Tag Archives: Seoul

Yesterday, I hiked Suraksan, my 27th mountain in Seoul. Like an idiot, I miscalculated the time, and ended up speeding down the mountain to beat the sunset. The remaining 10% of my hike was pitch black, and because it was a rocky stream, I lost the trail, was close to sheer panic, and was even closer to concussions, sprains, and—I wince thinking about this—death.

The top of Suraksan

The top of Suraksan

I stumbled over dry leaves and through sharp branches. Thank goodness for GPS and the flashlight on my phone. But most of all, thank goodness it was Buddha’s birthday, because the temple at the end of my hike had these glowing paper lanterns, helping me find my way.

Thank you, Buddha. Really.

Oh bless these monks.

On the way down, I vividly remember passing by two ajusshi on separate occasions. They didn’t look like they cared about the time. I really hope they made it back.

I am extremely grateful for well-kept traditions, modern technology, and friends who would come over to give you ice cream and remind you to hike smarter. I have 10 more mountains to go, you know.

Happy birthday, Buddha. And many, many thanks.

Last May 5th, I gave an artist talk entitled Art, Science, and Interactivity at the Hangaram Art Museum in Seoul Arts Center for the International Sculpture Festa for a small audience. I and my friends from the National Art Studio were in the category “What Can Sculpture Be?” As an interactive artist, while some of my work can be classified as sculpture, I don’t really consider myself one in the most traditional sense of the word. Unlike most sculpture where Do Not Touch is written beside the piece, my work usually comes with a set of “experience instructions”—such as “Please Smell This Wall,” “Please wear this vest and hug someone,” etc. etc.

These are my notes and slides from the talk:

Art, Science, and Interactivity


Annyunghaseyo. My name is Catherine, and I’m an interactive artist from the Philippines. I come to you from three fields of study, and from three cities around the world. The first is science, where I studied molecular biology and biotechnology in Manila. The second is Barcelona, where I studied contemporary art and poetry. The third is New York City, where I lived for five years and did my MFA in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts.


Coming from many different worlds, I often asked myself what was the core of my interests? Finally, I realized that it was human perception. Our senses, or how we perceive the world. More specifically, I investigate perception and how it can bridge memory and play. The more aware we are of the world, the more we can explore and go beyond what we know, and the more we go beyond, the more we add to our storehouse of memories.


1. Sculpture can facilitate human connection


The Hug Vest
This is a vest made out of thermochromic fabric, so it changes color, from purple to blue when you touch it. For the past two years, I have been wearing this, and other versions of this vest, and hugging people with it. In these exhibitions, I invite people to hug me, and invite them to wear it and hug other people as well. Being able to tangibilize the hug through a color change seems to make hugging more fun, and gets people to touch more. What this project has taught me is that sculpture can facilitate human connection.


2. Sculpture can go beyond sight

An Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities
For the next project, I want to first show you this image. Who can tell me what was going on here?


Smell and memory are closely interlinked. In neuroscience, we learn that smell is processed in the region of the brain where memory is also processed. This explains why we can unearth deep-seated memories from decades back.

I’ve been doing experiments on olfaction, where I ask people to smell these pieces of paper with microencapsulated smells, so they’re very concentrated. Afterwards, I ask them what memory came to mind. The results were very surprising, because many of them recalled memories from a long time ago, as far back as twenty years.


I was inspired by the results, so I created an Olfactory Memoir of Three Cities I’ve lived in – Manila, New York and Barcelona.


It contains printed smells with my memory of the place. Of course, if you smelled this book, you have your own memories of the smell, and this creates a conversation among those perceiving art.


So from this project, I learned that sculpture can go beyond sight, which is the most overused and oversaturated sense, at least for us who are not visually impaired. With smell, sculpture can be remembered longer, and the memory of the art persists.


For this exhibition, there is a little wall of smells with twelve different smells on it, which you can sniff.

3. We can enable the audience to create his own experience with art.

Mondrian Hopscotch II
During my residency in Changdong, one question I wanted to explore was, Can you play with art?
So I created this hopscotch board in the style of Piet Mondrian, whose aesthetic is well-known and almost lends itself to the framework of a hopscotch board.



I believe that my primary audience is children, so I invited some elementary schoolkids near the studio to play with the art.


This taught me that sculpture can be played with, and in the course of playing, each person creates his own experience with art.


4. Sculpture can build communities

I’m in my fourth month of my residency here in Korea, and among the many things that fascinate me is this.

The hiking culture in Korea is truly mind-blowing to me, and has led me to investigate the people doing it—mostly your elderly, the economics behind it—the fashion industry from high end places such as the North Face to the cheaper ones like those in Dongdaemun markets, to the exercise machines I see.

CatherineSarahYoung_ISFtalk.019 CatherineSarahYoung_ISFtalk.020

Midway through my residency, I learned that there are 37 mountains in Seoul, and I decided to hike all of them. During each hike, I borrow a small jar of soil and track my hike with a smartphone app.


The goal here is to hike all 37, take soil, and for the next time I exhibit this piece, get the audience to plant using any mixture of soil from all these mountains. After the exhibition, I hope to get 37 volunteers to plant these flora back to all the mountains, thereby returning the soil to where it came from.


I’m interested in the idea of the earth giving me material, and instigating this human intervention that does something positive to a community and also to the earth. I’m also interested in doing a big project that is ephemeral. From this project, I see potential in sculpture that can help build communities, with consequences even after the exhibition.


Thanks very much.


Growing up on dragon and lion dances during Chinese New Year, I love looking at the often modern footwear of these traditional practices. During this year’s Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul held the week before Buddha’s birthday, this dragon’s feet caught my eye:

Odd pair out

Odd pair out

Spot the colored ones in the middle!

This festival would be incomplete without lions frolicking about:





It’s post-exhibition at the International Sculpture Festa 2013 in Seoul. While installing my exhibit took hours, taking it down last Wednesday took a mere 30 minutes. Here was how it looked:

Oh hey, you.

Oh hey, you.

I exhibited four pieces:

1. Seoul37

This is the main project I’m doing in my residency at the National Art Studio in Korea. This country has quite a lot of mountains, and they have been its foundation. Despite Korea, especially Seoul, changing so much in the past centuries, these mountains have withstood the test of time. I became fascinated with them (there’s quite a strong hiking culture here), and, upon learning that there are 37 mountains (or hills) in Seoul, decided to hike them all. Yes, ALL. I track each hike with a smartphone app and borrow a jar of soil. During our exhibition here at the National Art Studio, I will invite people to plant using these soil samples I have collected, and will ask 37 volunteers to plant them back to the mountains.

An earlier image of the piece

An earlier image of the piece

I was about midway through the hikes, and exhibited 18 soil samples, with 19 empty jars to show the ones I still have to hike. (As of this writing, I have hiked 27 mountains and nearly died from two.) More information to follow, and no, I don’t usually exhibit things that are not finished, but here I wanted to ask for future participation. I’m very happy that Seoulites seem interested in signing up (I posted a sign-up sheet beside the piece and so many emails were written on it.)

I... whoa! I'm speechless. Thanks, everyone!

I… whoa! I’m speechless. Thanks, everyone!

2. The Smell Wall

I glued twelve squares of different smells on the wall and invited people to smell them. It looked almost invisible, but I suppose that’s the point.

Can you see twelve squares?

Can you see twelve squares?

3. Mondrian Hopscotch II

I made another interactive hopscotch board that would fit my exhibition space. I loved seeing people, especially children, jump on it. On May 5th, which was Children’s Day, it was incredibly rewarding seeing parents with their dressed-up children playing with it. Aww!

Cutie on the board!

Cutie on the board!

It’s quite fun having to write down instructions for every piece.

Art with instructions.

Art with instructions.

4. The Hug Vest

This is a vest made of thermochromic fabric that changes from purple to blue when you touch it. This feels a bit vintage to me now, since this was designed during my grad school years. However, people always get a kick out of seeing it change when it’s touched. Oh, the history this vest has had—from the nights in SVA IxD, to the conferences and lectures, to me using it on the streets of New York as protection from the cold that week when I was freezing and desperate, to being exhibited here in Seoul. This never gets old.

Hugging! With my friends Hyomin and Amy in the background.

Hugging! With my friends Hyomin and Amy in the background.

My friends were laughing at the phrase “willing volunteer.”

"Willing" being the operative word.

“Willing” being the operative word.

Very happy to have my friends there:

Group hug!

Group hug!

Thanks for coming, unni! <3

Thanks for coming, unni! ❤

Fun times. Now back to work.

After a particularly grueling and slightly life-threatening hike to Buramsan in Seoul, I came across this ajusshi and thought I was hallucinating.

What the...

What the…

Cute. I think. I bought a stuffed rabbit just like this for 500 won from an enterprising kid in this year’s cherry blossom festival.

Hi all! I and my friends at the National Art Studio of Korea will be part of the International Sculpture Festa 2013 at the Hangaram Museum of Art in Seoul Arts Center.

It opens tomorrow, May 4, with art talks by yours truly and other international artists.

via ISF 2013 Facebook page

via ISF 2013 Facebook page

We installed today, and here’s how mine looks, on the second floor.

Installation view

Installation view

As an interactive and perceptual artist, I’m placed in the category, “What Can Sculpture Be?” I have four pieces: a wall with microencapsulated odors you can smell, The Hug Vest that you can wear, a Mondrian Hopscotch board you can play with, and 37 jars that are and yet to be filled with soil from all 37 mountains of Seoul that I’ve hiked. The last one is to be exhibited again in the National Art Studio in June, when I’ve finished all the hikes and get willing participants to join me on an interactive project afterwards.

Check out the festival website here.

The best thing after a particularly grueling hike (hello, Inwangsan!) is a cute note from the elderly guy who runs a pizza place with his wife across my street. After learning I was Filipino-Chinese, here is what I opened the box to:

Philippine / China Korea <3

The initials stand for:

Philippines / China

In barbecue sauce.

Aww, shucks. I love you back, Korea.

On my street lies Choansan, a mountain that has thousands of tombs of aristocrats, eunuchs, and commoners from Korea’s Joseon era. After being sick for a few days and being stuck in a creative rut, I headed up there today to free my mind from the “stuckness,” as though being high up there can make me look down on my worries, as though physically meandering through the mountain can translate to mentally untangling my thoughts.

I can't believe this is on my street.

I can’t believe this is on my street.

No head! Uh oh.

No head! Uh oh.

The marker at the top told me a bit of the cemetery’s history, along with these odd words.

A Department of Eunuchs!

A Department of Eunuchs!

It is such a blessing to have so much nature in the middle of the cemented progressiveness of the city.

It feels like a scene from Bridge to Terabithia.

It feels like a scene from Bridge to Terabithia.

The romance and sadness of it was slightly marred by the mild absurdity (yet awesome practicality) of seeing exercise machines along the way.

Exercise machines amidst historical treasures. But of course in Korea.

Exercise machines amidst historical treasures. But of course in Korea.

It was a good afternoon.



Unofficial holidays meant for love are quite an event here in Seoul, with people filling out specific roles. In Confucian Korea, I’m quite pleased when people break out of the norm, or when I break it (usually out of ignorance of the custom) and they appreciate it anyway. (For example, last Valentine’s Day, when women are supposed to give out chocolates to the men of their desire, I handed out origami hearts to everyone I knew.)

The month after Valentine’s Day, March 14, may be Pi Day for those mathematically inclined, but here on this side of the world, it is also White Day, a day where it’s the men’s turn to give out hard candy to women they like. Like my belief in Valentine’s Day hacks, I appreciate it when guys do the same and hand out goodies to their friends.

My haul for my first White Day is chocolate from a married studiomate and lollipops from my taekwondo class. The four big lollipops are from Master Kim who handed out an entire box’s worth to the class while the two were from one of the kids. We may not know each other’s languages and have different opinions on eye contact, but hey, there are definitely other ways to communicate. This was, literally and figuratively, quite sweet.

White Day haul. Aww, shucks. <3

White Day haul. Aww, shucks. ❤

Say it with sugar. Arigato and kamsahamnida, gentlemen!