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Review Wed Sep 17 2008

Cusp Conference 2008: The Design of Everything

In the auditorium of the MCA, I'm literally on the edge of my seat. I want desperately to leave -- and it's because the presentation is so good. Environmental advocate and attorney Robert F Kennedy Jr. is giving the most dynamic talk I've ever seen. He has actually lost his voice and is croaking out every syllable, but the whole place is hanging on his every word about the pillaging of America's forests and rivers. And he's so convincing that I can't believe we're all sitting in this auditorium instead of leaping to our feet and throwing our bodies in front of the nearest strip-mining operation or mercury-spewing factory.

This feeling of inspiration and, well, wanting to sprint out of the auditorium and make some change happen, permeated the entirety of the Cusp conference, held over two days last week at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Ostensibly about "the design of everything," it was really a super collider for innovative, creative thought, bringing genius-y over-achievers from all sectors to deliver their wisdom to the assembled masses.

Bryan Anderson, an Iraq war veteran who lost three limbs (yes, three limbs) spoke about his new state-of-the-art microprocessor-controlled appendages and about how, thanks to a relentless determination to pursue his dreams, he's now a movie stunt man. Paul Jenkins spoke about growing up poor in England, landing in Times Square in his early 20s, and falling in with the guys who started the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - and that's just the prelude to his career as the writer of the Spiderman comic books. Journalist Quinn Norton presented how she hacked her own body, getting an implant of a tiny magnet in her middle finger that allowed her to sense electromagnetic fields. Paul Polak advocated designing for the "other 90%" of the world's population, creating cheap but innovative devices for the third world, like water pumps that can significantly increase the output of crops for a small farmer. Plus a whole lineup of other rockstar mover/shakers. And then there was the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speech that brought the whole place to its feet.

The conference was sponsored by design firm SamataMason, and in talking to some of the designers from the firm, I got the sense that it became a passion project for all involved. No wonder. The whole place thrummed with an enthusiasm that even the most jaded design hipster couldn't deny. Tickets are pricey. This year's conference was about $1,700 a ticket. But if you can get your employer to foot the bill, or if you've got extra rainy-day cash that you want to spend on pure inspiration, sign up for next year's event.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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