Ephemera: Why it’s not a shame when I tear down an artwork

Architectural Space, Brushstroke, Deinstalling, Floor, Gesture, Video

e·phem·er·al
[ih-fem-er-uhl]
adjective
1.lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory: the ephemeral joys of childhood.
2.lasting but one day: an ephemeral flower.
noun
3.anything short-lived, as certain insects.

My work exists for a time and then it is gone again – it’s ephemeral.  This is a word I have become closely acquainted with.  Rather a nice one, especially in it’s pural form, ephemera.  I get asked what the point of the work is if it’s only present for a short time.  It’s an interesting connundrum.  I used to agonise over it, but it’s par-for-the-course now – put it up, pause, rip it down.

To me my paintings are so performative and involve my whole body, its whole movement.  So to compare it to an art object where it would be a great a shame if it were destroyed discounts the performative in these works. To make art objects (like a painting on canvas, a thing, something you can hold in your hand) is to make something for forever, to draw attention to and value the art-thing, but what do you do when the art isn’t an object? If it’s part of a wall, a floor or a ceiling and will be taken down, how is its fleeting life to be valued?

It began to happen quite organically, I wanted to paint ever larger and once you grow beyond the dimensions of your car, moving your art around and keeping it in good condition while you’re at it, becomes extremely difficult.  It was the fault of one too many trips in the car, trying to drive with the seat pulled all the way forward, knees way up under the steering wheel, allowing room for the large canvases in the back.  (And this hardly stellar car idea only developed after a period of taking large canvasses on the train, where it began to be miraculous that I wasn’t carried away on a gust of wind during the walk to the station, while carrying such a mighty sail of a painting).  Ah the memories.

Then onto the wall and floor I went and the thought of killing my darlings was truly sad, because the painting had been hard fought.  One of the first videos I made, though, was of me pulling down a painting.  I peeled painted vinyl off the floor, the act of which made the paint move into three dimensional space and wrenching the colour from its surface was transformative.  The space could be returned to its former state and the painting was now a pile of sticky, stretched vinyl scraps, a brightly coloured mess, my fingernails a mess.

Tearing down an artwork has grown to be as much a part of the art making as the development work leading up to the painting that it has equal value in my mind. It’s just as performative to tear at this skin I spread over the floor as it is to paint with my whole body.  I brought it into the world and now I take it out.  Then the ideas from the physicality of tearing down forms part of the thought processes and development for the next iteration or the next work.

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