Artist Stephen Mushin

Comments (0) Interviews

Stephen Mushin is the Artist in Residence at the Glasshouse from August 11 – 21. His workshops are about facing the world’s enormous ecological challenges head on, encouraging us to push boundaries and explore change in inspiring and creative ways. Can we actually make Port Macquarie the world’s first seaworthy city? Let’s find out!

Hi Stephen. Tell us about your background as an industrial designer…

I’ve been an industrial designer for around 15 years. I’ve spent most of this time working on ecological design projects and sustainability projects – dealing with things such as growing food in cities, processing organic food waste, generating renewable energy, planning cities, helping organisations to produce zero emissions – and not just to become carbon neutral, but to help these organisations reengineer themselves so they produce zero waste.

And these projects have led to the concept of “Now If What Then”. Please explain how this idea came about …

I’ve always worked on “thought experiments” … I’m interested in speculative design about ways to reimagine the future. I believe we need to transition our society rapidly into a zero emissions world – and this needs to happen in our lifetime. This is an incredible challenge we face; it’s very exciting, but for many people it’s also quite daunting. The idea of change is scary.

So, the Now If What Then projects simply came out of all of the work I was doing with envisioning sustainable cities. Bit by bit, I started exhibiting ideas, I was asked to do talks – so it all started from there …

The Now If What Then concept also incorporates a travelling exhibition. What types of items does this exhibition showcase?

Designs, sketches, schematics, 3D Models, and handmade models of different varieties.

My visit to the Glasshouse throughout August this year is an Artist’s Residency. I’ll be running some workshops with the local community, developing ideas and creating new work. Then next year, in 2016, there’ll be an exhibition that will be held at the Glasshouse – some of which will be based upon the work I developed during the Residency.

How much community input has there been into the “thought experiments” you mentioned previously?

The projects that make up Now If What Then have been highly collaborative, with different people involved. There have been engineers and scientists involved; some ideas have sprung out of conversations with friends, some from workshops … They largely come from me sitting down and synthesising a whole lot of conversations and producing work. They’re not the result of me sitting down and saying to the community, “What do you want?” and drawing it … they’re the result of me workshopping ideas and saying, “How about this?” and seeing where the idea goes …



You mentioned you feel our society needs to “transition rapidly” and make some radical changes to evolve successfully. In your view, what should our priorities be to achieve this?

The most important thing to do right now to re-engineer our cities is to move to one hundred per cent renewable energy. I’m saying this is completely possible… there have been some very large, very well-funded projects which show the feasibility of Australia having one hundred per cent renewable energy within ten years. That’s the no brainer, really!

Fill us in on the workshops you’ll be running at the Glasshouse …

The project I’ll be working on in Port Macquarie is called “Ship Shaping”. It explores the implications of sea level rise and the impact on coastal cities. The brutal fact of the matter is the vast majority of cities will eventually be inundated with water, unless there is some kind of massive change … So, this project is asking if we want to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, what on Earth do we do? The project pitches a dystopian plan for the event that we fail to stop climate change – we float the buildings.

The first workshop is an exploration of ecological design – it’s a way of engaging the community and throwing some ideas around, preparing people to come back and get involved in the ship shaping workshop – which is the third workshop, for people aged 13 and up.

The second workshop is similar, but it’s for kids (8 – 12), explaining some engineering design principles and methodologies, so kids can design things.

I find the average 12 year old often knows more about climate change, engineering and design than many adults, and they’re a lot more open to new ideas. Kids around this age know a lot, but they’re also highly imaginative, so they’re able to be really creative and experimental with their thinking … Adults, I think, get caught up with our everyday lives and there’s a lot more at stake when we think about change … Change has implications for all of our lives.

The whole idea of these workshops is to be fun and to engage creative ideas – to explore the idea that there’s so much work to be done in future, but this could also lead to one hundred per cent employment in our lifetime with the scenario I’m referring to. We need to redesign and reimagine everything, so it’s a really fertile time to be alive! It’s about focusing on the positive, because so much information we’re presented – about things such as climate change, the Carbon Tax etc. is negative. That’s such narrow thinking! Looking at the much bigger picture, there’s such an economic boom ahead!

The Now If What Then projects are provocations … they’re designed to make us question the way we think and explore ideas. Some of these explorations can produce quite insane ideas – but are they any more insane than the world we’re currently living in?

Final say …

Now If What Then is constantly developing, and Port Macquarie is just one stop on the journey. I visited Japan last year and worked with the Tokyo University of Agriculture to develop a vision for growing food in Tokyo. This time it will be about sea level rise, and the next visit will be about traffic and autonamous vehicles … so there’ll be a whole lot of different ideas down the track.

Thanks Stephen.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

Visit: and for more info.

Plug: Workshop details

Design Thought Experiment Workshops Wednesday 12 August 5:30pm – 7:30pm and Thursday 20 August 5:30pm – 7:30pm. FREE.

Ecological Design Basics Workshop

(Kids aged 8 – 12). Saturday 15 August, 10am – 12:30pm. $15.

Shipshaping Workshop

(Ages 13 + up). Saturday 15 August, 1:30pm – 3:30pm. $15.

Bookings essential. Phone 6581 8888 or book online at


This article was from issue 117 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus.

Leave a Reply