Artist: Aisha Ronniger
Location: Berlin, Germany
Year of completion: 2012
Leon Tan

Papergirl began in 2006 as a self-commissioned project based on distributing art in the form of rolled up packages to random strangers in public. It was inspired by the constraints imposed by tightening laws on graffiti in Berlin. Based on the image of American paperboys of the Great Depression, the initial idea was simply to collect artworks, package them into rolls, and distribute them in a fast-paced public event during which participants would ride through different parts of the city throwing out rolls to passers-by. While it started off as a single event, it was repeated annually until 2010 in Berlin.

Papergirl developed as an open source project based on a small set of straightforward rules. The spirit of the project is characterized succinctly in the words of the artists, “participatory, analogue, non-commercial, and impulsive.”

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The rules of the game are as follows:

1. Anyone may participate by submitting and/or distributing art,

2. Unlike newspapers, Papergirl rolls consist of artistic contributions submitted by mail or in person, and are neither edited nor printed,

3. The project is strictly non-commercial; the rolls cannot be bought, nor are they distributed to subscribers,

4. Distribution is, as far as possible, spontaneous, and hence embedded in the fast paced activity of bicycle riding.

Since the rolls are delivered as gifts to recipients in public, and not painted or pasted onto buildings, Papergirl sidesteps intensifying legal restrictions on artistic expression in the public sphere. It demonstrates a kind of social creativity that might be equated with jurisprudence, effectively critiquing the law while ensuring the continuity of artistic expression in public. In terms of the impact of the project on the community, it provided surprising encounters that bring ordinary people into contact with art in their everyday lives. As Ronniger says, “I want to surprise them, going about their everyday lives and suddenly getting a present.” Approximately 1,500 rolls were distributed between 2006 and 2010. The project proved so popular that it expanded to include sister projects in New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, Barcelona, Cape Town, Istanbul, Bristol, Cardiff, and Belgrade.

One of the most significant features of this project is its insistence on remaining completely noncommercial. Ronniger explains, “It needs to stay independent in order not to be manipulated. The designated artworks should not be sold and the action should be a surprise. The spirit of giving should not be influenced or contaminated by monetary motifs or misused by advertising for any companies.” Papergirl resurrects aspects of the gift economy studied by Marcel Mauss, a system of ritual exchanges of gifts excluding money. The massive popularity of the idea and the project suggests that perhaps there are many artists, as well as members of the public, who would like to see alternatives to the unrelenting commodification of nearly all aspects of life, including arts and culture. By delighting recipients with gifts of art, Papergirl provides a model for how small but motivated groups can engage in life-affirming artistic gestures that do not depend on huge budgets, nor on commercial transactions, but on generosity and sharing.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency