Towards a Universal Mundane

At the heart of the original Mundane Manifesto is a willful pragmatism—a skepticism aimed at the impulse to abstract “the future,” as if there were not many different possible futures—as if the future is something that happens regardless of our participation. These abstractions take many forms, from the overly optimistic agendas that imagine “post-” eras, to the consensus futures that are incredibly bland, to the persistent future that conflates technological progress (“innovation”) with all progress. As a counterproposal to these assumptions, the manifesto reemphasizes the present as a starting point to the future, underlining the sense of wonder that is possible only in the mundane.

Because the manifesto seems to sit between worlds, pulling on threads that go in many different directions, we began to wonder: Can the structure of a specific manifesto—usually a very personal, and context-specific expression—be instrumentalized, converted into a speculative tool for potentially anyone to use? Our project—created for the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial—existed/s as an exploded zine, exploring this question through a variety of printed ephemera (flat signatures, posters, postcards, all free for the taking), presented on the marmoreal backdrop of Minoru Yamasaki’s utopian 1964 Northwestern National Life Insurance Building (Minneapolis). Tracing the ideas of the original manifesto as they travel through other disciplines and social movements, our personal reference points collided to reanimate the original. From science fiction luminaries such as William Gibson and Arthur C. Clarke, to contemporary technologist Julian Bleecker of the Near Future Laboratory, to journalist provocateur Gene Weingarten, and conceptual entrepreneur Martine Syms, these voices inform this first iteration of the project, a somewhat stream-of-consciousness, research phase that filters the aphoristic style of Marshall McLuhan through the expressive rantings of Ram Dass, articulated in the particular visual language of a future-present moment: the popular introduction of the personal computer.

The ephemera created for the Biennial will have a life beyond this particular venue. Our intent is that other disciplines/other practitioners will cross paths with these ideas as they are distributed throughout the city, inspiring new interpretations of a future vision rooted in the present moment, one that rejects abstraction in favor of a what-we-see-is-what-we-get pragmatism—a recognition of the magic inherent in the here-and-now. We invite all practitioners—writers, designers, artists, makers—to draw out a road-map rooted in the mundane, asking with one voice not “what if,” but “what if not.” How can we embrace a speculative openness while maintaining a healthy skepticism? How does an idea transcend disciplines? If these ideas intrigue you, or to request the full text from the publication, please contact us.

—Emmet Byrne and Alex DeArmond

Website by Eric Price.