A NEW FORM OF EPHEMERAL ART

The recent case of the Banksy’s painting that self-destructed after being auctioned at Sotheby's for 1.2 million euros brings to the floor the question of ephemeral art and the vocation with which some works are born. Indeed, it seems clear that this bombshell by the Bristol artist was one of his well-known stagings to reopen the debate on the art market and speculation in the sector. Few now believe that the scrupulous auction house had not subjected the piece to a careful analysis to detect that it had installed an electrical device operable remotely. Is this a mockery? Does this work lose its status as an art because it was conceived to make it disappear?

Banksy's artwork "Girl With Ballon" while being shredded after the auction at Sotheby's

The "ephemeral art" as a term makes its appearance in the history of art in recent times to settle in the heat of the performative and installation movements of the second half of the XXth century. To reach this point it was necessary to overcome some deeply rooted ideas of the Western canon about authorship, the durability of the works, personal transcendence, social recognition and the individual's will to leave an imprint, a legacy, artistic in this case, that extended beyond the work itself. In this scheme of thought, the fancy of creating pieces born to last only a short period lacked meaning. However, the concept of the ephemeral was present in the collective ideology, as the very resource of the tempus fugit that so many aesthetic narratives and discourses have nurtured, although the qualitative leap of discourse to the creation of fleeting works rarely occurred.

Ice sculptures by the Brasilian artist Néle Azevedo, installation, 2012

If these ideas channel into Western thought within the framework of philosophy, as a compendium of knowledge and wisdom, in the Eastern world it is a much more natural and widespread notion. With the focus on contemplation and the search for personal balance, the ephemeral manifestations, in the calligraphy of wet brushes on drying mud, in the sand gardens or water circuits, always changing, were momentary expressions that matched perfectly with the way of understanding life and with the "de-thing-making-ness" of manifestations. The important thing is not perpetuity, but the present moment of understanding.

Artwork on beach-sand by Andrés Amador

The ephemeral art seems to drink from both streams of thought and defines as an artistic creation of short duration in time. This way, the materialistic desire of the tangible thing is overcome to focus on the meaning of the message. With these works, in addition, other forms of expression are explored regardless of the established pattern, because that freedom of language does not fit within the preconceived or corseted formats. In the emergence of this movement, there is also a clear belligerent aspect, against the market system, against the imposed channels, against the old school, against the old painting, against the own boring art that does not criticise itself. Perhaps this was the covert motivation of this "show-staging" by Banksy.

 

Among the specialised professional profiles that we find in the cultural sector, and more specifically, in the field of visual arts, one of the most recent occupations is that of the curator. The ‘80s put attention on the role of the artist, with its innovative character and the enhancement of its figure as an essential articulator of creative proposals, while the end of the century moved the interest towards the exhibition centres themselves and their work as custodians of current production and as spaces to accommodate all proposals. The change of millennium strongly introduced in this panorama the role of the curator. Perhaps together with a social identity crisis, perhaps with the complexity that contemporary projects are currently acquiring, the need for building, articulating and delving into artistic discourses became evident.

Although the functions entrusted to this profession are not entirely new, since previously they belonged to conservatives, critics or experts according to the themes, the role has gained solidity because it combines all these purposes while allowing the specialisation of other professionals in their fields of competence. Now, as some curators themselves point out, the genuine spirit of this figure, who was born to facilitate the understanding of the discourse, create narratives within a sometimes chaotic and scattered context, mediate between the works and the spectator and create bridges between contemporary art and society.

The art of our day raises a multitude of unknowns for the visitor who must face proposals many times away from the aesthetic standards, which gives way to uncertainty and confusion; but, in turn, these works employ a closer language, materials and even compositions detached from the sophistication and the technical display of yesteryear, something that, far from favouring proximity to the message, generates some distancing. What we have just described is part of the very essence of current art. The questioning of the formalist guidelines and the recourse to tangible elements that are more utilitarian than embellishing are the new criteria of creation, where, above all, the message to be conveyed stands out.

Likewise, another inherent characteristic of the work of our time is the artists' concern for more immediate themes, for social, political and economic issues that seek to create a narrative and conceptual revulsion, leaving behind the aesthetic priority or, rather, making of the message its own aesthetic. In this context, strange as it may seem, contemporary creation encounters a linguistic barrier hindering the viewer's understanding. And to this circumstance, the abundant current production is added, covering a wide range of themes that are nothing more than a transcript of our diverse and globalised society.

The curator helps to facilitate this understanding by articulating a coherent discourse that allows the grouping of related ideas to set up the message. This requires to have an in-depth knowledge of the current state of the art, the lines of work of the creators, the most recent aesthetic proposals and the real demands of society to bridge the dialogue and allow the approach to art. If art deals with the same issues that concern us all, how can we not share its postulates? Cultural mediation requires the work of the curators to open a small window for reflection and to enable a space for exchange and idea generation. We share the thought that José Guirao expressed in a recent interview: "The curator is someone who reveals something new, and it would be a mistake for curators to become managers."

Understood this way curator’s role, many institutions have joined the trend of creating specific calls for new professionals to give light to their proposals. Let us remember, as an example, the call "Unpublished" of La Casa Encendida, or "Curator wanted", of the Community of Madrid or the call of Curating of La Caixa.