More or Less Ephemeral

There are many new tattoo parlours in the northern suburbs and their presence has reminded me to write about the connection between tattoos and street art. Street art may be easier to remove or buff than a tattoo but that doesn’t make it ephemeral. Street artists may be realistic and stoic in the face of buffing or capping of their pieces. Some street art may not last that long but this is circumstantial and not an intrinsic quality and some pieces for years.

“Ephemeral”, “transitory”, “fad”, “fashion” are these words are applied to street art in the hope that it will all go away? Ephemeral means that it is lasting for only a short time; it was first used for plants or insects that live for only a short period of time, like mayflies. Collectors of ephemera collect items that were designed to be short-lived use like postage stamps, postcards, tickets and movie posters. Compared to the lifespan of these items street art is hardly ephemeral.

Phoenix, Less Ephemeral More Ephemeral

The transitory nature of street art is occasionally referred to in the art. Some street art is self-consciously designed to only last a short period of time, like Gav Barbey’s “Hate Love”, two coloured ice blocks melting in Hosier Lane. “Less/More Ephemeral” by Phoenix a series of letters that have been slowly wearing away on a wall in Little Lonsdale Street. These works are the street art equivalents of the auto-destructive art of Gustav Metzger or Jean Tinguely.

Lasting for years is hardly an ephemeral quality, more like an annual or biannual but not ephemeral. The people who object to graffiti do not consider the marks to be ephemeral but rather permanent. Street art may be one of the most permanent art movements, considering all the digital photographs of the street art preserved somewhere on a computer. And the street art style tattoos are permanent.

Ars langa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short) – Hippocrates

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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