Some things don’t change at all – even after a year. Others are defined by an exquisite, fleeting moment.
Permanence is a goal among artists who want to leave a mark in the world. We usually don’t want those marks to be altered or smudged or rubbed out. Time in a broken world, however, tends to change everything. Deterioration happens. Things decay. Objets d’art can face the garbage heap after exposure to a harsh world. Thus, artists use the best materials and best practices to give pieces a fighting chance at longevity. Creating things just to have them fall apart and then get trashed usually is not an artist’s aim. Usually.
|“The Crevasse” Edgar Müller.|
2008 (Dun Laoghaire, Ireland)
Leave it to artists to tinker with ideas. That includes concepts like impermanence.
Sidewalk art is [pardon the pun] the most pedestrian form of impermanent art. Work like that of Edgar Müller is meant to wow the public with trompe l’oeil imagery and immediate access, the typical media – chalk and soft pastel – is susceptible to natural elements and, of course, the unnatural idiot. The first steady rain is enough to render sidewalk art a memory. Foot prints, bicycle tires and long board wheels give similar results.
If a sidewalk seems a questionable place to produce lasting art, then a beach is less so. Andres Amador goes with the ebb and flow of the tides when creating his “sand paintings.” Filling entire beaches with patterns defined only by disturbed and undisturbed sand, his work is hard to ignore. But incoming tides are blind to everything in their path, including an artistic vision of a solitary man.
|“Beach Painting,” by Andres Amador.|
There are, however, artists who take the impermanence-thing to rather unpleasant extremes. Forget sidewalks. Forget beaches. One need only mention words like excrement and putrid to realize there are fakes and charlatans, even within the highest art circles. But we aren’t talking about them – we are talking about the exquisite and thoughtful pieces of established artists who don’t need a bio-hazard to make an artistic statement.
Some of the most cutting-edge contemporary pieces totally ignore the longevity of materials in preference to immediacy of action and feeling. Archival quality? No. This is art at its most visceral state. This is art now. It may be hard for the casual viewer to seriously understand, much less enjoy, this kind of thing, but it is simultaneously a question and a statement: Is art enduring? The answer lies in the passing experience of art and its remembrance. Like a fading sunset, art is not always a thing of permanence. It’s inherent beauty is precisely because it is impermanent, and it begs to be fully enjoyed in the now.
|“Salt & Earth: Garden for Patricia”|
Young Kim. 2010.
The impermanence of art is not always subject to mindlessness or natural elements. Sometimes there is a great deal of thought behind extremely fragile art – and this is often inside environmentally-controlled spaces.
Young Kim’s “Salt & Earth: Garden for Patricia” was an installation that was an entry in ArtPrize 2010. It featured photographs of a woman with a debilitating illness and the garden she loved, each a calotype on granular salt and powdered earth and lit by individual light bulbs. The images faded over the course of the event’s three weeks. The fragile photographs, some carefully mounded but not roped off, were destined to be eroded by hundreds of thousands of visitors. And the intentional happened – fingerprints and hand prints. Some visitors gasped at a footprint.
Deliberate or not, the footprint and growing dishevelment was expected – and intended – by the artist. The piece pointed to the fragility of man and his tenuous existence. As humans, we are not permanent fixtures on this world. Kim’s installation capitalized on equally-fragile materials, and the point was well-made.
|Hannah Bertram working on|
“The Silence of Becoming and Disappearing”
(Courtesy of the artist)
Hannah Bertram pursues impermanence with some of her installations, using materials that are, in themselves, products of time. Using layered imagery and patterning with dust and ash, Bertram creates work that will, in time, revert to the original randomness of inert components. Using extreme patience and artistic skill, Bertram employs Baroque arabesques layered with equally elegant forms to create images precisely where foot traffic is heaviest. It takes great fortitude to put so much effort into a piece that is destined to be stepped on, kicked aside and finally swept up in a dust pan.
Some of Tina Tahir’s work follows a parallel path as Bertram’s fragile floor pieces, but Tahir’s work branches out in several directions. Some of her work uses powdered spices and equally-fragile materials in patterned floor installations reminiscent of ethnic carpet motifs. Other images allow organic forms to “infest” spaces. Yet other pieces make use of light-sensitive material that changes with the presence of viewers.
|“Forty Increments” by Tina Tahir.|
After 20 hours, at left, and after 110 hours. 2012.
“Forty Increments,” was an installation of decomposing, virtual wallpaper projected on a 12 by 40 foot wall, and making use of sensors to change the image. Drawing on an exquisite definition of fragility, the patron didn’t even have to touch the piece – only be present in the same environment – to affect change.
Many of these impermanent works defy classification. They aren’t necessarily 2-dimensional, because they invite space and environment. Neither are they sculptural, for they simultaneously deny space and eventually have little presence at all, much less volume. If anything, they are kinetic, but their movement is on a near-molecular level. They are the sort of thing that invites and demands revisiting, again and again, to fully appreciate this ethereality of art.