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I have a new piece in the The Apocalypse Project series currently exhibited at the DEPTH exhibition of Science Gallery Detroit.

Overview

Ice Chess examines the Arctic crisis and inspires viewers and participants to reflect on the situation up north. A map of the Arctic with its indigenous peoples is printed on a chessboard with pieces cast out of ice. Inside the pieces are toy soldiers and that represent the players in the emerging “battle” of the Arctic—the political and industrial figures that have big stakes in oil and shipping that stand to gain from melting ice and the emerging maritime routes as a result, and the pawns that represent the countries that will be affected by sea level rise and that are sacrificed in order to achieve these goals.

In these urgent times, now is not the time to romanticize the Melt. In a game with high stakes, who is responsible? On the edges of the board are freestanding soldiers and figures that represent observer countries and other affected nations, and anonymous figures that represent globally concerned distributed people. The battle is on, and we are all watching with bated breath. Ice Chess uses art and science to interrogate, to speak truth to power, to point to the powerful entities who are primarily responsible for what is affecting the whole planet.

Why Chess?

Chess is one of the oldest skill games in the world and has been played for over 5000 years. Chess spread around the world through colonization and trade. The objective of chess is to trap the king—to checkmate him—and it wins the game. Chess is historically played by the wealthy. In this project, it references wealth inequality, one of the systemic causes of climate change.

Chess is metaphorical of how humanity has treated nature—as a game of strategy where we seek to exploit it and each other. It takes this further by actually melting the project with the aid of the players—a reference to how we collectively have caused the Arctic to melt and how we can also put a stop to it.

This game does not intend to pit one human being against the other (or one country against the other), which risks oversimplification. Rather, each player represents a set of alternative possibilities that, when the game is played, clash to produce permutations of consequences. In the game, players and the audience are allowed to view the many entanglements that a wicked problem such as the Arctic crisis can provide.

A primary reason for economic interest in the Arctic is the emerging Northern Sea Route, which will connect Western Europe and Asia. This could make shipping up to 14 days faster than the southern route via the Suez Canal. In 2018, the Venta Maersk, owned by Maersk Line and carrying 3,600 containers, successfully set sail from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg—the first container ship to tackle the Arctic sea route north of Russia.

The Chessboard & The Pieces

The board is a map of the Arctic labeled with indigenous communities, seas, emerging shipping routes—all of these will be names we would hear more about in the coming decades. This map represents the battleground where a literal and figurative cold war is already happening.

The Arctic Council Nations

The powerful row of pieces—the king, queen, bishop, knight, and rook—represent the Arctic Council nations: Russia, USA, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Denmark. The row of pawns represent countries around the world that are and will be most affected by sea level rise. Surrounding the board are Arctic Council observer countries, other nations affected by sea level rise, and anonymous figures that represent globally distributed concerned people.

Climate Change & the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes contain 5,500 cubic miles of freshwater, one of the biggest freshwater resources of the world. It supports more than 34 million people who live within its Basin. These people rely on the lakes for drinking water, fisheries, recreation, and industry. Climate change is already affecting these ecosystems through extreme weather, decreased crop yields, heat waves and consequent poor air quality, stress on water quality and infrastructure, affected navigation and recreation, and impact on wildlife.

Thank you to curators Mark Valentine Sullivan and Antajuan Scott and the rest of the Science Gallery Detroit team!

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I talk art, science, Beijing apocalypses, and taekwondo (among other things) in this rad interview with Dr. Amy Brady of Guernica Magazine and the Chicago Review of Books for her monthly “Burning Worlds”! Here I mentioned the fellowships I just concluded and will continue and how they have shaped my practice, in Beijing with China Residencies and Red Gate Residency, Southeast Asia with Mekong Cultural Hub, Vienna with KulturKontakt Austria, and Berlin with Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Thank you very much!

Check out the interview here: https://mailchi.mp/9dc8381fcb68/burning-worlds-climate-change-in-art-and-literature-514617?e=%5BUNIQID%5D on Artists and Climate Change: http:// https://artistsandclimatechange.com/2019/02/05/an-interview-with-interdisciplinary-artist-catherine-sarah-young/

It’s almost 2019, and what a year 2018 has been! Here’s a year in review:

Personal

I started the year decluttering my parents’ house, stopped needing a cane from a hip injury, went back to training in taekwondo again, made lots of new friends, and reconnected with old ones. My dad was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and is back in Manila from treatment in New York. Apart from residency/fellowship travel (see below), I visited Lucerne (to see a friend), Bratislava, Berlin, Salzburg, and Bangkok (with extended family).

Research: Philippine jungles

I visited Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat sponsored by Great Escapes Philippines and Centre for Sustainability PH.

Exhibitions: Manila, Germany, Dublin

The Sewer Soaperie and An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest were part of the Manila Biennale in February. The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store was part of “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in September, and was also part of Science Gallery Dublin’s In Case of Emergency exhibition which closed in February.

Projects, Residencies, Fellowships, Awards: Vienna, Beijing, Taipei

From April to June I did a visual arts residency with KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery. I produced another body of work, Wild Science, which explores the role of science in society. There were fun collaborations, such as with Dr. Gerhard Heindl of the Schönbrunn Tiergarten for this piece, Der Tiergarten 1.0: Human Forces on the Animal Kingdom, and a photo shoot with some cool herpetologists and taxidermists at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Natural History Museum, Vienna). I also produced Letters for Science and asked youth from Eferding, Austria to write letters to climate change deniers.

In Manila in September, we finished photo and video shoots of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store and The Sewer Soaperie. I also started doing research for Wild Science on religion and beliefs in Quiapo, a part of Manila where Catholicism, Islam, and paganism intersect.

In Beijing in November for part 1 of the Crystal Ruth Bell Residency with China Residencies and Red Gate Gallery, I performed The Planetary Renewal Spa for the first time and did research for Future Feast. I’ll be back in March 2019 to finish the project.

I’m one of the ten inaugural SEAΔ fellows of the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council with part 1 held in Taipei in late November. We were divided into four groups, and mine will meet in Cambodia in May 2019 to execute our project. We will all be together to present the outcomes in Bangkok in June and reflect on the program in September.

I did the second Year for the Planet edition, focusing on my clothing choices.

The Apocalypse Project was shortlisted for Best Climate Solutions Award by Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC).

This year’s Ritual Card is a Sunset Wheel, based on the cyanometer used by Alexander von Humboldt.

Talks: From Mental Health to Art and Social Norms

I spoke about artists and mental health in Manila, and spoke about art, science and social norms at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in Crossboundaries Beijing.

Media

I’m one of ArtReview Asia’s Future Greats for their Summer issue and was featured in my alma mater, the SVA NYC’s Visual Arts Journal for the Fall issue. I wrote an article for Vienna-based contemporary art magazine Springerin, entitled “A Different Shape of Progress: Contemporary Art and Social Inclusion.” I was part of a podcast by America Adapts (Episode 78: Flooding, Climate Change, and Art).

If you have been part of my year at all, thank you very much for your support! Here’s to another productive year. May 2019 be full of new work, growth, relationships, and life!

—Catherine

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It’s that time of the year when I finish all residencies, fellowships, talks, and exhibitions, and reflect on the year that’s about to pass. It’s been a wonderful year of learning from different cultures and finding other ways of pursuing my practice. In 2018, I held residencies and fellowships in Vienna (KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery), Beijing (China Residencies and Red Gate Gallery), and Taipei (Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council). This post recalls some of my favorite memories during my Beijing residency. Head to this post for thoughts about my Vienna residency.


 

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What a great Friday! Hurray, friendcations! 😍

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My residency with China Residencies was split in two; I finished part 1 in November and will come back in March. I was really excited for this residency. It was my second trip after many years as a journalist, and coming back as an artist gave me plenty to be inspired by. Here are some takeaways for Part 1:

1. If at first you don’t succeed

This was the second time I applied for this residency and I thought my chances were even more dismal than the first time with 700+ applications. Hurray for perseverance! For my younger artists, seriously, just keep going.

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Ni hao, you guys! I'm honored and excited to be selected from a pool of 700 artists for the 5th Crystal Ruth Bell residency by @chinaresidencies, from November to December in Beijing. What an awesome way to round up the year! 😍 I'm looking forward to continuing my work in climate change and sustainability with the residency theme, Nourish. The last time I was in China was more than 10 years ago, on a journalism assignment / youth ambassador thing before the Beijing Olympics, so another visit is long overdue. Let's get this Mandarin restarted, y'all. I even have my reusable chopsticks ready. 😁 This is the second time I applied for this grant, so kids, it just goes to show: If at first you don't succeed, eat your feelings then try again. 😂😉 Xie xie, everyone! 我很高興! 😍 #climatechange #contemporaryart #sciart #artscience #catherinesarahyoung

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2. My fellow residents and the residency staff

For the most part, I’ve been quite lucky with fellowships because no one is a drama queen. I really loved being with my fellow Red Gate Residents this year, and the staff has been fantastic and supportive. I’m also pretty blown away by many of the senior Chinese artists I’ve met, who have been very generous with their time and humble despite their accomplishments. Also, there’s an artist I met in my Vienna residency that was also in Beijing! The world keeps getting smaller.

 

3. The food is great (and nothing to be scared of)

My residency project is about food, so oh poor me, I had to eat my way through Beijing. At first, I was panicking at the thought of buying so-called fake food that I would read about before my arrival. To be honest, I encountered none of these issues; if they exist, I was told by several locals that one might find them in the countryside but not in the upscale markets in the more modern areas of Beijing.

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Day 11. A challenge with doing a project on the future of food in China is that the people are already adventurous eaters, and people have been eating insects for centuries. Unlike 2014 when using crickets and worms in certain ways was still a bit new, here I need to be clearer with frameworks and stories. I can't feed people scorpions on a stick; you can already buy them here for 25 yuan. One of the scorpions hurt my palette (crickets and larvae are still better IMHO) and my dumplings were too spicy so I ate some ice cream. I spied many people eating hunks of meat off the bone and all these made me nauseated so I went back to my apartment for some ginger tea. 😂 #ApocalypseProject #FutureFeast #climatechange #adaptation

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4. Reconnecting with childhood and grad school friends

So much time with familiar faces! Barbie has known me since I was 6! I knew Qing Qing from grad school in NYC and she lives across the street from the apartment that Red Gate let me stay in! Tina is a classmate from grad school and she visited! (Her grad school thesis was about food and she trained in culinary school, so our conversations really helped in my residency project.) How amazing to reconnect with all of these people!

 

5. Training in taekwondo after a year

If there’s something I’m thankful for in this residency that I was not expecting, it was training in a taekwondo school again. I haven’t stepped inside a dojang since injuring my hip from side kicks, so I almost cried when my feet touched the familiar rubber mat. It’s so good to train in a school…with a mirror. My poomsae are so off. I had stopped bringing a uniform with me since Vienna, as I had given up on finding a nearby school. Note to self: bring the freaking dobok every time. Plus the coach was World Champion! Hurray for kicking! I will die with this sport (though I hope I won’t die doing it).

This is also the first residency where I felt well enough not to bring a cane. I’m definitely taking way better care of myself this time.

 

6. Visiting the Great Wall

See what I mean? This was my second time on the wall. I’m definitely way fitter this time around, ha.

 

7. The very adaptable people

Flexibility is, I find, a very Chinese trait. China is very much a Big Brother state, but I found the people I interacted with to take this in stride, as though they were used to it and simply found ways to get on with their lives. While I’m sure this has disadvantages, as a (half) Chinese person, female, and of color, who has lots of dreams and has faced lots of challenges owing to her sex and race and background, I think this adaptability and determination to go on are survival skills that have served me well in all the years of being an artist. I also really like seeing the elderly in China; lots of community gatherings such as tai chi, mah jong, singing, etc. It feels less lonely here, for sure.

 

8. The future is here

I designed some Climate Change Couture masks back in 2014-2015, and exhibited them in a show at the Institute for the Future and Swissnex San Francisco. Little did I know this would work the best for me battling Beijing smog in 2018.

I spoke about this a lot during my talks, such as this one in Crossboundaries, an architecture firm in Beijing:

 

9. Can you feel the power?

There are a lot of places in Beijing that will make you contemplate about the centuries and dynasties that it took to build this city. They’re quite inspiring and exhausting to walk around in. Fragrant Hills and the Botanical Gardens looked tiny on the map and I thought I’d be done in the morning. I came home…12 hours afterwards. The good thing about splitting a residency in two is that one can run around in Part 1, determining which ones to go back to and include in your project in Part 2.

 

10. An older history of science

Still a nerd, I think my favorite place in Beijing is the Beijing Ancient Observatory, which was built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty. Many places i loved in Vienna were built in the 1800s and are therefore babies in comparison. Most history books are so Western-centric and I was grateful for being reminded that the oldest technologies in the world aren’t far from my backyard.

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I love this courtyard! 😍

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TLDR: I had kept my expectations low, mainly because I didn’t have enough information about China as lots of websites like Google are blocked. And so I was prepared for anything. It’s wonderful to have a wealth of information, a lot of new friends, and a tank of inspiration to draw from as I prepare to finish this residency in 2019. Do reach out for more about Future Feast and The Planetary Renewal Spa!

 


 

In November 2018, I was artist-in-residence of China Residencies and Red Gate Residencies as the 5th Crystal Ruth Bell Resident Crystal Ruth Bell was co-founder of China Residencies who passed away in 2014; the residency is held in her honor. The projects I am working on are Future Feast and The Planetary Renewal Spa from The Apocalypse Project series. I will be back in March of 2019.

 

The Planetary Renewal Spa

The Planetary Renewal Spa (2018- ) is a series of self-care performance rituals that illuminate the effects of climate breakdown. The spa currently offers two services: Back Massage to Simulate Hurricanes and Disappearing Honey Facial.

The Planetary Renewal Spa: Back Massage to Simulate Hurricanes

Back Massage to Simulate Hurricanes takes clients on a sensory experience of a hurricane, from light feathery touches of the coming storm to a full catastrophe.

 

The Planetary Renewal Spa: Disappearing Honey Facial

 

Disappearing Honey Facial gives clients a relaxing facial massage using raw honey while the artist narrates the story of bees disappearing because of climate change.

 

The Planetary Renewal Spa: Back Massage to Simulate Hurricanes

 

The Planetary Renewal Spa was first performed at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing as part of my residency as the 5th Crystal Ruth Bell resident of China Residencies.

I’ll be traveling for some residencies and fellowships, so until then, here is a preview of some work coming soon:

I got dolled up to create videos for The Sewer Soaperie and The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store:

I explore the intersection of religion, belief, and technology in the center of mysticism in Manila:

Ciao!

xo
Catherine

I’m honored to show “The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store” at the “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, which shows from September 30, 2018 to March 10, 2019! I’m excited to be one of the contemporary designers and honored to have a small contribution to this fantastic exhibition for my work on climate change. Very humbled to be among some amazing people whose work I’ve learned from through the years. Deepest thanks to the curators and exhibition team!

An excerpt from the VDM site:

With the exhibition »Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design«, running from 29 September 2018 to 10 March 2019, the Vitra Design Museum will present the first large retrospective focussing on the designer, author, and activist Victor J. Papanek (1923–1998). Papanek was one of the twentieth century’s most influential pioneers of a socially and ecologically oriented approach to design beginning in the 1960s. His key work, »Design for the Real World« (1971), remains the most widely read book about design ever published. In it, Papanek makes a plea for inclusion, social justice, and sustainability – themes of greater relevance for today’s design than ever before. The exhibition includes high-value exhibits such as drawings, objects, films, manuscripts, and prints, some of which have never before been presented. These are complemented by works of Papanek’s contemporaries from the 1960s to 1980s, including George Nelson, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, or the radical design initiative »Global Tools«. Contemporary works from the areas of critical and social design provide insight into Papanek’s lasting impact.

»Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design« is organized into four sections offering an in-depth look at Papanek’s life and work. The exhibition begins with an introductory, large-format media installation presenting the designer’s ideas in a contemporary context and follows with a biographical overview tracing Papanek’s life from his escape from Europe to his international success. For the first time, organizers were able to draw upon materials of the Papanek estate held by the Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, which includes a number of documents that have never been exhibited, including notebooks, letters, furniture, pieces from Papanek’s collection of ethnological objects, as well as over thousands slides that the designer used for his lectures.

Two other sections focus on the main themes of Papanek’s work, including his fundamental criticism of consumerism and his engagement with social minorities, his commitment to the needs of what was then known as the »Third World«, ecology, sustainability, and »making« culture – creation and production using one’s own resources – which had its origins in the 1960s do-it-yourself movement. Visitors can also view a wealth of designs by Papanek, his students, and other collaborators, including those by the Danish designer Susanne Koefoed, who as a student of Papanek developed the first International Symbol of Access in 1968.

The exhibition is supplemented with around twenty carefully selected contemporary works that transport Papanek’s ideas into the twenty-first century by designers including Catherine Sarah Young, Forensic Architecture, Jim Chuchu, Tomás Saraceno, Gabriel Ann Maher, or the Brazilian collective Flui Coletivo and Questtonó. They, too, deal with complex themes such as global climate change, fluid gender identities, consumer behaviour, or the economic realities of migration, meaning they reflect the continuing resonance of the questions Papanek was already addressing in the 1960s. At the same time, they break out of the white, Western, and male-dominated world to which Papanek was bound despite all his efforts to the contrary.

»Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design« is thus both a retrospective as well as a themed exhibition. By focusing on Papanek the person, we can better understand a larger theme, namely the significance of design as a political tool. After all, what was revolutionary for Papanek’s time is now generally accepted: design is not only about giving form to something; it is a tool for political transformation that must consider social and ethical points of view. This is reflected by the fact that today’s debates over themes such as social design and design thinking draw upon Papanek’s ideas as a matter of course. The exhibition seeks to rediscover Papanek as a pioneer of these debates – and as one of design’s greatest forward thinkers – for the twenty-first century. At the same time, it examines how Papanek’s socially engaged design is changing our world today – as well as how it can make the world a better one.

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store at the “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” opening. Image by Vitra Design Museum

More here.