As colleges ceaselessly grow more emblematic of archives, students get thwarted into only caring about documents. Exam scores, resumes, grade point averages—there are a myriad of records universities store, leading students to believe that these papers are of the upmost importance. Geneseo’s Ephemeral Arts Photo Exhibit sought to show students how these allegedly imperative documents are just like ephemeral art: temporary. The Nature Walk Club, Art Club, the Office of Sustainability and Geneseo Campus Activities Board held the photo exhibit’s reception in the Kinetic Gallery on Thursday Oct. 22. Photos of the ephemeral artwork made by Geneseo students were hung all over the walls. A plethora of the pieces had leaves as the focal point in the photos—one picture depicting a leaf shaped as a heart—to illustrate how students used nature to create an archive. At the end of the day, however, nature will step in to destroy it all. The leaves will blow away, the wood will rot—these documents of art are not meant to be lasting or even preserved.
“I’d never known what ephemeral art is, so I’m aware that most of campus does not know what ephemeral art is,” GCAB’s Kinetic Gallery Arts and Exhibit Coordinator senior Tahlia Brody said. Brody helped to coordinate the reception alongside president of Nature Walk Club junior Sarah Kowalski and Director of Sustainability Dan DeZarn. “I want people to be able to walk around and start thinking about whether things are deliberate,” Brody added. “I want them looking at nature and seeing the beauty in nature, thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll change some things around.’”
Rarely are nature spots in Geneseo utilized to full capacity—how often is the gazebo filled? Perhaps a few stragglers will watch the sunset so that they can brag that National Geographic ranked Geneseo as having one of the top 10 sunsets in the world. But even this is nothing more than a trivialized, false archive—there was no such published ranking. Furthermore, a number of students do not realize what the Arboretum is, let alone where on campus it is located.
“Nature Walk Club is focused in the Arboretum … it’s a nice little wooded, outdoor area of campus where you can relax during the day and enjoy,” Kowalski said. “I think it’d just be nice to get more people aware of the Arboretum on campus.”
Many students agreed with Brody and Kowalski’s sentiments at the reception. Upon viewing the ephemeral artwork, sophomore Peggy Mo said, “It is important for students to see exhibits such as this one to learn about what the ephemeral arts are and what it means, because many don’t know.”
“Any festival like this shows students how it’s important to get outside,” Kowalski added. “It’s a good way to unwind and give back to nature—something that we kind of forget while we’re here and involved in our studies. Part of the beauty of it is seeing how they change over time—will they last, or disappear? You can go see them a few weeks later and see what’s changed.”
This is especially true given the time of year—the leaves are as seasonal and fleeting as worldly objects. One moment, they’re green; the next, they’re orange. Before long, they will fall from the trees, just as the students’ artwork is bound to drift away. Nothing fits the mold of an archive more than art, yet ephemeral art seeks to break down that box and ask what truly lasts in this world.
If students missed the gallery, they can go examine the pieces and see them change right before their eyes in the Arboretum, as the authentic artwork—of which the photos on display at the exhibit depicted—is still held there.