I was invited to be on a jury for a residency in France, she applied and that’s where I first came across her name. She’s not so active in the local scene in Manila and more into producing works through residencies outside the Philippines. Nevertheless, it was a real surprise that no one in the local scene knew her. I find her work very interesting because there is a scientific base to it (she has collaborated with scientists, local communities, corporate entities and chefs), and it’s rare to see this. You have to study her work to really feel it, because it has a delicate nature. She’s concerned with the environment in a way that’s not so close to my own concerns (even though I’m doing some research on sewage systems in various countries): she has a way of working that’s more accurate, more responsible.
Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be part of the art scene: why are we making art rather than fixing society? The more art that is made, the more it spreads and the more problematic it becomes: we talk about a problem rather than addressing it. But Catherine uses art to bring extra perspectives to bear on environmental and social issues, which leads to a better understanding of the problems, and that’s what impresses me. Works from her Climate Change Couture (2013) series, part of The Apocalypse Project (2013–; an interdisciplinary platform that seeks to reveal the humane face of climate change), for example, draw on the disciplines of design and fashion to produce artworks in the form of wearable costumes that speak about what humans might have to do to adapt to climate change. I trust her knowledge. For me artmaking is more poetic, but I see the weight of knowledge behind her work as giving it importance. More than that, she plays with things and mixes things up. Her Sewer Soaperie series (2016) uses research into so-called fatbergs, conducted in Manila and Medellín, to trace the journeys of various cooking oils, ending up in the saponification of various used cooking oils and greases collected from sewers and open pipes in Manila (interestingly the saponification of used palm oil raised questions about how pure it was in the first place). She has a sharp mind and is very serious about what she does.
Catherine Sarah Young has most recently exhibited work in the Manila Biennale (2018). With degrees in molecular biology and biotechnology as well as in the visual arts, Young travels, researches and speaks widely on projects relating to emergent technologies, sustainability, the environment and alternative futures, notably with her ongoing Apocalypse Project (apocalypse.cc)
Poklong Anading is an artist based in the Philippines
Catherine Sarah Young, The Sewer Soaperie, 2016, soap made from sewer grease. Photo: 1335Mabini. Courtesy Fundación Casa Tres Patios, Medellín
From the Summer 2018 issue of ArtReview Asia, in association with K11 Art Foundation