Bianca Carague creates virtual worlds to change perspectives.
Text by Ieth Inolino Idzerda and images by Bianca Carague, Netherlands
'Bump Galaxy' by Bianca Carague is a Minecraft server for mental healthcare that Bianca grew to 3,000,000+ sqm of virtual landscapes for care during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic.
It was to pursue her master’s degree in Social Design that brought Bianca Carague to the Netherlands in 2018. Armed with her learnings from the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven, the 27-year-old artist builds virtual worlds that tell stories about different possible futures. She has since then done exhibitions in London Design Biennale, Dutch Design Week, and Triennale di Milano. Her works have been featured in Vogue, Elle Decor, and FRAME Magazine among others. Roots and Wings speaks to Bianca to understand her work process and to find out what it’s like to be an artist in the Netherlands.
Bump Galaxy by Bianca Carague
Why did you choose to study and stay in the Netherlands?
I almost went to Milan because I got a full scholarship in a school there. The scholarship made sense and I thought there’s where I should go. But the program in the Netherlands just aligned with me a lot more. It’s very progressive here in terms of design, compared to Milan which can be commercial. I made it happen. This is where I wanted to go. It’s forward thinking because the problem solving is long term. After two years of studying, I moved to Rotterdam because I was thinking of a place to set up my studio. There are a lot of artists and designers here. I like the energy and I already know a lot of people.
Bump Galaxy by Bianca Carague
How is it living in the Netherlands?
I’m here completely by myself and I have no problem with it. Perhaps because I studied first so I was able to build a pretty strong support system, although very non-Dutch. I think I only have three Filipino friends. I love them but I hardly see them. Maybe I have non-Dutch friends because my Dutch is not that good yet. It’s difficult to make Dutch friends and I end up being surrounded by expats. To practice my Dutch, I go to this fish stall to get kibbeling–my all time favorite Dutch snack. After a long conversation, they go, ‘There are a lot of Filipinos in Rotterdam. Like a lot.’ But I don’t know where they are.
Can you tell us about your work?
I’m an artist. Before moving to the Netherlands, I was very design focused. I used to do interior design and design furniture. I also used to work with street vendors and Aetas in the Philippines for designs with focus on social impact. But since moving to the Netherlands, I have shifted to art. I now have my studio in Rotterdam. I say I'm an artist. It’s like between artist and designer but I prefer being an artist. My practice consists of building virtual worlds that tell stories about different possible futures. I have a difficulty saying whether I'm a designer or artist because the research part is design. But the execution is art.
I like games and I do virtual landscapes. For a long time, right after graduation, I was working on video games for mental health. Basically I would modify existing gaming landscapes and mechanics to facilitate various forms of therapy. I would work with people that would design games, but also therapists and other mental health professionals to see what they need and how I can translate it into a game. A huge chunk of my time post-graduation was dedicated to that. But apart from mental health efforts and gaming, I was also doing exhibitions and commissioned works from Dutch institutions. I was also concerned with other social themes like the future of literacy and post-truth fake news. I guess in general, it's really telling stories, building worlds that talk about certain social issues and world events.
When they teach you design in school, especially in the Philippines, they teach you to solve a problem. But my practice is less about solving problems, but more on opening people's minds to different ways of looking at a problem. Because really I think how you solve a problem depends on how you understand the problem. If I solve a problem, the solution I come up with is the outcome of my perspective or how I see the problem and what I think is a better outcome. So my work is less about telling people that this is the solution. Obviously, I did the research but it's more about inviting people into this world that I built and to make their own conclusions.
‘Bump Galaxy,’ the interactive virtual space you created for mental wellbeing has become really popular. Can you tell us more about it?
It started with the question, what if playing can also mean caring? What would a video game look like if it was designed for therapy? So I made things that I thought would be helpful for myself. I was working through my own things at the time, and I was like, well, what if I translate my own experiences into a gaming, into a virtual landscape and see what happens? I built it and shared it during the pandemic, just when quarantine started. That's when I started inviting people to play Minecraft with me.
My Minecraft server grew from a very small floating temple in the forests to more than three million square meters of virtual land designed for mental health. I designed maybe five to ten percent of it, but then it really grew because I was inviting other people to play with me and build it with me. For example, they would come in, let's say a therapist would come in, and she'd see what I built and she'd say, you know what? This is nice, but I think it needs something different. And then she'll have an idea and I'll say, okay, let's build it together.
'Gen C: Children of 2050' imagined four different types of children that could exist in the year 2050.
You also had an exhibition last summer in Tetem (Enschede, Netherlands) called ‘Gen C: Children of 2050.’ What was special about it?
It was an exhibition about the future of children. After doing research on climate change, I came up with four different kids that could exist in the year 2050 and how their lives might be different in the future because of the climate crisis. I focused on technology, education, and family. With four main themes, I designed children's bedrooms so that visitors would experience what it would be like to be a kid in 2050 by going through the exhibition.
The exhibition was there and I was doing workshops with people so that they could immerse themselves and also have their own ideas and add things on top of what I already built. So doing the workshops, I use these ideas and insights to develop the exhibition into a final one, three months later. That's really less about imposing solutions, but more about just inviting people into how I see problems and just inviting them to come up with their own solutions. And that way, they see mine, they see each others’ solutions, and we just all have a little bit more open minds.
Where do you see yourself years from now?
I like the Netherlands. I think it’s really friendly for artists. In my opinion, it's the best country to live in if you're an artist. They're really supportive in terms of opportunities to show your work and funding. But five years from now, honestly, the only thing I learned in the last two years is that things can change so fast. So I don’t know. But I like the Netherlands.
Right: Bianca Carague is a Netherlands-based Filipino artist and designer.
Our theme for February is love on accelerated digital transformation. When you hear that, what does it mean to you?
What kind of love? Laughs. I'm going to say, for me, the first thing I think of is love for my family. To me it's like a virtual space. I don't know if I'm biased because I always make 3D virtual spaces. I think, let's say in the future when the digital world is super accelerated, you know you could just enter a virtual space and it almost feels just like being with family in person. Maybe it's not in the living room. Maybe you're in glittery mountains in the clouds. I think that'd be really nice. I think we can travel to impossible places with our loved ones with our digital bodies. That's what I would imagine.