April 11, 2009

Bruce Mau: “Begin Anywhere, Stay Up Late, and Don’t Be Cool.” [Sustainable Design & the Denver Biennial of the Americas].

Bruce Mau is a designer, which means that he straddles the divide between the practical and the possible. His work is consumed with the way things work and the way things run, understanding them so we can build off the best ideas and improve them for the future. But what makes Bruce Mau and his colleagues stand apart from other design collectives is that his vision is based on the acknowledgment that our current way of life is completely unsustainable. His creativity is dedicated to finding another way, and inspiring others to do the same.

When elephant journal interviewed Lester Brown in Denver last spring, he told us, “If you like challenges, there’s no greater time to be alive.” When Bruce Mau lectured at the University of Kansas last week, he also quoted Mr. Brown: “Massive change is inevitable.” The statement filled the screen in large, bold, sans-serif font.

“Massive change”—also the title of Mau’s recent book and traveling exhibition—translates into “massive possibility.” Lately, Mau is a designer of systems rather than of physical objects, looking at how counties brand themselves to their own people (the Guate Amala project re-envisioned a positive future for the country of Guatemala, piloted by hundreds of thousands of citizen volunteers) and how ideas gain momentum.

From the Massive Change show in Chicago. Photo courtesy flickr user imsobe.

This year, Denver’s Mayor Hickenlooper hired Mau and his team to create the Denver Biennial of the Americas, a citywide, international extravaganza of ideas, art, lectures and parties aimed at “finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.” Sure, that sounds vague, but definitely promising—and lest we forget that Barack Obama just won the presidency based in part on the same kind of over-arching idealism. This video explains the Biennial, which is still in the basic planning stages:

Whatever your own skills and passions may be, Bruce Mau hopes that his projects can include and inspire you to also find sustainable solutions to whatever problems affect your own life. Where do we begin? “Begin anywhere,” Mau says. His “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” written in 1998, provides other deliciously ambiguous yet completely inspiring guidelines for living your own life as a sustainable solution:

  1. Allow events to change you.
    You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  2. Forget about good.
    Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
  3. Process is more important than outcome.
    When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
  4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
    Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  5. Go deep.
    The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  6. Capture accidents.
    The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
  7. Study.
    A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
  8. Drift.
    Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
  9. Begin anywhere.
    John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
  10. Everyone is a leader.
    Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  11. Harvest ideas.
    Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  12. Keep moving.
    The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  13. Slow down.
    Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  14. Don’t be cool.
    Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  15. Ask stupid questions.
    Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
  16. Collaborate.
    The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

Read the full Manifesto (it goes up to #43) here.

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