Harry Smith’s Paper Airplanes

by
r135519_2013_m_4_b292_001
from http://blogs.getty.edu:

Treasures from the Vault: Harry Smith and Patterns in the Wind, by Jan Bender

Harry Smith liked to look for keys to the universal patterns that shape our cultures and the hidden realms of the human unconscious. He compared patterns in native American music with the eccentric rhythms of jazz; the patterns in Seminole patchwork with those on Ukrainian Easter eggs; the intricate diagrams of master occultists with the ambient rhythms of the sounds of New York street life—and somehow assembled from these a harmonic web of cosmographic ideas, employing all the investigative rigor of his early anthropological training.

His work explored many mediums, from music to film to painting to collecting, and his collections of peculiar impedimentia—seemingly unrelated objects threaded with meaning—expanded to fill his small New York hotel rooms.

One of the groups of objects Harry Smith assembled, as Nancy Perloff noted in her piece on Smith’s archives earlier this year, was a collection of over 250 paper airplanes found from 1961 through 1987 on the streets and sidewalks of Manhattan. Harry would pick up these transient paper objects, otherwise doomed to be swept away or decayed in the weather, and find meaning, value and purpose in them.

He tagged each with the time and location of their finding, acting as a meticulous field worker, freezing the moment of a stranger’s whim for later inspection and evaluation. These wound up squirreled away amidst his other collections, rarely seen by others, but enlarged by his telling into the World’s Largest Paper Airplane Collection.

Over 250 of these creations have been preserved. One of the most poignant is a connect-the-dots worksheet, printed on fragile, acidic paper, depicting a child gazing up into the air and declaring, “Oh! how I wish I could fly, There’s so much to see from the sky.”
We can only guess at what deeper meanings Harry Smith might have glimpsed in this collection. He was clearly interested in the cataloging of the types of airplanes he found as an expression of their folding methods. He kept the most unusual examples of folding, and documented on at least one slip of paper the discarding of some of the plainer examples he had found in multiples. This would have accorded with his interest in the multitudinous varieties of patterns to be found in folk craft traditions, and discovering their cross-cultural unifying principles.

Harry Smith also chronicled the meaningful but hidden patterns of New York life in an audio recording project of the 1980s, documenting entire days filled with the sounds of footsteps, the noise of crowds, the mewing of cats, the roar of traffic, and the sighing of the wind. Perhaps his paper airplanes are a visual example of this quotidian yet symbolic realm.

Every paper airplane sent into the winds of the city told stories about the weather, and the world, and which days New Yorkers were most inspired to commit small acts of defiance, or freedom, or hope, placing news of the human heart into those webs of resonance described by sound, space, light, and interval. Every time a schoolchild launched her boredom out of a classroom window, she might be sending a message into the hands of Harry Smith.

– See more at: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/treasures-from-the-vault-harry-smith-and-patterns-in-the-wind/?utm_source=grinews115&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=grinews115#sthash.VjvhyQsJ.dpuf
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s