"Everything that comes out of my creative process is like commas in one long, run-on sentence that never ends"

Drawing from the Prince Claus Fund’s network, YCreate explores the human palette of dreams, fears, and motivations with one key question: why do you create? Jennifer Katanyoutanant is an artist and creative director that uses the power of storytelling and interaction design to better connect with and learn from local communities. She’s interested in using social aspects of interactive art and technology to find common ground between seemingly different cultures.

Jennifer, why create?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t think of creating as the definitive goal. I start with questions and gradually tease threads out, then create along the way to help me make sense of it all. Creating is my way of processing and sharing that process without ever answering the question. Everything that comes out feels like commas in one long, run-on sentence that never ends.

How important it is for artists to be socially active?

I don’t think any artist is required to be socially active, but the Venn diagram between activist and artist tends to overlap. With Black Lives Matter in the US, the Pro Democracy Movement in Hong Kong, and human rights protests in India, Chile, and around the world, I do think it’s critically important for every human to be socially aware, ask themselves big questions, and use that as a base for informed social action. Social action can be used as a starting point for creating work that starts great conversations, but any socially active art needs to highlight the narrative of the oppressed. Or better yet, be made in collaboration with or fully empower those who haven’t had access to a platform. But if that conversation stays within the narrow art bubble, then what and who is it really for? In order for that dialogue to effect systemic change, it has to reach the masses.

The artists that move me the most are ones who develop a relationship with the communities around them, so every step of the creative process becomes an opportunity to learn more from others and become more socially active.

I look to the amazing, and often anonymous, graphic artists of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and am discovering more through these twitter feeds and artists: Karen Tse, Uwu, Kwan Qi). Right now, I’m studying these artists of the Black Lives Movement to learn more about art that drives social change. I also admire the work of Pia Bartsch from Finland. We met the Saari Residency and she does a wonderful job of creative models of direct engagement that show how relationships between people can be art itself.

Project “Home” Cooked is a physical manifestation of how distinct cultural traditions have been founded upon a longstanding history of global exchange and migration. It looks at how a foreign ingredient makes its way into a new country and integrates into a region’s existing food vocabulary. At its core, our game opens up a dialogue on how food acts as an ambassador between regions, highlighting distinct flavors different places bring despite using the same ingredients. The game is merely lubrication for the real art of it all, exchanges between completely different people bonding over the love of something so integral to human experience — good food.

You seem to be working with a wide range of medias and topics — from engaging people from different cultures and communities to get together, to working with digital technology and storytelling. What would you say is the most important aspect of your work?

The most important aspect is to stay curious and listen first. I’m grateful to the people who allow me to pick their brains about the work they do in their own communities because sharing stories is so sacred. It allows us to immediately see the effect we can have on one another.

Engaging with different cultures and digital technology are ways to get different pockets of people to connect and share their stories with each other. I’m fascinated by how emerging forms of interactive media (VR, AR, biosensing objects, etc) can create fantastical worlds that pose new questions for the human condition, and I’m endlessly excited by the possibilities, but it’s not my end goal.

I work towards creating context points for people to understand each other better.

That could mean sharing a food central to two different cultures or creating a communal sense of awe or laughter from playing with something they’ve never tried before. I admire community artists like Michelle Lai and Huiying Ng who’ve done an amazing job of creating safe spaces for these kinds of connections to happen.

How do you see people connecting through technology, especially during the times of this global pandemic?

We’re on the edge of a huge behavior shift. It only takes 60 days to form a habit and, for now, the internet is the main portal to loved ones, which means we will be more and more involved with our screens moving forward. It’s funny, I didn’t have the internet set up in my apartment before the pandemic, but I installed it so I can stay in touch with family and friends. Now I find myself glued to Zoom and thinking about interactive ways we can stay connected.

It’s heartening to see people support each other through this crisis. The edges of our communities are softening to include more people from different backgrounds, and our ability to expand our sense of empathetic connection grows. It’s a good time to start thinking about accessibility. How can we create ways for everyone to maintain connections, not just people with the privilege of a computer and fast internet. How do we coalesce into a more diverse, better informed organ.

I first became interested in food after teaming up with a small group of foragers, artists, hackers, and writers to conduct a series of interactive feasts in Thailand called ‘DinnerCons.’ We cooked with the local Thai community, foraged jungle ingredients, and exhibited the intricacies and unique flavor profiles of Thai cuisine through sculptures, design, and games.

How do you think our relationships will be formed through technology in the future?

Technology will hugely impact our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world. I’m not a black mirror moralist and can’t say that technology will ruin humanity, but it’s definitely rewiring us in increasingly permanent ways.

We’re flooded with content, making it more difficult to sit still with ourselves and find our own opinions. The more chatter I see online, the more I have to ask myself if I truly agree with that narrative, or am I just mentally re-reading a Tweet screencap that keeps popping up in my brain. Social media incentivizes comparing our insides to someone else’s perfectly curated outside, brainwashing us into a very profitable celebrity industrial complex.

On the flip side, I do think there is something beautiful about the internet’s ability to create a unified, global culture. Memes are a great shorthand for connecting with someone that’s different than you.

You may come from completely different contexts, but because you both laughed at the same photo of a dog in a birthday hat, you’re no different at all.

Technology is a tool, which is agnostic. It’s a hammer that can be used to put the final nail in a coffin or flipped around to wedge you free. To borrow from Buen Calubayan, a brilliant artist from Manila, art is like the ergonomic design of that hammer. It guides us to think about who holds it and how they wield it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how our ways of relating to each other will evolve. Just as people adapt to social distancing, we will start adapting to new modes of intimacy. I’m developing a Remote Intimacy series with collaborators @gcx_works and #Zden where we delve into new ways of building virtual intimacy. Our first project,Garlic Med.eat.ation, builds sensory solidarity in surreal times by sharing tastes and touch over the web. Each of us is going through the same pandemic, but we all have different reactions to it. Our individual reaction to garlic is meant to bring a sense of group solidarity. If you’d like to try this out, please DM on IG for free sessions.
Poster created by @gcx_works.

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Art is at the heart of what makes us human. That’s why, in an era of building walls and blaming ‘the other’, it’s essential that cultural expression is free and valued. Every story counts, but not every story gets the attention it deserves.

The Prince Claus Fund aims for change with YCreate — a platform to connect the next generation with the extraordinary stories and diverse perspectives of creative people from all over the world. Discover more stories on our Instagram page!

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