By Rula Al-Nasrawi
City on a Hill Press Editor

<div style="float: right; clear: right; text-align: right; width: 300px; padding: 5px; margin-left: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px;"><img alt="" src="img/destructionfeature1.jpg" style="margin-bottom: 5px; border: 1px solid #000000;" /><br /><img alt="" src="img/destructionfeature2.jpg" style="margin-bottom: 5px; border: 1px solid #000000;" /></div>

<p>Renowned French painter and sculptor Henri Matisse once reasoned that the work of an artist is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.</p>

<p>In a world where permanence is often looked at in this manner, as a high-held ideal, the temporary creations of destruction artist Phil Hansen provide a lingering reminder that all things good — and bad — do, in fact, come to an end. </p>

<p>While Hansen and other artists like him believe that the temporality of their art gives birth to something new, they often face much controversy. Circles of more traditional artists find themselves confused by Hansen’s artistic focus on the process of creating something, rather than the finished product. </p>

<p>Nonetheless, ephemeral art is spreading; more and more creators have recently become reacquainted with this unique style, originally extracted from international age-old traditions, in which every completed work of art is eventually destroyed naturally or manually.</p>

<p><b>The Past</b></p>

<p>For hundreds of years, ephemeral art has played a significant role among growing societies all over the world, often manifesting in cultural ceremonies featuring sand painting. In southwest Native American culture, for example, colored sand would be sprinkled over the ground to create intricate sand paintings, created for healing purposes rather than artistic ones.</p>

<p>According to UC Santa Cruz anthropology professor Shelly Errington, many American and international cultures practiced this type of “art,” placing little emphasis on the resulting forms, and more emphasis on the process of creating them.</p>

<p>“The process of doing it is a ritual and the object has no value, and it must be destroyed,” Errington said. </p>

<p>Errington explained that the artists of these types of Native American sand paintings would check the piece for accuracy following completion. The precision of the painting then determined its sacred powers. The patient requiring the art’s healing powers would then sit on the painting while a chant was recited. Afterward, the sand painting was destroyed due to its toxicity after absorbing the illness of the patient. </p>

<p>“Sand paintings in the Southwest were used in curing ceremonies, and then they were danced upon and destroyed, usually all within a 12-hour period,” Errington said.</p>

<p>Similar works of early destruction art can be found in Buddhist communities that create mandalas, elaborate forms of sand paintings developed after the seventh century to be used in community ceremonies.</p>

<p>Raoul Birnbaum, a history of art and visual culture professor at UCSC, has extensively studied religion and visual culture in China and Buddhist communities. He described some of the types of mandalas used in ancient history.</p>

<p>“The simplest mandalas probably are derived from protective circles drawn around a person in dirt or sand, sometimes inscribed with prayer [and] invocations,” Birnbaum said. “More complicated forms are created as concentric circles and squares, sometimes with a triangle in the center.” </p>

<p>While these sand paintings seem odd to many modern artists and critics due to their temporary nature, Birnbaum does not believe that their short lifetime was ever breaking any artistic rules.</p>

<p>“Is there a rule that states that everything must endure forever? And then, because the world is fundamentally fragile and always decomposing — this is a fundamental Buddhist view — how can you insist that everything should not decompose?” Birnbaum questioned. “Sooner or later it will disappear. In the deliberate destruction of the sand mandala after its ritual purpose has been fulfilled, this principle of impermanence is made visible to all who observe.”</p>

<p>While individual mandalas may not survive for very long, the actual practice of creating them has stood the test of time: mandalas are still made in many Buddhist communities and, upon completion, are left to be blown away by the wind.</p>

<p><b>The Present</b></p>

<p>Phil Hansen might be described as the spearhead of modern ephemeral art. An East Coast-based artist, Hansen has recently gained wide recognition for his “Phil In The Circle” videos on and a recent series of pieces entitled “Goodbye Art.”</p>

<p>Each week from July 2007 to July 2008, Hansen created a new art project to be added to the “Goodbye Art” series. Every piece was intricately created and assembled, only to be destroyed moments later. </p>

<p>“I wanted to create small, short-lived projects that were experimental, tested me creatively, and the physical project was gone when I was done,” Hansen said. </p>

<p>Projects from the series include a portrait of Britney Spears made of chewed-up Starbucks pastries, and Amy Winehouse’s face carved into frozen wine and then left out to melt after seven hours of work. </p>

<p>“The big thing for me is exposing more people to art, and finding ways to do that,” Hansen said, talking about his choices of such modern, pop-culture inspirations. “I found an audience that could come out of not only seeing the process but the process of making it entertaining.” </p>

<p>Throughout high school, Hansen spent a lot of his time practicing pointillism, a style of painting in which tiny dots are used to create intricate images. After the strain of doing such patience-minded work started to affect the motor control in Hansen’s hand, however, he took a multiple-year hiatus from the art world. While Hansen’s hand still shakes uncontrollably, his artistic endeavors have changed to accommodate his physical capacities as an artist. </p>

<p>“When I got back into it, I had to start working larger and in different ways so that my hand wouldn’t hurt, and that kind of led to this expansion of medium,” Hansen said. </p>

<p>One of the most popular pieces in the “Goodbye Art” series was a pile of red, white and black matches that formed the figure of Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar. Soon after the masterpiece was finished, Hansen struck a lone match and lit the top of his creation on fire, incinerating the entire project within a matter of minutes. </p>

<p>Some artists might shudder at the thought of watching hours of energy and time literally go up in flames, but Hansen looks back on the project with a sense of satisfaction.</p>

<p>“Feeling the five-foot flames coming off of that piece and seeing it go away the way I thought it would was pretty cool,” Hansen said.</p>

<p>While Hansen’s destructive art often aims to convey a direct message about the subject involved, he pointed out that his work is also eternally aimed at offering an overall message about the world in general. </p>

<p>“I think we put too much value as a society on the permanent,” Hansen said. “That’s why I like the idea of doing stuff that’s not permanent, because it’s there for that moment and it exists and then it’s gone — but it still exists because we have the video, the photos, we have proof of it.” </p>

<p>Artists like Hansen have found another community, besides the Webspace dedicated to them on YouTube, where their art is loved and cherished — albeit shortly — at the internationally renowned art festival, Burning Man. </p>

<p>This eight-day festival takes place at the end of every summer in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where it provides an opportunity for artists from around the globe to display their unique work.</p>

<p>Every year, Burning Man develops a new theme from which interested artists are to draw inspiration. Anton Viditz-Ward, an artist and Burning Man regular, is in the process of preparing a project — based on this year’s “Evolution” theme — that will involve a 13-foot metal sphere filled with wood, which will be hand-craned, spun, and lit on fire so that as the wood burns, the metal remains intact. </p>

<p>“If you look at the notion of burning things, fire consumes things and transforms them into something else,” Viditz-Ward said. “In destruction, there’s a celebration of transformation.” </p>

<p>This year Viditz-Ward hired a training crew of 25-30 people to help him weld his “Sphere To Enlightenment” together. He hopes that many more will observe his creation at the festival and will take away a sense of how far we have come as a community.</p>

<p>“It makes you think about where we’ve come from,” Viditz-Ward said. “Where are we now? Where are we heading? And I guess that would have to be enlightenment.” </p>

<p><b>The Future</b></p>

<p>As Hansen can attest, given the exposure his work has had thanks to YouTube, the future of ephemeral art will probably depend upon Web presence and coverage as well.</p>

<p>Thanks to the video-sharing website, ephemeral art is at all-time high popularity and artists are now able to display their art online and show the entire process of creating their work.</p>

<p>“Things will not be the same and that’s OK,” Viditz-Ward said, predicting the future of this artistic realm. “Because of the medium we have, you can now capture a lot more art on film.” </p>

<p>Hansen agrees that the art world will never be the same given the rapid spread of information, photo and video on the Internet.</p>

<p>“A lot of art is about looking back or looking forward, or it’s not connected to any time or place. But I like the idea of art being able to immediately interact with our day to day lives,” Hansen said.</p>

<p>Following the end of his “Goodbye Art” series, Hansen recently organized a new one entitled “Art Happening,” in which he will create weekly pieces influenced by recent news.</p>

<p>With the ability to regularly present artistic works to a global audience, destructive art has become a type of performance, and loyal artists point out that documentation of a piece’s destruction often unintentionally becomes its own masterpiece. </p>

<p>“There’s a false notion that things will last forever,” Viditz-Ward said. “But from decay comes transformation — and from transformation comes growth.” <br />
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