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“Complimentary” Art Wows New York Festival Goers

By Lance Trebesch October 16, 2014

Artist Uses Donation from PerforatedPaper.com for Project

Fall can be an inspiring season filled with walks through bright leaves and warming, sunset bonfires, or it can mire the best of us in a heavy dose of the blahs after weeks of rainy, dreary, sloshy days and nights. Well, any New Yorkers who needed some cheering up had a brilliant opportunity to do so October 9-12 during the free Art in Odd Places (AiOP) festival.

The festival presents “visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces” to “stretch the boundaries of communication in the public realm” and remind people that “public spaces function as the epicenter for diverse social interactions and the unfettered exchange of ideas.” The theme of this year’s AiOP was “Free,” and interdisciplinary artist Leah Harper took to the occasion with a wonderfully original idea.

Leah2Harper’s interactive exhibit “Complimentary” featured a toy vending machine that doled out free plastic bubbles filled with compliments to anyone who chose to partake. Those complimented were free to hang on to their slip of praise, or they could recycle them so that someone else could have their day brightened by the same words.

“I decided to do a play on words with ‘complimentary’ and ‘compliments,’” she explains. “The decision to use the toy vending machine arose from the need to distribute individual compliments in an efficient and fun way. The idea was similar to that of a fortune cookie.”

Her project, which was sponsored by Ticketprinting.com, Northwestern Corporation, Top Notch Toys and The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) was located at 14th Street and 10th Avenue under the High Line Park. Harper chose the site “because it is frequented by a wide range of people, including locals and a large number of tourists. It was also somewhat removed from the central bustle of 14th Street, and more unexpected and surprising,” she notes.

All compliments were culled from an online submission form Harper posted in July, advertising with local organizations and Craigslist posts. She received over 400 proposed compliments, and says the interest in her project has been “very surprising and flattering.” The project’s debut during the festival also drew a lot of media attention and love from commuters and festival participants alike.

Leah“People were coming up to me and saying they’d seen me on TV and came to find my project, even taking pictures with me,” Harper says. “I got an unexpected number of hugs and there were also some touching stories from a mother who has been teaching her three-year-old daughter about compliments and was excited to bring her, and a woman who recently lost her husband and was moved to tears when she received her compliment.”

Notable compliments include:

  1. If you were a potato, you’d be a sweet potato.
  2. How lovely you look with the new season’s light on your face!
  3. Your Instagram pictures always makes me smile.
  4. You make really good soup.
  5. I like the way you move.
  6. You’re totally worth more than they’re paying you.
  7. Your teeth are beautiful.

Harper believes that having custom cut paper from PerforatedPaper.com donated by parent company TicketPrinting.com “was a hugely efficient way to print and pass out compliments. With thousands being doled out, cutting them personally by hand would have been an insurmountable task, and having that done professionally at a local shop would have been financially impossible. For artists working independently and on a budget, it would be an enormous help to make large-scale projects possible.”

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She can also see the benefits to such a product for those looking to get creative in other ways. “The perforated paper could be an inexpensive way to print personal business cards or advertisements,” Harper explains. “It would be cheaper than in-store, and it would allow for specific quantities and sizes. It would also allow for easy changes to be made to them as needed over time.”

Harper says she’d like “to take the project out onto the streets again, at least a few times more,” and is looking into having it situated on the High Line or with CSI, which is interested in maintaining it in their lobby for visitors. She plans to continue doing “large-scale environmental and interactive work” including projects involving psychology and emotion.

Learn more about Leah Harper and her work at leahharper.com.