How Do We Collect Ephemeral Artworks?

July 5, 2023

Ephemeral artworks embrace the impermanent nature of existence; we take a closer look at how Digital Dossier by Arcual enables the collection of ephemeral artworks.

Documenting the Essence of Ephemeral Art

In the art world, permanence and preservation have long been cherished, and the concept of collecting ephemeral artworks has posed a unique challenge. Artworks, like the delicate sculptures crafted by Phoebe Cummings, which are created using unfired clay, deteriorate over time. They represent a departure from the traditional notion of art as everlasting, instead embracing the impermanent nature of existence.

By utilising unfired clay, Phoebe Cummings allows her sculptures to evolve, decay, and ultimately return to the earth from which they were formed. Through this process, she challenges our perception of beauty and confronts our desire to cling to stability and preservation.

In a world that often seeks to fix and preserve everything around us, Cummings' art urges us to embrace change and accept the impermanence of all things. It is a powerful statement that encourages us to relinquish control and acknowledge the beauty and significance of transience. Just as the artworks themselves transform and shift, so too does our understanding of what art can be.

The idea of collecting ephemeral artworks raises thought-provoking questions, particularly in the context of museums. Institutions like the V&A Museum in London have amassed vast collections of artifacts, objects, and artworks over time. These pieces, whether made of clay, glass, or any other material, undergo subtle yet significant changes as the years pass. The passage of time leaves its mark on every object, altering its appearance, texture, and meaning.

While museums have traditionally been dedicated to preserving art and culture, the emergence of ephemeral artworks challenges the conventional system of collecting and exhibiting. Many contemporary artists employ diverse practices that do not easily fit into the mold of acquiring and displaying physical objects. Their creations encompass performances, installations, and interactive experiences, often defying traditional notions of permanence.

The shifting landscape of art calls for a reevaluation of the collecting process. It demands a more flexible and adaptable approach that embraces the ephemerality of certain artistic expressions. Rather than fixating on physical objects, this new paradigm emphasizes capturing moments, experiences, and processes. It seeks to document the essence of an artwork, even if that essence lies in its ephemeral nature.

In collecting ephemeral artworks, museums and art institutions can explore innovative methods to preserve the intangible and fleeting aspects of artistic creation. This might involve archiving photographs, videos, or audio recordings that capture the essence of an artwork. It could also entail documenting the artist's process, providing insight into the transient and transformative nature of their practice.

Digital Dossier by Arcual is particularly relevant for collectors of ephemeral art, as it acts as a powerful record for the entire creation process of an artwork, even when that artwork no longer exists. Digital Dossier can set out how an artwork has come to be, and how the artist would like for it to be exhibited, moved, and presented throughout its lifecycle.

Phoebe Cummings and other artists working in similar veins challenge us to reconsider our relationship with art and the impermanence of life itself. Their creations remind us that change is inevitable, and accepting it can be a source of strength and liberation. Collecting ephemeral artworks invites us to appreciate the artistry inherent in the ephemeral, inspiring us to embrace the fleeting and find beauty in the ever-shifting nature of existence.

Missed our Arcual Reflections talk during Art Basel with artist Phoebe Cummings? Check it out here.