Bruce Mau’s Intriguing Visions

February 11, 2008

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We know more than a few people who can’t stomach Bruce Mau, Canada’s pre-eminent “designer” and bubbling optimist. We know even more folks than that who haven’t a clue what the man is going on about.

Fair enough. If you walk into a conversation with Mau assuming that “design” is another word for “aesthetics” or that corporations impulsively talk out of both sides of their mouths or that beards should be kept to a reasonable length, there’s quite a bit about the man that will leave you reeling with incomprehension.

But there is something about Mau’s optimistic futurism that we love – something remarkably refreshing in light of all the Chicken Little-ing we hear in the media these days. Mau genuinely believes that technological advance, paradigm smashing, and a revolution in thinking about design is going to help bring about humanity and the earth’s ultimate salvation.

Don’t buy it?

Check out his contributions to the Stock Exchange of Visions, a project initiated by Fabrica (one of the United subsets of Benetton). The SEV brought together a slew of international “visionaries” and asked them to contribute their thoughts re: pressing global issues. These thoughts were incorporated into an interactive art installation that appeared at Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou (2006) and Milan’s Triennale (2007). The participant’s responses to questions concerning everything from the state of the planet and the mass media to the problems of migration and consumerism are now found at the Stock Exchange’s website. You can even vote on which “visionary” sounds the sanest.

Watching Mau’s responses, we were reminded of just what a wonderful interview he was when we sat down to chat in his Toronto offices a few years ago. He is a majestically eliptical and engaging speaker who relished our skepticism, and played with it accordingly.

His story – that of a Sudbury boy blessed with an inspiring art teacher who was bored to death at OCA, grew politicized in London during the Thatcher years, and has consistently sought to explode convention definitions of design – was remarkably inspiring.

Think of his visions as incitements to greater conversation rather than anything clear or wholly prescriptive.

You may love him, or you may hate him, but you can’t deny Mau has one hell of a beard, and a slew of intriguing ideas about art, human evolution, and our capacity to change.

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