. Use an exercise machine.
8. Write on a postcard.
9. Read official signs.
10. Plant!

* In South Korea, it is considered polite to bow to one’s elders.
** Many Korean mountains have Buddhist temples, and rock balancing is a common sight in and around them.

In addition, some people who previously learned about this project from my participation in the International Sculpture Festa in the Hangaram Art Museum at Seoul Arts Center this May signed up to participate. During the exhibition in the National Art Studio of Korea, they came to pick up a plant and hike a mountain. They told me the mountain they wished to hike, and I gave them their task list. Later, they will email me with documentation of what they did. Participants will be featured on the Seoul43 site with their permission.

The project website will be regularly updated, but here are some photos. If you are interested in doing a scavenger hunt even after this project is finished to join a community of city hikers here in Seoul, please email me at csgyoung[@]gmail[dot]com.

Hiking in Choansan:
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After greeting an elderly lady:
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Giving candy to fellow hikers:
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Rock balancing:
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Planting:
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Planting:
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Yesterday, this sweet couple came over to pick up a plant from my installation so they can plant it to Wausan, a mountain near the lady’s school.

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It’s lovely to be reminded why I did this project. Visit the Seoul43 site here. I’m still working on the text, but I’m glad the exhibition is done and I have no more mountains to climb. And eek! Look at the shelves on the right—lots of planting going on, eh?

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.