The Future of the Ephemeral: The Inside Out Project & Digital Street Art

Ephemerality is an intriguing notion in an age where the digital has a tendency to immortalize in the form of viral videos, images, and ideas. An artistic work intended for decay now finds itself lingering online year after year after year.  It’s no secret that the act of documenting the the short-lived has been somewhat commonplace since the rise of photography but the internet era has ushered in an entirely new degree of distribution – a degree capable of redefining both purposeful and indirect ephemerality for the foreseeable future.

However, a handful of artists have cleverly embraced the affordances of this digital/ephemeral intersection and created portals for different kinds of experiences.  In October of 2010, a band of “guerrilla artists” illegally “installed” a digital exhibition in the MOMA in NYC.  This exhibition consisted of digital art geotagged to specific GPS coordinated within MOMA’s walls.  And MOMA couldn’t do anything about it. they couldn’t be taken down and the subversive/contextual goals of the digital artists could not be silenced – even by one of the art world’s most iconic and powerful institutions. While these digital installations could only be viewed through augmented reality smartphone application – and were only visible for a limited time – the future of digitally/geolocative tagged images, video, or virtual objects raises some interesting questions about the future of the ephemeral in a digital age.

Notably, acclaimed street artist JR famously redirected the funds awarded him during the 2011 TED Prize in order to flesh out a participatory window into the ephemerality of cultures on the other side of the globe.  In effect, JR’s Inside Out Project is the logical extension of his own work, a way of sharing his preferred form of creativity and handing over the responsibilities – and impact – to those people and communities who are often relegated to the “subject” of his own work.

While JR’s own exhibitions are undoubtedly interesting, I find his founding of the Inside Out Project to be his crowning achievement.  Instead of focusing on the making of street art, he has given the gift of agency to so many who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have it.  Instead of focusing on his own career, he has harnessed commonalities amidst all kinds of cultures to launch much needed dialogue in both high-profile and forgotten parts of the world.  By creating an online framework for others to participate, contribute, and reflect, JR has sparked an ecosystem of cross-cultural exchange on a global scale.

Most striking is JR’s repeated admission that the Inside Out Project is not designed to be any of these things but rather to be purely an artistic act.  It’s not political; it’s just art. It’s not transformative; it’s just creativity. Despite the obviously charged impact of his Women Are Heroes exhibition, JR’s rebuke echoes many of the key elements of the street art movement from whence he came.  He’s not in it for the glory but rather for the expressive nature of the act. It’s ok if the rain washed it away because that’s part of the process. That’s the expectation. ironically, the success of JR’s project has garnered so much attention that HBO Films created a full length documentary feature chronicling his work and the impact it is having around the world.

And much like many of the scenarios depicted throughout the film, what was once intended to be non-permanent is now being documented again and again and again in more and more mediums.  Exponentially compounding, a resounding idea can no longer be as ephemeral as it once could.


Works Cited:

Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek. DIT Day: Moma., 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

JR. “My Wish: Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out.” TED, 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

Murphy, Heather. “An Artist Who Turns Marginalized Women Into the Stars of Their Communities.” Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, June 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

The Inside Out Project. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.