Nineteen of us crouched in the fountain, stacks of origami in our hands, water flowing over our toes, viscous algae underfoot. I blew gently on a six-inch paper boat and made a wish. Our captain, organizer and artist Katie Miller, counted down from three and we launched.
Nineteen paper boats floated downstream. Another command, and nine-hundred and eighty-one ships followed as a tiny, disposable armada, carrying wishes and disintegrating.
Our launch was the final element of Miller’s installation Bon Voyage! at Method Gallery in Seattle. The project spanned interior and exterior settings; Miller and volunteers spent several weeks folding paper boats amidst video and physical installations. Bon Voyage! was part of the group show Vorfreude, a German word meaning “the joyful anticipation of future pleasures.” Building boats was the joy. The future pleasure was the deployment.
And it truly was a pleasure. Almost childishly so.
Kids get to play in sand, dig in mud, stack blocks, and all for no outcome beyond asking the essential question: “What does this do?” That’s how I felt while dropping my seventy-ish paper boats into the slow-moving water. How far will they go? Will they get stuck on the obstacles? Good interactive art locates the viewer/participant squarely in the immediate moment and Bon Voyage! made our whole team feel gleefully present for a sunny half-hour in the afternoon.
Bon Voyage! is Miller’s fifth iteration of the thousand paper boats concept in seven years. It began in Philadelphia, after a cross-country move, as a meditation on travels. It has since featured in Minnesota and several Seattle-area locations.
Miller chose one thousand paper boats as an homage to the Japanese tradition of folding one thousand paper cranes. If you’ve been to a Japanese wedding you’ve seen them: one thousand origami birds on strings, earning the maker a single wish.
I asked Miller what she was wishing for. “Safe journeys,” she replied without hesitation.
I wished for a happy marriage, which I suppose is the same thing.