Pollinating Kindess: Good Deeds Anonymous,  a participatory art project t, 2014 

 

Project photos by: Dane Picard

Pollinating Kindess: Good Deeds Anonymous,  a participatory art project t, 2014 

 

Project photos by: Dane Picard

Pollinating Kindess: Good Deeds Anonymous,  a participatory art project t, 2014 

 

Project photos by: Dane Picard

Pollinating kindness

March 1, 2016

by  Annie Buckley

 

I still believe that art can make a difference. It’s not that I think art objects are outmoded or that art has to be social to be vital, but a couple of years ago, shortly after completing a year of grueling cancer treatment (is there any other kind?), I was walking through the courtyard garden of the loft building where I live when I thought, “I want to make something that has a direct and immediate impact.”

 

I already had an interdisciplinary practice and had been moving increasingly towards integrating experiential and relational approaches into my work with writing and collage, but for this next project, I wanted to remove the intermediary of the artist—and the art object—and dive right into experience. I wanted the experience to be direct and intimate. I knew it would involve a message. I wasn't exactly sure what it would be, but something that would inspire people to be kind.

 

That afternoon, still pondering this emerging idea, I went inside and saw a message on Facebook from curator Kristi Engle asking for artists to submit ideas for works of art for an innovative exhibition that involve hidden art in a garden. I didn't check Facebook very often, and did so rather randomly, so it seemed like fate in a way. I wrote to her with the rough outline of my idea and was elated when she said, yes, and explained that the show would take place in the garden at Offramp Gallery.

 

Pollinating Kindness: Good Deeds Anonymous, a participatory art project, took off from there. I needed a vehicle to carry ideas for the acts of kindness and I wanted it to take inspiration from nature, something the expanded and spread beyond its initial source so that the kindness would grow. Given my recent health scare, the first thing I thought of was a cancer. I briefly considered that I might reflect its capacity for unnatural growth in a new and more positive light but quickly rejected that idea; I wanted something that would inspire people and cancer did not fit the bill. Besides, I was sick of it. What else in nature grows and expands…migration, mitosis? In light of the project’s participatory nature, I asked friends and family and we talked over ideas. When a friend suggested pollination, it seemed perfect.

 

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to make objects that would carry notes with instructions or ideas for acts of kindness that could be picked up, acted upon, and passed along. The objects would be the vehicles and kindness would be the material. So anyone that participated would be both maker and viewer and the project would grow and take shape only as much as participants evolved it. Bees made sense with pollination, but what else...how about flowers or birds? Then I considered butterflies and did some research. It turns out that they also pollinate, though less consistently than bees and they travel further. This seemed like exactly the way people would pollinate kindness. So I started to investigate how to make paper butterflies.

 

I tried a few before it was suggested I investigate well-known origami artists, given that origami is an established art from Japan. I came upon Akira Yoshizawa and his famous butterfly. It took me several tries to get it right but finally I did. At the same time, I sourced ideas for the acts of kindness. I wanted them to be simple so that pretty much anyone could accomplish them. Again, I asked friends and family and went back to Facebook, too. I gathered ideas and gradually came up with a list.

 

I had to figure out a way for people to know what to do with the butterflies so I created a simple website and printed out some background and instructions for gallery goers. Anyone that takes a butterfly agrees to do the act of kindness inside. From there, they can keep the butterfly, pass it on, or leave it somewhere. Also, anyone that wants to make more butterflies can spread kindness that way, too.

 

Before the exhibition opened, I wrote the acts of kindness on 100 sheets of origami and folded 100 butterflies. On the day of the opening, I placed them all around the garden. It was fun watching people take them. Some people did the acts right then and there. A lot of people asked me how to fold their butterflies back up after they were opened. I spent a lot of the opening refolding the 100 butterflies for guests.

 

Pollinating Kindness has continued to grow, in fits and starts, in ways large and small, nearby and further away. A young girl that attended the opening wrote to ask me if she could make butterflies to put in local parks. My aunt in North Carolina brought the project to guests at a breast cancer tea. My aunt in Louisiana brought it to the hospice where she works and made lovely butterfly gifts for family members that lost loved ones. She pollinated kindness all throughout the town where she lived, too, inspiring a local dentist office to make a butterfly tree and a school to start folding butterflies. So many in her community got involved that a local writer wrote a feature about it that was published in the Times Picayune on Christmas Eve.

 

The project has grown locally, too. I brought the project to inmates in our CSUSB Community-based Art program in two state prisons. And together with my mom, I shared it to girls in juvenile hall. One of my colleagues at California State University, San Bernardino (CSCUB), Diane Podolske, was inspired to bring it to our campus as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration; several of my students led butterfly folding workshops for incoming freshman and local school children and, last fall, we were invited to bring the project to the California State University Board of Trustees.
 

Pollinating Kindness isn't the kind of flashy project that gets a lot of attention. It isn't political and is activist in the most rudimentary (but fundamental, I think) way, which is a recognition that every action has the potential to make a difference. It is simple and direct, just as I had wanted it to be, personal and immediate. It is ephemeral and intimate and wildly open-ended. It is light as a butterfly's wing and quick as a butterfly's lifespan but carries the seed of potential to change lives, in ways big and small. Do something kind today. We all have the power to make a difference.

 

Join us! For information on how to participate and more, please visit the project site


 

Annie Buckley is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, editor, and curator based in Los Angeles. Her collage, text, and participatory projects have been exhibited in museum and gallery exhibitions including a large two-person exhibition at Los Angeles International Airport sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs and an exhibition at the Hollywood Art and Culture Center of Florida as part of Miami Basel 2014. Her writing about contemporary art has been published widely since 2006. Annie is an associate professor at CSUSB where she began and oversees Community-based Art. Annie is also the co-editor of Radical Actions.