Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
Not all art lasts for a long time. Some art is only around for a planned length of time. Some times its only for a moment. Ephemeral art can come from a variety of genres, including performance art, land art and installation.
American artist Connie Zehr [www.conniezehr.com] used sand to create installations in her work. Elaborate work with a lovely repetitive elegance, they existed only temporarily.
Above: ‘Eggs and Sand’, 1972 by Connie Zehr.
Above: ‘Crosswalk’, 1971 by Connie Zehr.
I really like this type of installation work. The artists create it in the installation space, sometimes only once. If they do re-create it in another space it will never be exactly the same. Works like ‘Eggs and Sand’ I find particularly nice because they are so neat and perfect but because of their medium they start to change over time . It will get footprints around its edge. Its peaks will soften. Maybe an egg will eventually roll down a slope? Works made of natural materials like sand or earth always seem to have a sacred quality too and bring a certain quiet to a space. They draw you gently in, instead of smacking you in the face with gaudiness. But when you create this type of work you have to give up the ‘hero object’. By this I mean you are left with nothing but photos or video of your work, there’s no valuable ‘object’. But the beauty is in the moment.
Ephemeral art really only exists while it’s happening. Sure you can write about it, photograph or film it but it’s not the same as when you are there.
A while ago I saw a show about a british artist called Grayson Perry. He is pleasantly kooky. His work is very complex so I am loath to attempt any descriptions, but here goes. He is obviously very interested in historical items and archeology, but more the fetishism and delightfulness of those objects rather than the historical or financial value. He is also very interested in celebrity and an artist’s ability to make an object for which they will become famous. [Think Damien Hirst and the shark in formaldehyde.] Perry creates ceramic and forged metal items that bring versions of only-related-in-his-mind artefacts, from many eras together to create quasi meaningful sculptures. He had a teddy bear called Alan Measles that he met [ his words] when he was a child. During the Second World war Perry played all sorts of games with Alan about the war where Germany stood in the role of the ultimate enemy and Alan stood for everything that was good and noble and manly. Alan Measles is his only remaining childhood object [ friend].
Perry had an exhibition at the British Museum called ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ and as part of this exhibition , Perry undertook a tour of Germany, like a pilgrimage. He rode Alan around on the back of his decorated motorbike, with Alan installed in a throne like box on the back. And even though his objects in the exhibition are really fascinating and are very there, very physical, made of metal and earth, I found the journey he takes with Alan, where he meets the people of Germany and they meet Alan the most potent of his stuff. A glimpse of this ratty beloved teddy ensconced in pope-like glory will surely stay with most people longer than many a more solid artwork. Even its because they are left thinking WTF? Genius. When the motorbike with enthroned teddy was shown at the British Museum, Alan had a stunt double because Perry thought him too precious to entrust to the British Museum. It’s the story and the love that make it so fabulous.
Above: Alan Measles
Above: ‘Our Mother’ 2009, from the exhibition The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman by Grayson Perry. © Grayson Perry, photo by Stephen White.
Above: Grayson Perry on his motorbike tour.
Above: Alan’s stunt double in the motorbike throne on show in the British Museum.
This type of art for me is remembered more by thinking of how I felt when I saw it. Showing me a photo of it isn’t the thing, its connecting to how I felt about it. Some art can take your mind to a place it hasn’t been before, in the same way that music or an amazing movie does.
I must confess that although I love a lot of ephemeral art I can’t escape my need to make an object. I often make something that I feel wants to exist, or that maybe I need to make real. How about you? Can you escape the ego of the hero object?