Be the Artist: Making Nostalgic Memories with Ephemera

This summer’s Be the Artist 2021 will help readers discover visual art-related words.

The Word: Ephemera

The definition of ephemera, as well as the intended livelihood, is short and sweet, and comes from the Greek origin “ephemeros,” or “short-lived.” It is often the term for the assorted printed materials such as tickets, brochures, letters, event flyers and similar items that are not meant to be retained or preserved.

Ironically, these are often the items scrapbookers love to use in their memory books, and sentimental types collect in shoeboxes. How many of us have kept concert tickets or graduation programs? We hang onto napkins printed with names during a wedding or special event, and we keep informational brochures from a favorite trip. In most cases, this is because ephemera represents a special memory, but in some cases, it is because the material intended to be a temporary thing is aesthetically pleasing enough to be artwork…or part of artwork.

In the art world, “ephemeral art,” as Tate Britain describes it, is “a work of art that only occurs once, like a happening, and cannot be embodied in any lasting object to be shown in a museum or gallery.”

Included in this are performances and happenings, as well as “sound sculptures” (large, often outdoor, sculptures, that aren’t just seen but heard with help of elements such as wind or water). Also, many “massed produced items” such as handouts, fell into this category. The ephemeral art world was embraced by many avant-garde artists during the 1960s from the artist/composer collective Fluxus to Yoko Ono.

Ephemera means “temporary,” but the impact of memories and ephemeral art is often lasting. This includes collectible ephemera like ticket stubs and concert flyers to site and time specific arts like environmental installations, or even flash mobs.

Environmental artists like Andy Goldsworthy or Christo and Jeanne-Claude can also be considered “ephemeral,” as their works are not something intended to last outside of a photograph.

The key, is to appreciate the temporary and the memory, like howl that passes through a sound sculpture or the long past memory that remains in the ticket left behind. Artists, writers, musicians, collectors and historians all understand the value of remembrance and enjoying the “ephemeral” nature of ever moment.

“Life is a flow of changes,” modern day poet and philosopher Debasish Mridha wrote, “transient and ephemeral.”

The Project: Superpowered Flyers

Here’s an easy way to turn ephemera into, well, ephemera, with a simple mixed media collage, using old comic book ephemera to make a memory from an alternative universe.

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Specifically, use comic and superhero “ephemera” to make some event tickets and flyers.

First, gather the “ephemera.” Find some discarded free comic book preview magazines (pick these up at any comic book shop and some book stores), clip some comic strips from newspapers, and look for leftover elaborate packaging from action figures, big swing tags on plush toys, and inserts found in magazines or inside video games and discs.

There may be all kinds of ephemera hiding in your home from catalogs to paper coasters, some of it ready to become new pieces of artwork. This ephemera treasure hunt can be part of the fun.  Image: Lisa Tate

There is still a lot of paper waste out there that can be put to good, artistic use, and some of it has some really cool graphics.

Next, think of an event, or a “happening,” which we now know can be considered a form of “ephemeral art.” Create the illusion of something that will take place and fade into a memory.

For example, create a ticket for a vintage concert featuring Dazzler, or a flyer for the Stark Expo. It doesn’t have to fit any comic book “canon” or even fit the personality of the characters. This is your world, and your memory, so have fun with it.

This easy collage project makes use of existing “ephemera” and create a fictional event that looks like the ephemera from another universe. Use a suitable backdrop, cut out the images you want from the collected ephemera and hand letter or print out the rest, if needed. Images: Lisa Tate

If making tickets, cut a piece of cardstock or some old school index cards for the surface, and a standard piece of drawing or typing paper for a flyer (any color). If you have an old ticket from an event you aren’t sentimental about, that could be a good backdrop to modify, as well.

The rest is the fun, and easy part: creating the ephemera collage. Cut out images and logos to fit the event.

An old, “temporary” concert ticket becomes piece of art for an father/daughter concert in an alternate universe. Image: Lisa Tate

If needed, add some printed out text or hand drawn lettering or enhancements, but try to gather as much as you can straight from the “ephemera.” Think of those handmade flyers for local bands or art shows that were made prior to when everyone had access to elaborate photo editing. This homemade result made things seem more authentic, and kind of punk rock.

These “temporary” memories can be put to good use as fun bedroom art to bookmarks. Make a new “memory,” using something that wasn’t really intended to last forever.

If it is one thing the passage of time reminds us is, never waste a moment but also, memories can often be as changing as the times.

As author and artist Erin Morgenstern said in the book The Starless Sea, “For every tale carved in rock there are more inscribed on autumn leaves or woven into spiderwebs.”

Make some fun tales in the form of these memories to share and enjoy, no matter how ephemeral they are.

Back before photoshop and social media posts were prominent, a good, cut-and-paste flyer for an event was the way to go…and often resulted in some eye-catching poster art. Image: Lisa Tate
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This post was last modified on June 20, 2021 10:15 pm

Lisa Tate

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with nearly 25 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. She and her husband, a history and world geography teacher, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.

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