art, culture, politics, democracy

Month: December, 2013

The Ephemera(l) Institution


I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.  

William Gibson

If I am interpreting William Gibson, the father of contemporary ephemerality, correctly (in the quote above that I have immorally decontexted (sic)), if one locates themselves on the internet, they don’t really need to be concerned about other people’s memories for continuation or extended survival. But even then

The future is there,” Cayce hears herself say, “looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. And from where they are, the past behind us will look nothing at all like the past we imagine behind us now.”  

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

judgements made about continuance, preservation, even about the ephemeral now, can become confounded within the eddy of evolving cultural reorganizations and reinterpretations, unavoidable misinformation and lack of clarity, continually shifting points-of-view, and unfortunate decisions made as to what an archive should include and how it is expressed. Thus the organization, the institution, along with its nebulous and malleable, yet essential constraints, will continue in name and perhaps only with its intention hopefully intact and conveyed. The archive of everything-and-nothing-significant speaks directly to this incomprehensible future, leaving only the record in place, the elements, perhaps even a hint or mere suggestion of a method, that may be used by whomever in the future has the momentary platform for making a decision, an observation, even a semi-conscious slip of the future’s tongue.

This is not to suggest that the future is of any overt concern to this institution or that its archive is of necessary importance to its activities. But as I have stated previously I believe that an institution eventually morphs into an archive and its ultimate archive will be a record of its success relative to its original and conceivably evolved mission. Perhaps, though, I have misunderstood and there is really no intention behind this organization, the Institute, save to express the desires, even whims, of its inhabitants – that the archive will simply display the record of human activities conducted under its virtual umbrella – its “focus” on the use of ‘visual technologies’ related to various aspects of cultural production – or lack thereof. In this vein, is there any importance to what is sent into the future? To how the project is virtually perceived? Or will its potentially forthcoming virtual iteration merely be a vehicle toward continuing its mission unencumbered – intentionally oblivious of its material past?

If the institution were to make a decision to eliminate its materiality (close its material archive) and step, less burdened, into the digital morass, it must make a decision as to whether to completely eliminate, even referentially, its historic archive or to, in some manner, carry it into the future. To select the latter option suggests that it must then begin a process of decision-making relative to how its archive is to serve its future, which almost unavoidably, as with anyone unfortunately weighted with concerns about their legacy,  must include a discussion about how the institution would prefer its past; aesthetics, creativity, relevance, et al, be understood. Decisions about priority, about what is carried forward and in what manner, how that is accessed, how it relates to contiguous and non-contiguous items and issues, and the mission, are elementary examples of questions that must be raised when there is no longer a materiality with which to engage.

Previously, in line with most definitions and understandings, I have discussed ephemerality in terms of the past and the present, but it appears that, relative to the present, there is also an ephemeral future: a virtual space that can only be contemplated, a glance seen as a fleeting possibility, then evanescently gone.


The Ephemera(l) Institution

Prepping the Cracks

Damn it! I thought I was done with this. But you know what happens. Suddenly, at a time when you might be preparing the walls for the final coat, there is a thought, a glimmer, and then the realization that one might not have completely attended to everything.  As if something was left, perhaps on a shelf neglected, like a familiar book.

A major constituent of the Institute’s output is publishing. Several extensive volumes and a number of smaller editions, about which I have too little space to discuss save to mention that they all expand upon institutional predilections, have been completed within the relatively recent past. This operative component does not comfortably fit within the schema of the archival constraint. Rather, it is an example of production – from what the Institute likes to term its “space for creation.” Obviously not a dedicated space, it is a depiction of one way in which the Institute sees itself.  The books are obviously cataloged but they are also disseminated, co-existing with the institution from a space external to the archival notion. And the creating, including the space, is an action rather than a sign of captured memorabilia.

Thus the phrase, space for creation, evokes another comprehensive aspect of this institution, the performative space. This is not simply a space for performance, but also incorporates a performative comprehension – the activity of collaborating, the process of creating, and the accomplishment of producing.

This is complicated. The concept of the performative notion includes not only the space for functioning, as in physical, mental, perceptual, but also the overshadowing net of the performative idea. Everything can be seen as included within this performance. The creation of an institution, of a physical space, an archive, an ephemeral notion, a collaborational enticement and stimulus, a product(ion) all occur within this performative determinant.

Even I, in this role as an excavator, one who will take a spade, plunge it into this dense terrain of fertile knowledge aided by the thrust of a heavy foot, lift, very carefully, a shovelful of complex artistic notions, and slowly sift them through – well, you get it – or perhaps just a spoonful at a time in the archeological manner – very carefully; who has come to give air to this particular institutional design, perhaps to unwittingly expose arcane cracks, am just a player within this unfolding performative chronicle. Mind you, not as the passive Shakespearean stand-in in an open-ended play, as in life, but as an active collaborator, mindful, and wary, of the somewhat malleable institutional constraints that exquisitely encircle me.

The Ephemera(l) Institution 12

The Archive as Ephemera(l)

As soon as one mentions the word archive, similar to the issue with ephemera and detritus, mental and physical optics once again begin to blur. Eyes cross. Hands hesitatingly reach toward heads as if not wanting to offend the itchiness that isn’t actually there. Derrida, along with Freud, is partially responsible for this particular linguistic debacle – in addition to the Internet (the Internet being this era’s ultimate container of everything disseminated). Though one has long acknowledged the arduous use of words for communicating, one suffers, once again, at not being able to comfortably use a word whose meaning (a word one usually attempts to avoid at all costs) one thought held long accepted agreement. On the other hand, when you have just finished a Pynchon, almost everything else, including Derrida, suddenly becomes intelligible.  Even archive, and the repression of archive as archive, makes complete sense.

It appears that an archive is generally accepted as a collection or catalog of something that can be qualified or labeled. But how does that relate to an Ephemera Kabinett, which is, loosely, an agglomeration of memorabilia unsystematically delivered to the Institute from almost anyone. Or the Earth Kabinett, which contains soils samples, or possibly muck, from any old place that happened to feel passionately significant to someone in the moment. How does one scrupulously label such assemblages? Or even The AIDS Chronicles that specifically, though not conceptually, references one word.

The Institute, rather than suppressing archive to achieve archive, does a 180. It espouses archive, promotes it, embraces it and, in so doing, becomes archive. And this concept is not to be glossed: an institution, constructed by its constraints, becomes a container, and that container, among other things, becomes an archive – a site of memory.

Its propensity toward archiving frames the ephemera(l) atmosphere that conditions the Institute. And it is the accomplishment of this collectivity that recycles to activate the beauty (in the sense of how wonderful that such a thing could happen) of such collections that the Institute contains – like taking detritus to the dump out of which arises some resurrected agenda lauded for its societal beneficence, or as in a reframing of 60’s natural beauty (in which case however the acceptance of certain styles of body hair were never fully embraced).

Similarly, if one stops to take a close reading of each individual archive housed within the Institute, there is an excellent opportunity that one will unfortunately pass aimlessly through their forest of institutional collusion. In this institution the archive is situated as a place of past that leads, more particularly, to one of future. And though we very carefully strived to avoid commingling the ideas of ephemera and memory, this is still the issue that first beguiled us. It is in memory that the life of a defunct institution resides and, in this case, it is the archive, what the archive represented, what the archive promised, and what the archive, now physically absent, in interpretation revealed that gives us the key to the existence of post Institute coherence.

The Ephemera(l) Institution 11

The Performative

There is another possibility – or at least an additional enterprise that is operative within the constraints of the ephemera(l) institution. Suppose, for just this moment, that the entire undertaking: the walls, the books, the sometimes disquieting sculptural works that may be on display, the brain logo (Think People!), the website, the informative or elusive projects, is created specifically in order to set the stage for one ultra-long, lightly-scripted performance.

The players, sometimes with fore knowledge and others unwittingly, gather in the act of establishing this possibly felonious and nearly inconspicuous creation of the imaginary institution. Think of the institution as a stage set. The players coming and going “thinking of Michelangelo” (please forgive me) while the organization catalogs the participation, the events, the writings – all in the service of the play – and even more so, the realization of art. Even I, sitting here considering this circumstance, am an actor participating in the accomplishment of this theatrical moment.

Let’s momentarily accept, for the sake of this conjectural archeology, that this assumption has merit. If so, there is much to consider. For one, there exist many seriously produced works of art, literature, etc. that are accomplished within the confines of the organization – and under the guise of the institution. Does the camouflaged pretext of the institution mitigate the authority of these works?

Additionally, the reputation of the organization commands the visit of many spectators who look to the originality and uniqueness of the institution for additional knowledge and inspiration.  Does the unknown deceit of the organization’s overriding intention condition the material, and more importantly the message, gleaned from such visitation?

And most important, how do we approach the institution itself: the idea, the method, and the philosophical constraints? Has it become duplicitous?

I, diabolically, am going to leave these questions to you. It is not my mission to go in that direction. Moreover, to be fair, above I have cast the purported enterprise, I suppose for dramatic effect, as nefarious. There is certainly no evidence that suggests that sort of intent, and the scenario obviously does not have to be analyzed or viewed from that perspective.

But within the fanciful presumption of this theory, there lies an important comment about my personal focus, the ephemera(l) nature of the institution. While I know very little about the theory of theater, I feel fairly comfortable in presuming that live performance comes incredibly close to the original definition of ephemeron, a singular occurrence that rapidly disappears.

Heretofore I have focused on the interior elements of the institution, the materials it uses and the philosophy behind its constraints, as well as a view toward the nature of the institution once its physical body is no longer extant. But here there is another, intermediate, phase in this biology, the idea of an operational ephemeron. Ok, you may not see, as I do, the phenomenal possibilities in this discovery. After all it is I who, for about six weeks now, has been attempting to get a handle on this notion, ephemera(l) institution, while being distracted by detritus of all ilk.

But here we have it distinctly before us, if the tent is ephemeral then everything inside the tent must be as well; the whole thing, the tent, the philosophy, the material contents. If I were to take any element from inside this tent, ephemera(l) or not, I would be removing it from its context, the institution itself. That action would render moot any analysis of this particular element. At the same time the tent would not be affected by any singular or even multiple changes since it is the tent, the performative notion, that at the same time determines and is independent of the nature of whatever is inside.

In such a situation we are all props.