How to fly a paper plane a la Ross Coulter

What do you learn when you think up and execute an artwork involving the filmed release of 10,000 paper planes in the domed Reading Room of the State Library? Ross Coulter, the 2010 Georges Mora Foundation Fellow, learned a few things you might expect. 

The right material is important.  “The final planes were made with A3 AA paper because it was stronger than the rest,” says Ross.

Design is critical, especially when you’re relying on 180 volunteers who may or may not have received detention for flying paper planes in class while at school.   James Norton, international paper plane expert, provided advice and Ross finally decided on a Japanese design called the Nakamura Lock. “The Nakamura glides easily and rights itself. Anyone can fly them.”  Phew.

The choreography of objects in space is essential. Ross consulted Rusty Johnson, choreographer of fireworks displays with Howard Brothers. He also cites a project with dance choreographer Lucy Guerin as influential.

Rehearsal and being prepared was a lesson learned when Ross was a field marshal for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. “I (wasn’t) worried about the release of the planes because I’d tested it, first with 16 people, then 35, then 60.”

Ross also talks of the impact on his skill development. “It’s the largest thing I’ve made to date. It’s extended my people skills; negotiating, boardroom conversations, public speaking. I’ve been able to focus on research, learning from cinematographers about the technical capacities of cameras, learning about flight.”

But Ross also says there have been “profound changes which I can’t describe. The conversations while folding the planes…like quilting, the craft activity goes into the background and the stories are what are important.” Many of the folders were fellow artists; “we talked about our artistic practice, about projects, relationships … we set and achieved small goals, like making another 480 planes before we stopped for the night … working in teams to achieve something …”

And the future? “That an idea I’ve had for so many years has come to fruition feels unreal. It’s given me hope, and reminded me that I have to keep my ideas pushing along. It’s given me confidence to experiment.”

text by Robyn Winslow 2011