'LESS' Is Redefining Minimalism In a Culture of Excess
If NYC is the capital of consumerism, it’s also by default the capital of excess. One filmmaker set out to reconsider minimalism in an age where “more, more more” is often the subconscious mantra—and LESS is the product of her findings. Isabelle Levent spent the last six or so months following around two members of Generation Z, Devin Gilmartin (of Querencia Studio) and Emma Ferrer, and afterwards, Milk sat down with the pair to recap their experience.
LESS premiered on Sunday, April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Watch the trailer above for a quick preview of what it looks like to consider and examine “less is more”, then keep reading for our full interview.
What was it like being filmed around and followed all the time?
Devin Gilmartin: For me, it was eye-opening and it made me question myself, more than I ever have. It’s sort of like having a mirror up to your face constantly. They do a very good job of probing and asking questions, “Why do you do this?”’ and “Why do you do that?” When you’re getting on the subway or going on a run in the park, these are places that you’re calm and not thinking about that. But with someone there, you start to question yourself. And that questioning, ended up being very good for me. And good for the way I think about sustainability and minimalism, which I think is an evolving concept that is not a definition. It’s about the person it’s inhabiting, and it’s up to you to decide how you deal with that, and make sense of the fast-paced world that we live in today. It was helpful I guess.
Emma Ferrer: I feel very much the same way as Devin. I think for me, a challenge was wanting to give an honest portrayal of those activities, and not changing them in anyway because I was being filmed. Which I think is a really good metaphor for doing things without analyzing how you’re going to be seen by other people, or how your actions are going to be viewed from a superficial point of view. Always staying true to how things are.
Did she speak about about why or how she chose each of you?
Gilmartin: I think it was that we were very different people, that’s something I remember very clearly. For her, she didn’t have a prior interest in minimalism, it wasn’t like something that she was thinking about constantly. She fell upon it I think. I believe I was one of the first people she reached out to to talk about a potential feature, and when we started talking about fashion, the film took a turn to fashion. It became more fashion oriented. I think Isabelle was a little hesitant about that, but towards the end she embraced it.
Ferrer: I think it would have been undeniable because we both work in fashion and have worked in fashion. I think it’s super interesting for the whole topic of the film because fashion is this world of excess, and this world of loudness and image, which are kind of anti-minimalist properties. I think it’s the perfect arena to explore those ideas.
How have each of you considered minimalism prior to the film and now? How has your perception shifted, if at all?
Gilmartin: I think for me, it was in the lens of clothing, first and foremost. Developing a sort of uniform, cutting out the amount of decisions that need to be made everyday. The first decision: clothing, what you put on the morning. It’s the first decision you make everyday, “this is what I’m going to do today, this is what I’m going to look like.” In terms of how it impacted my view of minimalism, I didn’t necessarily consider myself a minimalist before the film, but being presented with the idea that perhaps what I’m doing does fit in that umbrella of minimalism because of the amount of consideration I put into it, it made me aware of that and allowed me to get better at it, in a way. I have ADD, I’m very OCD as well. I pick things up, lose them, and I have a lot of tabs open in my head. For me, it’s about condensing all of that and making sense of it. Having someone there constantly, that is making you consider every action you’re taking, was the push that I needed to become a minimalist in my own mind.
Ferrer: I hadn’t really considered myself a minimalist, or considered what the philosophical aspects of minimalism were, until I started thinking about how much I personally try and simplify my mind and it’s processes. My life. The objects I obtain, the things I have around my house. I just had never put a title to them, it was the first time I saw myself through that lens. I think it’s interesting because Isabelle chose us because she saw the potential in us from just speaking to us a few times before we even saw it ourselves.
Gilmartin: From the bit of time I’ve spent with Emma, and known that we’ve both been followed by Isabelle, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re both thinkers. We both think a lot. We put a lot of time into considering the details, and when you do that, there’s always a lot of information coming in. You need a procedure for sorting through that. I think the film goes into that a bit, respecting how we go through that.
Ferrer: For me, because my mind can be my best friend and enemy, it’s like a daily practice for me to come up against my mind. For me, the whole practice of minimalism is also about trying to leave my mind and enter my body. Live between those two realms, kind of.
It’s interesting because we do live in a culture of excess, like you said. When people think of minimalism it’s about, “How many clothes are in your closet?” or “Do you have a junk drawer? What’s scattered around the table?” But there’s also an excess of information, excess of sound—we’re all really overstimulated all the time. I know you said the film leans towards a fashion focus, but the other parts of minimalism that are less talked about are really important too.
Ferrer: I was just reading an article in a magazine about online dating apps, and how it’s really changed our generation’s entire way of thinking about and approaching relationships. We’re way less inclined to actually give time for relationships to develop, and develop that chance for intimacy. We have this, “more”, “next”, “bigger” mentality, because it’s so easy to attain that.
Gilmartin: There’s always something else. One of the first scenes of the film is trending now and sales.
Ferrer: It dawned on me that in our parents’ generation, girls my age would be coming out of university and college and be looking actively or already have found their partner. Once you find your partner, you spend the rest of your life with them. Divorce wasn’t even on the menu. My dad’s been married four times alone—I have a totally different idea about that.
Now we’re like, “This is fine, but I’m sure I could find a better version of you.” And it might just be a swipe away or whatever.
Ferrer: I think that’s the relationship we create with ourselves though. We’re also in the self-improvement age, and if you’re constantly looking at yourself with a critical eye, I find myself way more likely to look at others with a critical eye as well. When I’m really trying to practice unconditional self-love and self-acceptance, then I do that with other people.
It’s almost radical to say, “I’m awesome and great, and I love myself!”
Ferrer: But I love people that do that!
Gilmartin: It’s refreshing. For sure.
Did she film you guys together a lot? Or was it two separate narratives?
Ferrer: We were never together. It was like we were leading parallel lives.
Ok, so the film just cuts between your two storylines.
Gilmartin: Yes, it jumps back and forth.
Ferrer: I actually feel like there’s this other character in the film, which is New York City. She’s really given a lot of attention to our surroundings and our setting.
Gilmartin: I feel that, as part of how I am. New York City is part of us I think. The subway. Getting on the subway, swiping the subway card—it’s like entering a new realm. What did you think of Aicha’s segue to start about how she felt?
Ferrer: I didn’t see that!
Gilmartin: Isabelle has a different voices at the start. I think she added it after. She says, when she’s in the subway, her mentalities get out as soon as possible. It’s a friend of Isabelle’s that contributed over audio. For me, it’s quite different. It’s interesting to see how people embrace their time off.
Ferrer: For me, it depends on my state of mind. I project onto my surroundings, my inside, and vice-versa. Today, I literally could not wait to get off the subway because I had a phone call I wanted to make. Sometimes, I’m like “Shit! It’s my stop? I want to stay on the subway forever!”
Oh me too, I’m always like, “I need to finish this chapter!” [Laughs] So as far as practical or habitual things that you do, were any affected by the film? Does your life look any different than it did before this?
Gilmartin: [Points to self] In here, it does. I haven’t changed any routines, other than being more on time.
Ferrer: I have always done this but I do this even more now, but I’ll go through my closet and get rid of half of my stuff. I did that when I recently moved. I became more aware of that.
Thinking of New York as the third character or whatever, how do you feel like the city affects your mentality about minimalism? How do you keep your mentality how you want it or aspire it to be when NYC is so crazy?
Ferrer: For me, it’s hard to stay grounded. I’m trying to be anti-superficial, I’m at a place where my appearance is secondary. I just care way less than I used to, almost not at all. Now that I’m at that place, I just see other people’s relationships with their appearances much more clearly. It used to be hard to stay grounded in what I knew to be true, but now that I actually am, it’s really awesome. It’s almost more grounding because it’s so clear to me how much other people care. Or derive all their worth from it.
Images courtesy of Isabelle Levent
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