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21.08.2014 / ArtsPeople, Tokyo

'Now What If Then': Farming Tokyo - 

The World of Stephen Munshin

For our new Japanese-Australian collaboration ‘Farming Tokyo with Stephen Mushin’ at Spiral in Tokyo, we were invited to write an article for Spiral Magazine on ‘The World of Stephen Mushin’. Enjoy!

Spiral Magazine, July 2014 

This August, get ready to travel to another time and place; to a future city where cows float in the air suspended by methane-powered airships, and vending machines cultivate and dispense fresh sashimi. Get ready for Stephen Mushin’s world; where creativity is King, and environmental problems are solved with crazy, fanciful, yet scientifically possible, solutions.

Part-art exhibition, part-scientific investigation, part-creative workshop, Stephen Mushin’s ‘Farming Tokyo’ involves children and adults alike in a creative experiment. Through interactive displays and story-based workshops, participants will help to re-invent Tokyo as an ecological system, where waste becomes food, and buildings crawl with plants and animals.

With Stephen, dealing with serious environmental issues needn’t be all doom and gloom. Children and families are invited to tackle serious problems with humour, fun, and most importantly, imagination. In our children’s busy lives, where we all become limited to ‘right/wrong’, ‘good/bad’, ‘yes/no’, art experiences open up new possibilities and teach us to question the way things are.

In Australia and Japan, children’s lives can be overly commercialised, and filled with rules and schedules. Children’s attempts to push the boundaries and challenge the adult world, are mostly met with disapproval and more rules. But this is not the case in Stephen’s world, where his long-term art project is titled “Now, What, If, Then”, a progressive, stream-of-consciousness line of inquiry, where you are rewarded for crazy ideas. As participants, we are all encouraged to push the boundaries; applauded for challenging the status quo; and judged only by how big and brave our imaginations are.

But this is not escapism. Stephen’s world, although full of fantasy, absurd ideas and wacky-looking machines, is not about fleeing from a harsh or dull reality. It is not a personal, lonely or isolated experience. It is about our whole community developing a stronger sense of ownership and belonging, becoming empowered to collectively make changes in our world. Stephen Mushin is all about embracing, with relentless optimism, the reality and the issues of our current lives.

As a parent, I want my children to be simultaneously aware of the world they live in – to look after their environment, act with empathy towards others, and realize how fortunate they are – and be ‘free’ to be children. Childhood is such a short, precious time to wonder, imagine, and create.

Importantly, this project is very much about families too. ‘Farming Tokyo’ gives parents an opportunity to re-connect with their own creativity, use their imagination, and enjoy working together with their children. And particularly special is the fact that, for a rare moment, the children often have the advantage – they are better at this than their parents – more free, more in-the-moment, and unencumbered by ‘reality’.

So families, fasten your seat belts! I hope you will join us on this fun adventure, where the final destination all depends on our collective creativity.

Words: Kathryn Hunyor

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