Page N1.2 . 10 November 2004                     
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    Designing for Massive Change

    continued

    By inquiring into the power of design in widely different fields of endeavor in housing and urbanization, movement, information, the image, manufacturing, the military, materials, markets, energy, and even life itself Massive Change seeks to explore the capabilities and ethical dilemmas of design in the contemporary world.

    Laying Out the Economies

    The exhibition treats these fields of endeavor, or "economies" as it calls them, with broad, impressionistic strokes. Using objects, sound, video, still photography, computer and satellite images, interactive technology, and three-dimensional constructs, Massive Change conveys the sense and feel of highly specialized disciplines without attempting to convey their specific or momentary knowledge.

    Cities worldwide increase in population at a combined rate of one million people per week. The exhibit portrays this urbanization in wall-to-wall layers of city silhouettes onto which a collage of images and information projects in a seamless loop. "Design = City = Everything = Design," the exhibit proclaims. There is no outside; nature itself has fallen to the regime of design.

    A visitor acquainted with the "urban economy" will be familiar with modular housing, green rooftops, ecological footprints, and the environmentally innovative Brazilian city of Curitiba, just as a visitor familiar with the "life economy" will not be surprised by the monster salmon or the nose in a jar.

    The exhibition's innovation lies not in the particulars it conveys nor in the depth of its inquiry. Rather its innovation lies in juxtaposing a spectacular array of apparently distinct fields of human endeavor to reveal the generating intelligence they share as, fundamentally, an intelligence of design.

    Further, the exhibition's innovation lies in presenting this content to the public in an effervescent cocktail that is part art, part design, part manifesto, part trade show.

    The show's effervescence can be traced to Mau's belief, in contrast with what he perceives as a public mood of negativity, that the great changes of recent times testify to a marvelous and expanding human potential. Thus the exhibition takes as its keynote a quotation in which historian Arnold Toynbee described the 20th century "not as an era of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective."

    Exhibit as Collaborative Design

    Perhaps contributing to the exhibition's optimism is the participation of the Institute Without Boundaries (IWB), a post-graduate design program which Mau's studio inaugurated in collaboration with the School of Design at Toronto City College.

    The students of IWB played a significant role in the design and execution of this project. As in a renaissance studio, in which master and apprentices together produce works of art, it is largely impossible to tell how much of the work is attributable to either.

    This accords with Massive Change's philosophical commitment to pluralism. The singular, says Mau, is no longer plausible. Thus the exhibition's design team endeavored to depart from the "aesthetic autonomy of recent design," to set aside the visual (at least initially), to ignore the definitions that isolate disciplines, and to focus on capacity, on the receiver, on regions of change where design is a driver in reforming the way we live.

    And, while attempts to extend this pluralism to include the audience smack of tokenism the opportunity to vote yes or no to "changing the way we feed the world" the exhibition as a whole commits fully to its course.

    For the practicing designer, the project's most useable piece of wisdom may not be in the gallery at all, but in an anecdote Mau tells about Massive Change's inception. Mau was contemplating a number of attractive projects: the Vancouver Art Gallery wanted to collaborate on an exhibition on the state of design, Phaidon Press wanted a new book, Toronto City College wanted to collaborate on a graduate program, there was a radio program in the offing, and a film.

    Mau's associate wrote all these projects on cards, set them on a table, and said "Bruce, you cannot do all these projects. Choose one and turn the rest down." Mau describes himself skulking around the edges of the room, seeking a way to escape the choice. "Finally," he says, "I managed to convince him that doing all of them as one project would be easier and more compelling than doing any one of them alone."

    To critics who say he bit off more than he can chew, Mau replies, "they're absolutely right, and it's delicious." Massive Change revels in the audacity of its ambition, the eclecticism of its material, and the creativity of its expression. The exhibition is an exciting achievement in art, design, and public discourse.

    Massive Change was commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery, where it runs until January 3, 2005, after which the exhibition will tour internationally through 2007. The Massive Change project includes a book published by Phaidon Press, a Web site, a weekly radio program, and a feature-length documentary in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Katharine Logan is a Vancouver-based environmental designer and writer.

     

    Continue...

    ArchWeek Image

    In the exhibition, Massive Change, astonishing images demonstrate what we are now able to perceive with each wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum.
    Photo: Robert Keziere/ Vancouver Art Gallery

    ArchWeek Image

    A series of surprising statistics expresses global wealth and politics in relative quantities of key indicators.
    Photo: Robert Keziere/ Vancouver Art Gallery

    ArchWeek Image

    A gallery of "global portraits" expresses information technology's contribution to our growing understanding of the planet.
    Photo: Barrett Lyon, The Opte Project

    ArchWeek Image

    A gallery of unsuspected relationships between military and consumer technologies challenges the optimism of the rest of the exhibition.
    Photo: Robert Keziere/ Vancouver Art Gallery

    ArchWeek Image

    The exhibition poses this question.
    Photo: Tim Bonham/Vancouver Art/Bruce Mau Design

    ArchWeek Image

    Markets area of the exhibition.
    Photo: Tim Bonham/Vancouver Art/Bruce Mau Design

    ArchWeek Image

    The urbanization installation projects the ten densest cityscapes, and proposes scenarios for vertical, horizontal, and prefabricated housing.
    Photo: Tim Bonham/Vancouver Art/Bruce Mau Design

    ArchWeek Image

    Vancouver Art Gallery building in context.
    Photo: Tim Bonham/ Vancouver Art Gallery

     

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