Dear Bruce Mau

11 March 2005

Dear Bruce Mau,

First of all, congratulations regarding the opening of Massive Change at the AGO. I'm sure you must be very excited, and hope you had a good time at the party last night. I'm sorry I couldn't make it, but I didn't have the $125 handy to get a ticket, or else I could have congratulated you in person. But, I've had some thoughts about this whole endeavor, which I'd like to share with you. Seems fair doesn't it, since you're trying to communicate your thoughts to people like me, through the exhibition?

First of all, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but I think somebody needs to (what are friends for?) but just because you know how to organize a page that's reminiscent of 1990s design, and just because you get some of the most talented design-graduates working for you in your studio so that you can take the credit, and just because you publish with Phaidon and have interacted with the players in the international scene, no, none of this makes you an intellectual, or worthy of what ends up looking, on your part, of being pure pomposity.

It's not that you're so bad. I'll admit, I read your Incomplete Manifesto for Growth when it first came out in a design magazine and found it inspiring. Much of it still makes a lot of sense. And that whole questionnaire-hiring thing - I admired that strategy, it seemed a really great idea. And, when you released Lifestyle, I saw you speak at U of T, and I really enjoyed that lecture - the whole thing about finding the appropriate form for an idea really resonated with me. But, I admit that until about 2001, during which time you were courting me with your ideas, I was under the spell of your celebrity. You'd been interviewed by Evan Solomon for the show he had at the time on Newsworld, (Futureworld) around 1997 and it was my introduction to your work. Evan was advertising S,M,XL for you. That book made waves - I remember my studio instructor, Garry Kennedy, offering to lend me a copy because I was working on bookworks at the time, but he didn't follow through. We used to talk about it in the studios, you know, 'have you seen the that Mau book....' After moving to Ontario from Halifax, I used to look at it at Chapters, but could never bring myself to spend the money to bring it home.

So yeah, you were a star. I grew up being trained into thinking that anyone on TV is worth paying attention to. After a few years in this media-centric city though, I learned that being on TV is simply a matter of someone else thinking you're more cool than you probably are. The whole media-celebrity universe is one of mutual advertising dependence. In between the McCain french-fry commercials, Evan Solomon got to feel like he was talking to a luminary, and you got to feel like you were important. Of course, that's how it was circa 1997 - access to that type of display - getting your message out to potentially millions of people was only available by courting the producers and editors of these corporations. So, you had some ideas. So, you got a publishing deal with Phaidon. So, you took a call from Solomon's people. Fine.

The thing is, nowadays there's the internet. You may have heard of it? I ask because for years there your website was pretty lame considering you think you're such a bigshot. I believe, that given that you charge $20,000 retainer fees or something to that effect, and that your opening party at the AGO had a $125 cover charge and that we all know the publishing industry regarding booksales isn't quite all that .... well, seems to me that if your ideas are as great as you think they are, you could afford to give them away. Stop wasting our time trying to become an international art star. Leave that to the world's Damien Hirsts, or the rest of us who actually went to art school and are slugging away dealing with Canada's art world bureaucracy, while nursing the ultimate desire to split this country for a bungalow in Los Angeles.

I think you should stop wasting the money you're using to put on these multi-media shows and use it to develop a better website, or start a magazine, or a newspaper - or something. If you want to communicate to the world, do so, but don't flaunt wealth and power and try to hob-knob with the world's aristocrats who are as uncaring about the rest of us today as they were 200 years ago. I mean, of course there's Bono, but you're no Bono. The money spent on this show could have gone into a homeless shelter or something like that.

Also, turning design into an ideology is just stupid. We don't need it. You've been hanging out with too many architects who only care about their visions and not for the people who have to live with them. I'm a democratic person - and I think you are too. I remember at that lecture you gave in 2000, at U of T, you pointed out that everyone in the room probably had all these different talents, and if we all worked together, well we could come up with something great. That made sense to me then and it still does. It reminded me of the collective power we have, and what we're wasting following people like yourself, looking to you guys to give us direction or approval.

That's why I believe that democratic governments make more sense than totalitarian ones. Like the open-source movement, you know, better results through sharing than through 'the proprietary'. It's also why I have little patience for people like you who are positioning themselves, whether conscious or not, as design dictators who want to force something homogenous on us.

So, this is what I have in mind - my biases as they are - before I go see your show, Massive Change at the AGO, which has already gotten one bad review. Maybe you'll sway me, and maybe I'll like it, in which case, I'll let you know.

I can say that I saw the accompanying book at Chapters last month, wrapped in plastic, which I unwrapped so that I could browse through it, and I wasn't terribly impressed then. The whole point of your show, as I understand it, is to evoke an 'oh gosh wow' look at the world in which we live. That goes against the 'oh, christ, fuck' response I've had at the industrialization and accompanying environmental degradation. The 20th Century's roadworks and highways are more of a long-term embarrassment than a reason to celebrate human achievement. The greenhouse problem, not to mention our monumental landfills, are no Sphinx or Pyramid-like legacy to be treasured by succeeding generations. Perhaps this design-joy you have for all the world's over-and-mass-produced crap, which we need an advertising industry to convince us we need to own, is precisely why I'm filled with an instinctive, visceral, loathing to what you're doing.

But, I'll admit I might not be fair. I'll see the show, and I'll get back to you.




  1. March 2005: Published on
  2. 2005-2015 Archived on my websites & blog
  3. May 2023: this version produced