Framing the Ephemeral

Purpura, Allyson (2009), ‘Framing the Ephemeral’, Introduction to a special issue: Ephemeral Arts I, African Arts, 42 (3), 11-15.

(Purpura 2009)

  • Intro. To a set of articles about ephemeral art in the publication above. for the other articles in the publication.
  • Def. Ephemeral art – ‘ephemeral art refers to works whose materials are chosen by the artist or maker for their inherently unstable characteristics, or which are created with the intention of having a finite “life.”’ P.11
  • Can’t be ‘collected’ – so no long term purpose – like gallery or trading
  • defies conventional expectations around the preservation, display,
  • and commodification of art and confounds the museum’s mission to preserve works in perpetuity. P.11
  • cites work of S. African Willem Boshoff – 2005 – fine sand, stencilled onto gallery floor – comment on degradation of languages of Africa. As an 8 month installation – the gallery staff needed to maintain the exhibit, although the intention of the artist was it’s degradation over time. 11
  • Other such gallery works are those painted directly onto walls of galleries – and removed with the closure of a specific exhibition. 11/12

History of the ephemeral

  • From 18th century – permanence of art became important – scepticism about art that was not durable – this driven by the increasing importance of collection/ownership/art as commodity. ‘It was a period in which objects became “art” for all time, and public museuims their custodians’ 12
  • Cites ‘Baudelaire’s clarion call to embrace the transience of beauty and flux of the modern city – “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal, the immutable”. Says this was ‘silenced by the museums of his day. 12
  • This permanence in art is a western concept – non-western cultures ‘accept transience not only as a fact of life, but also as a path to ensure well-being in this world, as well as the next.’ 12
  • Cites Hindu rice flour paintings in India, also African performance art pieces like masks and figures. The intent was for natural degradation of these (sometimes such degradation was spiritual – a degradation of the evil spirits they might contain) – but this is interrupted when museums and galleries collect and preserve these artefacts. 12
  • Early 20th century – a move among Western artists – Dadaism towards questioning of art – and especially the concept of enshrining art pieces – ‘ephemeral art came to be viewed as subversive, or, at best, recalcitrant art form.’ “Dada sound and visual artists hailed the immediacy of the sense and embraced transience as a way to amplify a present that was being ravaged, in their view, by the nonsensical violence and conceit of nations at war” 12
  • Ephemeral art allows artists to “visualize time and memory as active, if not political, dimensions of the work (in distinction to the “time-based media” of film, video, and audio recordings, in which the work unfolds and is experienced over time).” 13
  • Cites

o   Columbian artist Oscar Munoz – water painting of face on hot concrete – evaporating before the face is ever completed – faces of the dead which disappear – about political disappearances in repressive regimes. 13

o   Juchen and Esther Gerz – counter monument for the holocaust (Germany)13

o   ‘And though Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta brought closure to her ephemeral works by documenting them on film, she did so in an ironic way. In her Silueta series (1973–1980), the artist laid her body down in flowerbeds, mud, sand, and snow and photographed the temporary impressions it left behind; but in these images, now the collectable dimension of her work, it is her very absence that endures (Nardella 2007; see also Viso 2004).’ 13

similar idea to Meme McDonald’s desire to view the impressions left on the walking circles by the event and, specifically, the walkers’ footprints.

o   Mary O’Neill’s art is an act of mourning – exploring art os Felix Ganzalez Torres, Dadang Christanto, Zoe Leonard

Shape-shifting, sweeping, decan and the fugitive

  • Ephemeral art works are active – changing with time. “A ritually prepared object releases power as it decays” 13
  • Briefly outlines the other articles in the publication – says that in all the articles “the ephemeral amplifies the present by giving it a temporal frame. ” 13

Purpura, Allyson (2009), ‘Framing the Ephemeral’, Introduction to a special issue: Ephemeral Arts I, 42 (3), 11-15.

Pertinence to M~M

M~M was an ephemeral arts event.  The walking circles, and most of the artefacts they contained were not permanent objects.  Article outlines a little of the history, as well as the rise of ‘conserved art’ as a commodity in galleries, and for trade.

Useful information about artists for further research.

Oscar Munoz paints with water on hot concrete. The portraits are of people who have disappeared in oppressive South American regimes. The faces, like the lives, disappear without trace.


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