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Open Right

Stephen Mushin

Author, Education Consultant, Entertainer, Illustrator, Inspirational Speaker, Social Issues

Industrial designer, hack engineer, DIY aquaculturalist and illustrator Stephen Mushin collaborates with scientists, and engineers in underground workshops to solve ‘elephant in the room’ scale ecological problems.

His solutions are often unorthodox, but always theoretically possible. Examples include floating cows in the sky with their own gas, or building fake icebergs for polar bears using recycled home freezers.

His long-term Now If What Then design project and workshop series has toured Australia and a book of his designs is being published by Allen and Unwin in 2017. Stephen regularly undertakes residencies with schools where he uses his ‘thought experiments’ as starting points for madcap explorations in science, technology, English, arts and maths.

Where were you born?

I was born in Scotland in a small city called Dundee where icebergs sometimes float down the river in winter.

What other jobs have you had?

I recently worked as an aquaponics farmer in Melbourne to learn more about growing fish and vegetables in high-tec city farms (I built the farm with my colleagues). I also once worked as a dairy farmer in Switzerland – to learn more about cows.

What themes are recurring in your work?

Autonomous ecological machines that produce no waste. Outrageous sounding disruptive design solutions to very serious problems – that no one thinks could possible work (but actually could). Back of napkin calculations that prove cool stuff to boring people. Using explosive gas produced by rotting waste to do useful things like blast manure into forests.

What have been the highlights of your career?

My recent exhibition in Japan, and workshops in Tokyo where I worked with locals to imagine how we could turn the city into a forest by recycling all of its waste to create soil.

Where have your works been published?

My recent exhibitions in Japan, and design projects in Tokyo where I worked with scientists and everyday people to plan turning the city into a jungle. We explored what would happen if we recycled the city’s entire waste to create soil, and brought back silka deer to spread manure, and the (extinct) Japanese tiger – with fluro stripes for safety in traffic – to control the silka deer.

What are you passionate about?

Building prototypes. Drawing. Brainstorming ideas and collaborating on design projects with people from all walks of life. Having great conversations with people who get excited about weird stuff.

Haven’t I seen you before?

Doubt it. I spend most of my time making things in secret workshops.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’m convinced that absolutely everyone has outrageously good ideas – ideas that could turn the world upside down overnight. Problem is, we don’t realise how good our ideas are, or we don’t happen to know people with billions of dollars. The billion of dollars thing can be a problem…But it’s pretty easy to make sure everyone learns the basic brainstorming and making skills that help bring good ideas to life. And if we can do that, we could see the world change faster than we can possibly imagine.

Testimonials

Stephen worked with our Year 9 students in a half-day workshop, in a thinking environment to engage our students’ problem-solving skills. His talents as an industrial designer encouraged our students to think ‘outside the square’ as his workshop provoked students to examine ‘elephant in the room’ scenarios dealing with authentic real-world issues.

Stephen engaged our Year 9 students with his warm and welcoming manner. He built a rapport with all students. He allowed each of them to share their thoughts and ideas and made them all feel valued and an important part of the workshop. I would highly recommend a session with Stephen if you are looking to engage students in a collaborative, problem-solving environment where all ideas matters and can contribute to the design of solutions to authentic real-life environmental and lifestyle issues.

—G. Kinch, Dean of Studies, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School, June 2016

Stephen engaged all of our girls from the moment they came into the room. His warm and welcoming manner had them on side from the outset. He allowed each of them to share their thoughts and ideas and made them all feel valued and an important part of the workshop.

It is not easy to be able to work with a wide age range but Stephen handled it masterfully. The concepts and ideas explored were talked about for days after he left.

I would highly recommend a session with Stephen.

—J. Lang, Head of Junior School, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School, June 2016

The incursion with Steve Mushin was delightfully surprising. His crazy and out-of- the-box thinking definitely got all of us buzzing with excitement and fresh ideas. We all enjoyed creating and designing inventions that will solve our world’s biggest issues and I know that we will be using his creative thinking in our own real-life situations.

—Year 9 Student, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School, June 2016

Stephen has worked with our Grade 5 and 6 students and our Year 12 students on special projects to promote creativity and sustainability in our school. His programs are always very organized and well thought out, he always worked closely with classroom teachers to ensure his programs meet the needs of the students and the curriculum. His ability to encourage students to think outside the square was particularly valuable and allowed students to stretch their thinking beyond the ordinary. His half-day programs allowed time for students to explore their ideas and then to create models that were both beautiful and demonstrated their new learning. I would highly recommend Stephen as his programs are inspiring, fun and engaging.

—T. Hueneke, Librarian, Cornish College, 2016

Having Stephen come to our school was awesome. He helped us to explore our creativity and at the same time have lots of fun. We all loved how his ideas for inventions could change the world in the future and were amazed at how creative he was!

—Grade 6 Student, Cornish College, 2016

Stephen Mushin was brilliant, spot on, and appropriately pitched for Yr 6. He was a great artist to have to engage with the students, and he was clear in presenting design principles and strong on introducing environmental issues.

I could see the pennies dropping about the new way of thinking imaginatively and creatively that Stephen was introducing. He pitched random ideas that presented the girls with a beautiful freedom to consider their own designs and think in a wider context. Stephen also provided resources and ideas that prompted the teachers to think about his open ended projects and ideas.

—L. Keyter, Abbotsleigh, April 2015

The time with Stephen was very interesting because of his ideas and approach…The main benefit was that it got the students thinking of the extreme lengths to which we might need to go to solve environmental problems. I was able to relate aspects of his polar bear idea to some real Australian examples (Tasmanian devils, saltwater crocodiles), which made students realise that the ideas were not as far-fetched as they might think.

—S. Filan, Abbotsleigh, April 2015

Stephen Mushin recently presented his highly successful ‘Biomechanical Machines of Tomorrow workshop at Scienceworks as part of Test Lab, a pop-up, STEM based makerspace.
Stephen’s workshop gave kids and adults an opportunity to imagine, dream big, solve the problems of today, and most importantly conceive new and playful approaches to the world we might live in tomorrow. His workshop was extremely fun for all involved, and participants reveled in having ownership of their designs, sharing them with the group. It ignited the creative funny bone in everyone, and offered a new assurance for creative problem solving.
We could not have been more pleased about our experience with Stephen and his ingenuity as a workshop facilitator. He was an absolute hoot to work with.

—S. Carluccio, Test Lab Program Officer, Scienceworks 2016

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