The Apocalypse Project, which explores our possible environmental futures, was founded by Catherine Sarah Young when she was an artist-in-residence at the Singapore-ETH Zurich Future Cities Laboratory in 2013. Subsequently, she was invited to be artist-in-residence at The Mind Museum, in Manila, the Philippines, where she expanded the project to explore one of the most overlooked of the senses: smell.
1. Research and review of the literature
The process involved research into the scents of the Philippines and a review of literature into what might be lost because of climate change. Young’s list included a variety of objects and places, such as honey, hardwood trees, wine, coffee, and coastal areas.
2. Collaboration and experimentation
For the first collection, Young collaborated with French flavors and fragrances company, Givaudan, to create the scents. In subsequent collections, Young learned how to create the scents herself through distillation and other perfumery techniques.
3. Design of artifacts
Young named the project The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, whose acronym, TEMPS, is French for “time.” She researched the history of perfumery and scent advertising, and designed the look and feel of the bottles. The logo of the project is a hummingbird, which continues the theme of time and nostalgia, as hummingbirds are the only birds known to fly backwards and they also feature prominently in many mythologies.
© Catherine Sarah Young
The Apocalypse Project: Imagined Futures drew 35,000 attendees in four months. In part this was because of the activities that Young designed, such as a climate change-themed scavenger hunt. Young also held a Future Feast, where she collaborated with chefs to design sustainable dishes of the future using insects, worms, sea vegetables, etc., and held a concert with local musicians, which further increased the number of attendees.
Artist-led tours and broadcast media
Young took several media groups on tours of the exhibition. One striking interaction was with two children, aged 9 and 12 years old, who were hosts of their own TV show. The two enthusiastically responded to the project, showing Young the power of interactive projects when explaining climate change, a topic that is typically abstract, confusing, or dull to most people.
TEMPS was also covered in media outlets worldwide. The reactions of internet commenters were mixed, including understanding of and praise for the project; horror that these scents are endangered; but also climate change denial. Some of the latter sent abuse to the artist on Twitter. One blogger from New York Magazine mistakenly thought the project was an actual commercial project, and demanded that instead of turning these scents into perfumes, they should be conserved.
TEMPS is one of The Apocalypse Project’s most sought-after works and has expanded to multiple collections. It includes a workshop where the audience is invited to create their own perfumes to reflect their own narratives and to promote a better understanding of our relationship with nature. Young continues to develop her skills in perfumery and her knowledge of the cultures and vocabularies of scent. She has also realized the potential of art in the field of development, and she spoke at the Climate Resilient International Development Exchange 2016 in Bangkok.
Young completed her residency with Plan International in 2017, a non-governmental organization committed to child-centered climate change adaptation, where she conducted olfactory workshops in Lewoleba, Indonesia; Chiang Mai, Thailand; and Tacloban City, the Philippines. The third location is particularly important to the artist as this city was devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan in 2013, around the time when she founded The Apocalypse Project. She is currently working on the next iteration of her research on scent for a project in Manaus, Brazil, called An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest. The Apocalypse Project was also a finalist in the Cultural Innovation International Prize at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània in Barcelona.
© Catherine Sarah Young. Bio Art Seoul.
How might this work support the global transformation to sustainability?
In the four years of running The Apocalypse Project, Young has realized the potential of art in challenging and transforming social norms. Her experiences have been dichotomized into her work in the Global North and South. While she still encounters climate change deniers in developed countries, she learned that the prevailing challenge in developing ones, which are already bearing the brunt of climate change, is a sense of helplessness and confusion. Engaging communities through the project, and more importantly, letting them create their own art, helps them realize their stake in these issues because they externalize and reflect on their own experiences.
The project’s continued success shows a desire of communities to be able to engage with climate change in an inclusive way, to go beyond showing photos of starving polar bears and melting glaciers, which are not unimportant but have likely numbed the public, as they see these images on a regular basis. The varying kinds of feedback, from enthusiastic to repulsed, showed that the project was able to trigger an emotional response, as art is meant to do.
Finally, the project demonstrated that collaborations between disciplines and organizations were possible, with the artist serving as a node connecting institutions. TEMPS shows a unique way of engaging with climate change by using a mostly universal sense and celebrating the multiplicity and diversity of human experiences.
Catherine Sarah Young is an artist, designer, and writer whose work explores emerging technologies and alternative futures through interactive storytelling and sensory experiences. Trained in molecular biology, art, and interaction design, she has used different lenses and has collaborated with scientists, companies, think tanks, and museums worldwide.
Last edited: 01 December 2017
The Apocalypse Project
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