When German police began cracking down on wheat-paste street artists in 2005, reflecting debate about whether to criminalise the posting of art in public places within Berlin, Aisha Ronniger took a long look at the alternative possibilities of street art and conceived the community art project ‘Papergirl Berlin.’ The idea came after a friend suggested she should ‘start throwing art around, like the paperboys in America.’ Aisha realised that the idea had potential to be a less-invasive method of bringing art to the street, whilst adding a democratic dimension of production and distribution to the process.
Since the projects conception in Berlin, Papergirl franchises have sprung up across the world, from Rio, Brazil to Perth, Australia. Each project follows a simple formula laid down by Aisha; collection, exhibition and distribution. Submissions and donations are welcomed from professionals and hobbyists alike, and can include anything from low-key doodles, amateur photography to original prints and illustrations.
Once collected, the work is exhibited to the general public, and then collected into random stacks of 10-15, rolled into a tube and delivered by bicycle couriers to unsuspecting members of the public. The time of distribution is kept a strict secret (even to the couriers) to assure that the recipients are entirely left to chance. Surprise, joy, inspiration, indifference; it’s all left (quite literally) in the hands of the recipient.
The global success of the Papergirl project is perhaps due to this simple principle. There are 5 Papergirl projects in Romania alone, the first sprang up in Bucharest (‘Romanian Papergirl’), followed by Iasi, Brasov, Sibiu and, finally, this summer marked the formation of Papergirl Cluj-Napoca. Set up by Laura Eisikovits, Anda Marian and Mircea Precup, Papergirl Cluj-Napoca is currently accepting submissions until the end of October.
‘We were so surprised that there wasn’t a Papergirl project already in Cluj,’ says Laura. ‘We saw the opportunity and thought it seemed like an obvious choice considering the kind of city Cluj is.’ Anda came across the idea on the internet and wrote to the organisers in Bucharest who in turn sent her straight to Aisha in Berlin. ‘The thing that appealed to us is that it is a well-known project. We knew it would work here. Since we are quite new to this, it means we can grow with the project and learn along the way. ‘
So far they have had interest and support from Casa TIFF, Fabrica de Pensule, L’atelier and Shto College Bar, who are helping them run workshops in preparation for stage 2: the exhibition. ‘Workshops let us meet artists face-to-face, which is really important to get across the purpose of this project. There is a kind of prejudice among some of the more professional artists about mixing their work with amateur works. They don’t see the point of bringing their work to people on the street. Will it be appreciated? Will it be devalued?’ On the flip side non-professional artists shy away from donating their work. ‘But this is missing the point’ insists Diana. ‘ It’s not about being “good” or not.’
There are also questions about the impact the project makes on the final unsuspecting recipients; the business commuter, the old-age pensioner, the chemistry student, the housewife. Will these pieces of work be genuinely appreciated by the recipient or end up in the nearest rubbish bin along with sales flyers and club night promotions?
In an interview Aisha Ronniger mentions that this randomness is exactly the breath of fresh air that defines street art, especially in cooler than cool Berlin. ‘The streets are not curated and all the work that is out there is sort of a present to the viewer. Through this decision the visitor of the show turns into a curator.’ She believes the global success of the Papergirl movement is that the concept is ‘universally understandable; in every culture you give presents and people make art.’ In fact, the project is actually closer to street performance than an art show, or as the Papergirl motto puts it is ‘the Art of giving Art.’
The accessibility of Papergirl doesn’t just extend to the participants. It is also relatively simple to organise. The simplicity of the core formula paired with flexibility in the details assures that each project can be tailored by a wide range of organisers with different backgrounds and different nationalities. The Papergirl Cluj-Napoca team are typical amongst other Papergirl initiators when they say ‘One of the reasons we started this up is that we were bored with our daily jobs. We wanted to try something new.’ After working at a big multi-national company, Anda decided she needed a creative outlet. ‘We could have just sat around, drinking beers and talking about doing something for years. But we decided to just go ahead and do something that could genuinely make a difference to the place we live.’
So far the team are at Stage 2 and are collecting works. They held a fluorescent art workshop at Biertan Full Moon Festival inspired by fantasy-horror films and are also thinking about running a paper-making workshop, as of course paper is central to all they do. ‘There is something real and tangible about paper’ says Laura. ‘Being on the internet all day, paper becomes something special. Something you can hold in your hands, take home, stick on the wall. It makes it even more special that every piece of paper is original, unique and totally diverse.’
made.in.transylvania will be following the ongoing story of Papergirl Cluj. In the meantime, if someone on a bicycle thrusts something into your hands one cold Autumn morning, it would probably be a good idea to take a look at it before you stuff it in the nearest dustbin.
The Papergirl Cluj-Napoca team are receiving submissions for the extended period of late October. To find out more about this and other upcoming workshops, you can visit the Papergirl Cluj-Napoca blog or facebook page.
You can find out more about Papergirl projects worldwide at www.papergirl.org