One of the hardest realizations I’ve come to in the past five years is that we must be ruthless curators of our own lives. I suppose it’s with requisite irony that simplicity, of all things, is hard work.
Our culture is so obsessed with stuff that we’ve become massively efficient at converting all our physical stuff into digital stuff. We’re so enamored by the object that it permeates deeply into the virtual world. We interact with virtual files, windows, folders, mice, buttons, and trash cans. Even programmers can’t escape the noun’s iron grasp. We have built scores of object-oriented programming languages, for crying out loud!
Superstudio. Life Without Objects, 1972.
There’s something horrifyingly disorienting about Superstudio’s concept of life without objects, and yet…
The post-digital world is about striving to have access to everything while being encumbered by nothing. We’re faced with two possible horrors: that on the one hand, the vision presented by the radical futurists will become our reality, or that on the other hand, it won’t. That is to say that we will either impose upon ourselves an ascetic minimalism, denying our innate lust for the new and different, or that the human race will be devoured by our own insatiable appetite for more stuff, consuming all available resources in the process.1
These concepts are linked with both the current lack of economic growth and our cultural unhappiness. It’s quite possible that Constant’s futuristic vision of a civilization unburdened by physical labor (and thus free to engage in creative endeavors) is more realistically perceived as a civilization that engages in artistic expression out of desperate necessity—for how else do we assert our humanity in a world where machines do all the work?
Constant Nieuwenhuys. New Babylon, 1959-74.
But I digress…
Out of the depths of the economic recession, a new minimalist fad emerged. The Cult of Less was in many senses a reaction to a market collapse that shook the entire world. It was not a way of affixing a fashionable caché to poverty, as the opposite is probably more accurate—only the wealthy can afford to give up the majority of their possessions—it was a way for people to say, “enough is enough.”
I was critical of this movement in the beginning, mostly out of a personal disdain for dogmatic adherence to arbitrary rules; I truly believe the goal of owning fewer than a hundred things is absurd. Which is to say I simply could not fathom giving up any of my (over two hundred at last counting) books. Besides, I usually prefer a more nuanced and pragmatic approach to any philosophy. Lately, however, the Cult of Less intrigues me. I’ve always been a minimalist of sorts, as one pretty much has to be when living in a Manhattan studio apartment. Maybe it’s because I’ve begun to recognize a certain anxiety my stuff instills in me, or maybe it’s because I’m starting to think that having piles of unfinished projects is too much of a distraction.
In any case, the minimal lifestyle is a noble experiment. Formulating of a Philosophy of Less is more interesting to me than counting possessions and blogging lists of the ones to sell. And the philosophy of less certainly needs some restoration. Perhaps the biggest scam of high modernism was the idea that anyone could live in a Corbusier (or Mies or Gropius or whomever) Machine For Living™. What our architectural ancestors failed to instill in our cultural understanding of their movement is that in order to successfully live in a glass house, your life needs to be as well designed as your home.
Alberto Campo Baeza. Guerrero House, 2005.
It is a perverse observation, then, that our fear of the nanotechnological “grey goo” apocalypse is merely a manifestation of a fear of ourselves and our own ravenous hunger for resources. Or, more bluntly, we are the grey goo. ↩
Apr 4, 2011#minimalism#architecture#materialism3 notes