I have always been fascinated by ephemeral art. There is something inherently honest about artwork that can’t be collected, hoarded or conserved. Of course, that’s not to say collectible art lacks integrity, but it is as though the motivation to create ephemeral art cannot be so easily corrupted.
Artwork that is transitory, living only briefly in the physical world, is like life itself: fragile and impermanent. Ephemeral art speaks to the temporal quality of our lives and highlights the importance of transitory experiences. Perhaps, through an awareness that something only exists for a short time, our appreciation of it is heightened.
Recently I chanced upon the delightfully delicate and ‘dusty’ ephemeral works of Hannah Bertram, an artist and teacher of sculpture in the Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) at The Gordon. Her beautiful, laborious works are highly decorative, and question the value of permanence. She says she seeks to highlight “that which is momentary, fleeting and overlooked rather than what is traditionally esteemed, conserved or revered as precious. The possibilities of preciousness are explored in ephemeral installations by subverting the traditions of ornamental display”.
Last year she completed ‘The Silence of Becoming and Disappearing’, a project of ephemeral site-sensitive dust works created and installed in ten private homes. She created the works using dust relevant to each site. For example, in a home in The Grampians, Bertram used ash from the bushfires, and in another home with a marble floor she used marble dust. By combining worthless dust with ornamentation she explores the preciousness in the incidental and the impermanent. Value is found within the subtlety of transient experiences rather than in the perpetuity of ornamented objects.
The imagery she created was influenced by decorative elements in the homes such as wallpaper, carpets and family heirlooms, and through stories told by the residents. The works were developed in consultation with the residents who were responsible for choosing the duration of the installation and the audience. Some installations lasted several hours, others several months.
Bertram is interested in ornamentation and how it has been valued and subsequently devalued by the modernist movement. Whereas for many years, ornamentation was seen to add value to objects, the Modernists rejected any decoration as superfluous and this disdain for decoration continues today. Bertram is fascinated by these differing viewpoints and uses them as a constant point of reference in her work.
Along with about 100 international artists, Hannah Bertram will be exhibiting a new installation at Art Paris, the Paris springtime event for the contemporary art market from 31 March to 3 April 2011.