Paper Airplanes

Last Sunday at one in the afternoon, a local Grand Rapids guy named Rob Bliss and a handful of friends started to dump paper airplanes off of downtown buildings. By the time they finished, one hundred thousand planes had descended on the nearly 20,000 people crowding the streets below. While the planes were raining down, loudspeakers blared a refrain from “Olsen Olsen,” a song by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Some of the people in the crowd hummed along; others played the tune on instruments that they had brought for the event.

The plane launch was part of Grand Rapids ArtPrize, an “open art contest” offering nearly half a million dollars in prizes to the most popular entrants as determined by public vote. Sara, the kids, and I have been loving ArtPrize, discussing what we like and don’t like, what effect certain pieces have on us, and even how we should, or wish to, define art. The contest has provoked a lot of discussion among friends and neighbors, too. Some people seem almost offended by it, as if it demeans art in some way, while others are reveling in the “anything goes” nature of the competition.

There is a lot more I could say about both the paper-airplane stunt and ArtPrize in general, but I haven’t fully formulated my thoughts about them, so I’m going to hold off for now. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of downtown Grand Rapids last Sunday. Click on the thumbnails to get larger versions (without leaving the page).

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3 Responses to Paper Airplanes

  1. Dad says:

    Hooray for ArtPrize!! It does Grand Rapids so proud, and brings people together in such a great way. Thanks for the photos, Karl. I’ve got a question about the Paper Airplanes: can you think of other visual “art” which is here and then gone in a minute?

  2. Josh says:

    I hardly recognize GR with so many people walking about! Pretty cool stuff.

  3. Karl Swedberg says:

    There is a group of Tibetan monks who create intricate sand mandalas and then throw them in a river to represent the transitory nature of existence or something like that. They go on world tours, creating one of these things in each city and then destroying it.

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