Random Acts of Creativity
Paper Girl delivers a new brand of public art to Albany
By Josh Potter
Modesty comes quick to Sina Hickey, but when the artist and University at Albany student defers to the many people who make her current project, Paper Girl, possible, it’s not self-effacing—she literally wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
This spring, Hickey happened upon a Web site created by an artist in Berlin, Germany, that documented a project she’d undertaken for the past four years. In response to legislation that would have equated bill posting with spray painting, the artist devised a new method for creating and distributing public art. The idea was fourfold: First she’d solicit submissions of artwork from friends and begin accepting donated work from whoever wanted to take part. Having culled the desired amount of art, she’d display the work in a standard gallery show. Then, with the help of friends, she’d roll the work into portable scrolls that could be delivered via bicycle in the manner of a paper boy/girl. After the work had all been passed out at random, all over Berlin, she’d throw a party for everyone who had been on either the giving or receiving end. Playing with ideas of public art, gift economy, social networking and urban beautification, the original Paper Girl project adopted as its motto: “Anyone who picks up a roll is lucky, and money can’t buy luck. Something is most fun when you don’t expect anything in return.”
Since its inception, the project has been taken up all over the world in places like Portland, Ore., and Northampton, Mass., with plans for similar events in New York City and South Africa.
As soon as Hickey learned about the project, she knew she’d love to replicate it in Albany. All summer, she worked on the project’s first leg by collecting submitted work in a box she keeps in the trunk of her car. It’s meant a huge time commitment, all without the promise of monetary compensation.
“Paper Girl is about doing art for art’s sake,” she says. “It’s not about money, but it is about networking, making friends.” She says the project has been a great way to meet artists in the area and that the later stages can provide an opportunity for local artists to collaborate on something larger than their own personal work.
Through Sept. 28, Hickey will continue accepting submissions. Anyone who’s interested in donating work can drop it off at the UAG Gallery (247 Lark St., Albany) or at the Existing Artists table this weekend at LarkFest. So far, contributions have run the gamut from drawings to paintings, photographs, origami, seed bombs, and even a sheet upon which an artist printed photos of her home birth. The only requirement is that the work be handcrafted (no photocopies, etc.) and rollable.
Project collaborator Melanie O’Malley says that this, unfortunately, prevents her from submitting her (obviously unrollable) hand-built guitars, but it’s the project’s social component that most excites her. “The networking part is an art on its own,” she says. “Sina’s using a network to do Paper Girl, which itself creates an even broader network.”
Through this network, Hickey found Ken Jacobie, who was looking for artists to take part in a local show called Flux (Oct. 9-11), for which he secured access to the breathtaking 153-year-old St. Joseph’s Church in Arbor Hill. “The show’s about change,” Jacobie says, “and the project she’s working on caught my attention as something that imminently made sense.” Over the course of three days, Flux will display the work of a host of local artists, accompanied by music in the sonorous space. The proceeds from the show will benefit the Historic Albany Foundation; HAF owns the building and requires large sums for its upkeep. Before the work for Paper Girl is rolled and delivered, it will be strung and displayed underneath the grand columns and dazzling stained glass at St. Joseph’s.
“It’s such a pure idea,” says Jacobie of Paper Girl, “giving something beautiful to people who don’t expect it at all, for no reason other than happenstance. Person-to-person is the missing ingredient in our society today, and if the rest of the world could work this way it would be kinda cool.”
After the show, Hickey, O’Malley and others will roll the work and plan a set of days over which to distribute it. “We’re going to make sure to get every neighborhood, including the state Capitol on lunch break,” says Hickey. She says she hopes to enlist the help of the Troy Bike Rescue and has expanded the parameters of participation to include skateboards and other human-powered transportation.
Approaching strangers with a gift is a bold gesture, and Hickey realizes that some people might not appreciate the offering. “If somebody thinks it’s shit, they might turn the corner and throw it out, and that’s unfortunate. But we’re hoping that doesn’t happen, and I don’t think it will.” Inside the scroll will be information about the work included, as well as contact info and details regarding the open party to follow.
O’Malley is especially enthused about the project’s later stages and says she’ll definitely be one of the bikers. “It’s really exciting to see stuff like this going on in Albany,” she says. “I was born in Arbor Hill, and I’ve lived in the Center Square area since I graduated [from UAlbany], but it’s just in these past six months that the buzz [in the local art scene] has really picked up again. There’s just all these people, with really quality stuff, who want to get their stuff out there, and without all the pretentiousness.”
From the point of view of the Paper Girl project, art is only as good as it is significant and useful to the community in which it exists. The more people that get involved, the more useful it becomes. “Some people use the term ‘Smallbany’ in a negative way,” says O’Malley, “but it can simply mean living in a community,” which is what Flux and Paper Girl are all about.