Ross Coulter’s 10,000 Paper Planes – Aftermath (1) captures a scene of order and chaos – the ‘aftermath’ of an event that has shattered the otherwise tidy appearance of the room. The photograph documents an art performance in which 10,000 paper planes were released from the four levels of galleries into the Reading Room on 11 March 2011. Choreographed by the artist, with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers, the performance lasted for over ten minutes and the action of the planes falling was documented in three photographs, and on film with an accompanying sound recording.
The idea for this performance originated when Coulter was working at the State Library of Victoria in the late 1990s, where a central aspect of his role involved photocopying information from books. He began speculating on the ways in which information and ideas moved physically, and philosophically, throughout a space like the State Library – and at that unique moment in time when analogue processes were becoming replaced and overridden by the digital.
This line of enquiry evolved into the concept of making and releasing 10,000 paper planes into the library, as a way of poetically and creatively tracing ‘thought patterns’ in the space, with the simultaneous recognition that this was a playful act of rebellion. The Domed Reading Room creates a particularly interesting site of intervention. Built in 1913 as an extension to the State Library, its grand octagonal design emulated the layout of the British Museum in London, and Washington’s Library of Congress. The grand, stately design is an intentional architectural construction indicating the solemnity of the pursuit of knowledge and research and what has been described as ‘the collective worth of knowledge’.