If traced through history, the idea of permanence was never permanent. The concept itself has undergone many modifications, the concern for longevity in our possessions, practices and productions depend upon various social, psychological and physical factors. What we believe to outlive us may die in our own age, and what we discard as transitory can survive centuries.
One of its examples can be seen in the process of producing an object. Often the notion of permanence is linked with the material, scale or the effort of maker. Sometimes a large house built in stone perishes whereas a bowl fabricated in straws exists longer – through its innumerable replication in coming years.
As ‘it is the idea that takes a work into the realm of art’ it is the relevance of an expression that ensures its life rather than its material or medium. Students in art colleges are usually guided to use durable and dependable materials in order to make their works, neglecting the fact that it is rather their image, ideas and creative investigation that infuse life in their work, instead of what physical matter or fashionable technique is employed to forge it. Thus a work of art made in steel or granite may be abandoned from the general history of mankind, yet another piece created with ephemeral substances – like ice, shadows, sounds and dust is more permanent depending upon the formal and conceptual quest of the creator and its connection with a milieu.
Likewise ideas, which were coined and contested during the Classical period of Greek Civilization, are still alive (perhaps it was Ernst Gombrich who stated that the whole Western philosophy is just footnote to Plato). In comparison to whatever is recorded today on durable medium are fated to oblivion.
This question of permanence is pertinent for a creative individual because he is not only addressing his contemporaries, but later generations through his work. Is it the material, usage, utility or understanding that can guaranty the permanence of a piece of art, and what is permanence anyway, because throughout history objects have been perceived in a different light? Jean Baudrillard denotes that what we perceive as art works today were not created as ‘Art’.
The present issue of ArtNow Pakistan investigates the idea of permanence in art, through the essays by Dua Abbas and Natasha Jozi and photo essay by Numair Abbasi. This debate of durability becomes crucial, with the advent and popularity of virtual media, so what is more lasting? A digital photograph or a print on archival paper?
Perhaps it is the intellectual content that ensures the permanence, no matter in what physical form the work comes to you; because even the paintings displayed at the Permanent Art Gallery in Lahore are not permanent as several have collected dust, peeled off or changed their original colours.