The Ephemera(l) Institution

by Martin Gantman


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.