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I introduced Justus Bruns to Dagmar Woyde-Koehler last year because I thought it would be great if Justus included the MINDKISS Project inTimes Square Art Square. The two of them exchanged emails and a little while ago they met up in New York. Dagmar was so excited by Justus and the affinity he expressed to OUBEYs art that she asked me to meet him in Antwerp and do an interview. And that’s just what I did. In our conversation we found that Justus and Dagmar are basically following a similar approach in their very different projects – an approach which involves setting up a frame within which things can evolve.

I would call myself an ideas machine. For instance, one of my ideas is the Time Square Art Square where we actually try to turn all the billboards in Time Square into an Art Square, replacing them with art and doing art installations in the Square and so on. And I’m very obsessed with realizing ideas that make people think and also with helping other people realize their ideas.

How can design help in this context?

JUSTUS BRUNS: Design? I recently wrote a little blog post about it. The biggest problem I think we have nowadays, for example in politics, is that when we look at politics people are trying to solve problems by arguing, by putting down the best arguments and by being the best debater or talker, of having the best haircut coming up with the best solution. But I think in general, when you want to solve problems, you have to do it by working together.

And the process of actually designing a particular product is always about sitting down together and coming up with different ideas, no matter how crazy they are. It’s a bit like a tree that has all these different branches and at a certain moment you have these different crazy ideas that are so good and when you put them together you have the best solution. And the only way you can reach that is actually by leaving people how they are, by not criticizing them but by stimulating their creativity. So, I think in the design process it’s very important to realize ideas and to have these ideas solving problems.

And how is this design process related to your idea of art?

JUSTUS BRUNS: One of the things that we try to do is to create a platform. We basically remove every single applied expression form which we know as advertising and replace it by a sort of free expression form. And when we do that, we create an environment which is very similar to what you experience in a design environment. So when you are brain-storming, you try to stimulate as many people as possible to come up with ideas and be more creative. We basically try to scale this by providing big public spaces. In the case of Times Square Art Square it’s billboards for artists to express their ideas and stimulate others to realize their own.

Since we are doing this interview for we_magazine, how is this idea of WE, whatever it means to you, how is this realized in your design ideas, in your Times Square Art Square idea? Is it realized at all?

JUSTUS BRUNS: When I think of WE I think of togetherness, I think of people doing something together and I think definitely that that is something you need when you’re realizing ideas. I mean the biggest thing I’ve learnt in the past year is that there’re always people who are smarter than you and there’re always people who will have better strengths, so you should work together with these people in order to realize your ideas. And also I think that in order to pull this off, we need people to spread the idea with us and to feel the same passion that we have in creating a platform for creative people, for artists, who have the same passion, in getting the movement going. And that is something you really do together, that you can call the WE you mentioned.

How is this implemented in Times Square Art Square?

JUSTUS BRUNS: One of the things is that we reach out to every single party. So we are not afraid of reaching out to the companies currently advertising. Neither are we afraid of reaching out to extreme artists or art institutions like the museums in New York and basically bringing them all together to realize this. So our mindset is very much that we should do it together and the best outcome is when you work together. I think that the organization itself very much resembles this in its form like the legal form: we’re a non-profit organization which means we have no interest in making lots of money, we only have an interest in pulling this off and having more art in the world. And in that forum we are a neutral party. So, for every single company or person that’s involved, we try to bring them all together and the sort of collision that’s involved then makes things happen.

So there is a world without money in your vision?

JUSTUS BRUNS: Talking about money, I think the problem with the current currency is that it’s very much based on getting and not so much on giving. If you were thinking of re-designing currency or actually designing a world without money, it would be more or less based on how can we become rich through sharing knowledge which is a very interesting – almost an abstract – thing to think about. But I do feel very compelled to actually start to question the world we live in right now and to start to change it and make it less abstract. I think we should actually look at why we should always have the idea that someone running with hot coffee and a bagel from A to B on Wall Street is more successful than someone who eats two mangos a day and sits all day in the sun. I really want to change that sort of perspective. And one of the things you need to do is to influence. Because I, for example, think that teachers are much more important than lawyers or someone who builds swimming pools. Sorry, I’d say that’s going a little bit too far.

I think it’s perfectly on the mark. You don’t have to convince me about that. What do you think the individual can do – I mean these are huge tasks you are talking about …


... you know, it’s about literally changing the world. What can the individual contribute to such a process?

JUSTUS BRUNS: One of the first things I really had to acknowledge – and it took me a very long time is to do this – is that there are already a lot of people doing these things. You’re working on your school project and other people are working on making governments more open so there’re lots of things going on. So the first thing you should think is never think that you should do it all by yourself. Always think if you have a particular interest or idea, suppose you’re interested in politics or you’re interested in agriculture, say, just try to look at projects that are up and running and actually support and get involved in them – or start your own idea and share it with them. Only never come up with a whole new package and start to reinvent everything. So I think the first thing that you as an individual should do, if you want to participate in actually changing something, is acknowledging the fact that there’re many of you and then work together – which comes back to the WE part. That’s one thing. And the other thing is that if an idea really appeals to you – and I think it’s very important that it does have a strong appeal – that you should follow your dreams, I think it’s very important that you care about friendships, and that you care about the people who are close to you, and that you don’t work too hard and that you embrace laziness. I mean the fact that we are always thinking that we need to work – why can’t we ask some day, “Why is it so good to work every single minute of our day?” I think it’s much more sustainable to just sit and enjoy the blue sky or whatever.

You recently had a conversation with Dagmar Woyde-Koehler about the MINDKISS Project? Is this somehow related to your work? Do you see any common ground there?

JUSTUS BRUNS: I don’t directly see how I’m personally related in the project, because I think it’s a very personal thing. And what I think is very beautiful about it and how I see a lot of similarities with the way I work is that I’m very bad at executing. MINDKISS sounds very real to me because I’m executing all these ideas but it’s not because I’m executing them, it’s because I’m working with people that are capable of executing them. And I’m capable of exciting them to join me in executing these plans. And from what I see, this OUBEY MINDKISS project has sort of the same view. It has the same view in terms of bringing people together and exciting people, and the excitement revolves very much around the work of OUBEY which I’m literally psyched about. I really love to see and this is also one of the reasons why I’m doing art – the Art Time Art Square project. It’s because I see the arts bringing people together. Art motivates people, art creates more creativity, it makes more people think and that is what I really love about the OUBEY MINDKISS project – that it brings not only the artist himself in front of the people but also graphic designers, motion designers, Dagmar herself, and that drives me. I think that’s very cool.

What is actually your understanding of art?

JUSTUS BRUNS: It’s a very personal thing for me. I think we don’t have a definition for art first of all so I don’t have one either. The best explanation I can give is that it’s really, really about giving people the child-like imagination that they ...

The child-like imagination?

JUSTUS BRUNS: Yes, like if you put a class with 20 people together, say 20 kids and then ask them, “Who is an artist?”, they all would raise their hands. If you asked, “Who is a musician?” they’d all raise their hands. If you asked them, “Are you a singer?” they’d all raise their hands. But if you put the same kids 30 years on in the same class and asked the same questions, almost none of them would raise their hands. And I think what art is capable of – and art in general, it can be music, it can be performance it can be literally anything – is to bring back that moment when you felt you could do literally everything. And that is for me one of the biggest reasons why I’m doing this project. But besides that, I think that art is a very abstract thing and I think it’s personal for everybody. So, I mean I’m sort of implying my own definition of it.

The project you’re working on Time Square Art Square is a very complex thing. And you’re quite a small team. How do you think this is going to pan out?

JUSTUS BRUNS: It is going to happen. Of course it’s a small team, but it’s a big dream and a big conviction. The thing is I started this two and a half years ago so I’m quite used to hearing a lot of people say, “Ah, this isn’t going to work”. Luckily, I’m also very experienced with hearing people say, “I want to see this happening” and that sort of excites you every single day. The fact that you came over from Berlin to do this interview is one of the reasons why we are actually still running it and it excites us. That’s one reason. The second thing is that it excites others too to join the team, and the people who work here are very talented people. They are people that have experience with working with the type of companies that are in Time Square. And having that and having these people around you and also people advising you.Of course it’s a small team but there’re also a lot of people around wanting to help, wanting you to connect with all these people and so on which makes it feasible ...

So what is your vision with this project, how would you describe your vision?

JUSTUS BRUNS: My personal vision is very much about having more people think and having more people come to a point where they say, “Hey, life is not all about working very hard and getting a safe and secure job”. Life is also just about being here and now and looking around you and just literally watching. There’s this quote of Oscar Wilde who said, “We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”. And I think the main goal of this project is just simply having more people looking at the stars. And so basically, having people think and question – question themselves but also the environment we’re living in. I think when people do that, they actually see sometimes that they are making wrong decisions or they’re making the right decisions and they will continue in that way. In that way we can actually create a world that is more sustainable and also start re-thinking ...

We should re-think about the way we produce and consume goods because the current economy is literally based on waste. I have an iPhone 3G, for instance. But I need to have at least an iPhone 3GS because the updates make my iPhone so slow that I can’t use it anymore. So that model doesn’t work for the future because we keep on needing more and more resources. To repair a product nowadays is much more expensive than to buy a new one and that is so weird, it doesn’t fit. So, really, I think I want to make people think more, thinking not only about this but also about bigger issues and get them sort of started with that.

Interview by Ulrike Reinhard

Raised in Belgium and schooled at the University of Technology in Delft, Netherlands (B.S. in Industrial Design Engineering), JUSTUS BRUNS is committed to combining his professional training and personal passions for the global propagation of art and culture. In his efforts to provide artists and arts organizations with a platform in the largest exhibition space the world has ever known, Justus is committed to preserving the integrity and spirit of human expression. As Chief Evangelist, Justus speaks at international conferences and events, engaging creators, supporters and observers alike. As wide-eyed wunderkind, he champions limitless possibility and inspires us all to re-imagine our world.

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