Stoked and grateful to receive another grant from the Kone Foundation for environmentally responsible encounters. Looking forward to slow travel to reach Finland for my art residency with Saari Residence in 2020. The Trans Siberian Railway is a dream; thank you for believing in this crazy bonkers they’ll-never-pick-this-but-dreaming-was-fun idea! Let’s get our Russian, Mandarin, and Finnish on.
View the list here, and congrats to the other grantees!
Science Gallery Melbourne’s DISPOSABLE exhibition wrapped up on September 1st after a busy month. The Sewer Soaperie was one of the works in this exhibition. The team sent me lots of photos and feedback. Here is what happened and what we learned from this project:
According to co-curator Dr. Ryan Jefferies in an email to me, the exhibition received 26,504 attendees within the four weeks. The show had 150 kg of recycled fat, 12,000 plastic-eating mealworms, over 500 urine samples, and thousands of river reeds.
Having just moved to Australia, I have learned that post-event surveys are standard procedure here, which is fantastic. Here are quantitative feedback from the audience:
92% of visitors were satisfied with the exploration of the theme DISPOSABLE
85% think SGM is distinctive to other galleries
For 79% the program challenged their thinking
For 86% it sparked conversations they wouldn’t usually have
Dr. Jefferies also wrote that, “DISPOSABLE has also been our most sustainable season, with Science Gallery now following a Sustainability Action Plan, participating in the University of Melbourne’s Green Impact Challenge and significantly reducing our waste.”
The Sewer Soaperie at DISPOSABLE. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne
It was also great to see this piece at the Parliament of Victoria for National Science Week:
The Sewer Soaperie at National Science Week, Parliament of Victoria. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne
I’ve had this work exhibited before, but Science Gallery Melbourne’s team is one of the most exuberant I have ever worked with, and I couldn’t help but feel excited as though this were the first time. It also made those long hours worth it.
More images by Science Gallery Melbourne:
DISPOSABLE by Science Gallery Melbourne. Image by Brent Edwards
Some viewers participated by washing their hands with the soap, though for those who passed, no one blames you.
Images by Brent Edwards
Among the hallmarks of Science Gallery are their mediators, who are there to help their largely young audience to connect with the works. Science Gallery audiences are, from my experience, very curious and ask a lot of excellent questions, which is why I love exhibiting with these guys.
Image by Nicole Cleary for Science Gallery Melbourne
According to Ellie Michaelides, one of Science Gallery Melbourne’s mediators, here are some feedback from the visitors:
“It feels just like normal soap! But less lather”
“I make my own soap at home, I never thought of adding my own left over cooking fat to it!”
“Sewers?! Yeah, nah…”
“Are you sure it’s really clean?”
“That’s really smart, can I buy some?”
“I thought it would smell more”
“It doesn’t smell bad”
“I wish I could buy some”
“I feel like the colour should be less clean”
“I wanted to see what the original fat looks like”
More images by Nicole Cleary:
DISPOSABLE by Science Gallery Melbourne. Image by Brent Edwards
I, too, have learned a lot as an artist who was a part of this. Back in 2016, this project seemed outlandish, almost in the realm of conceptual art. But human impact on the environment and on cities have increased over time, and so The Sewer Soaperie is in its own way now a legitimate design solution. I am happy and fascinated with how well this been received, including how it provoked many people. For me, art can have a confrontational message and propose solutions in addition to other things it can do. I think this is the strength of interdisciplinary art-science work: it can bring about new dimensions and divergent ways of thinking, and as we continue to negotiate our environmental futures, this can be among the ways by which we can transform society.
It was also inspiring to have this piece be exhibited with these amazing projects. There’s also been a lot of media coverage about DISPOSABLE; do check them out:
The Sewer Soaperie, The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, and Climate Change Couture: Flower Masks are included in the Seawall project, a collaborative work by Manila-based artist Poklong Anading (PH), currently at his and Neil Fettling’s (AUS) exhibition, “Normal scheduling will resume shortly” curated by Dr. Vincent Alessi.
The Sewer Soaperie
Seawall is a collaborative project that deals with memory and the relationship of the city. Our imbalanced overdependence on natural resources for our daily sustenance has led to eroding our relationship with nature, largely for the sake of economic progress. Manila used to be protected from typhoons and flooding by mangroves; in fact, its name came from “may nilad“, where nilad is a mangrove species Scyphiphora hydrophyllacea that grows beside the water, protecting coastlines from storms and erosion. Using the “balikbayan” image of sending foreign goods to the Philippines, the stacks of boxesare a metaphor of looking back and serve as containments for the individual artists’ idea of the city they are living in. What are our memories of this city, and what might we let go of in order to make it more habitable for its inhabitants?
Other participating artists for Seawall include Milo Aceremo, Billy Adonis, Lorena Rose Balina, Idan Cruz, Rico Entico, Neil Fettling, Neo Maestro, Paul Mondok, Gelo Narag, Miguel Lorenzo Uy, Johannes Wiener, and MM Yu. Wonderful to meet new artists and say hello to old friends!
With Poklong Anading, curator of the project
The exhibition runs until November 3, 2019 at the 4th foor of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
My work, “An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest”, is in the book, “Research in the Creative and Media Arts: Challenging Practice” (2019, Routledge) by the inimitable Prof. Desmond Bell, award-winning documentary filmmaker and fellow of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where he was previously Head of Research. I’m truly honored and now feeling like a dinosaur.
With this, I am also reminded of the current struggle of Brazilian researchers, artists, and citizens in general, and hope that my work as an artist creates some impact, no matter how infinitesimal. I have a bunch of Amazon-themed projects in the pipeline, and I’m always happy to share.
Kudos to Prof. Bell and Science Gallery Dublin where the work was exhibited as well as LABVERDE and the INPA National Institute for Amazonian Research in Manaus who supported this work. Thank you, obrigada, go raibh maith agat, salamat and xie xie!
The story revolves around a female perfumer who lives in a future time when climate change has eradicated a lot of scents and she tries to preserve as many of these as possible. One day, she receives a knock on a door from a client who searches for her to create a perfume that has not been smelled in a very long time.
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.
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
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 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!
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!