By Laura Zavoyovski

In the 12th edition of positivarevista.com we present the plastic artist Paula Pietranera, who, in the middle of the pandemic, decided to gather in a single work of art the wishes of a thousand people written on a thousand cranes – bird-shaped origamis – joined together by a millimeter of paper. Today she shows us her finished piece.
From the urban temple San Francisco Zen Center (in San Francisco, United States), where she has been living for five years, the artist tells us how she experienced the process of creating a work as ambitious and symbolic as 1000wishes1000cranes.

Paula, in case someone didn’t read that first article or doesn’t know you, let’s remember how your project was born.
It was born at the beginning of the pandemic, from the motivation to connect with people, given the difficulty of exposing and showing my work. I started with this plan to fold 1000 cranes from a single piece of paper using a technique called Renzuru. Then, it occurred to me to ask people to send me their wishes.
It took me nine months to collect and fold them. I received wishes in 28 languages, from the most traditional (French, Italian, Portuguese) to Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, GuaranĂ­…. It was interesting to see so many cultures reflected in this work. It was also significant for me to see the depth of these desires. The people who participated did not send anything at random, they were very heartfelt messages, many of them related to the pandemic we are living through, altruistic wishes: for world peace, for an essential change in human values…
Many people thanked me for having opened a space where they could express these complex feelings that were being experienced in 2020 and were shared with all humanity.

All the wishes united around a circle are, at first sight, very striking. What do they symbolize?
When I thought about how to put together the painting I finally made, I came up with the idea of a spiral starting in the center of the painting and opening outwards. With thirty meters of cranes joined together, I calculated that it would be a circle of one meter in diameter. At the same time, thinking about this circle and about wishes for world peace, the work of an artist I know who lives in Berkeley, very close to San Francisco, came to my mind.
His name is Kazuaki Tanahashi. He is a Japanese artist. A Buddhist scholar of great renown who has done translations from Japanese and who devoted his whole life to the study of ancient Buddhist scriptures. He is a calligrapher, painter and a great activist for peace. He is 87 years old and is famous for his colorful paintings called ensos. The ensos are those zen circles that you may have seen many times. It is a painting between calligraphic and pictorial. It is usually done with one brushstroke and is related to the inner connection and unity with the whole.
Then I thought about this idea of the circle, about Tanahashi and his motivation for peace. I asked him very humbly if he would be interested in collaborating with this piece and making one of his colored circles to be the nest or the base where the thousand cranes would rest.
I sent him a presentation and, to my great excitement, he accepted. When I had his circle in shades of blue, I started to glue the cranes from the center. It took me quite a long time because it is a very delicate job to glue one by one, taking care not to break the millimeter of paper that joins, like a bridge, one crane to the next. I glued them very delicately until I formed this circle. I think the colors and the size blend very well. I think the paint and the paper make a very nice collaboration.
The figure of the circle is very symbolic. A unifying thing that unites all these wishes and these thousand people who asked for them. My intention now is to start showing it in different museums and institutions. I will start here; then the idea is to offer it in other places in the United States and show it in other corners of the world. And to tell the story behind the work. That it is not simply an artistic event. I feel it is a collaboration between a thousand people. I think it is not just a work of mine. It is a space that brought together a lot of people.

Of course, it became something of a collaborative project….
Yes, that’s why I decided to set up an Instagram account where I posted each of those thousand wishes. Many were curious to read them. The good thing is that Instagram automatically translates what appears in the image, if the wish is not in your language. My idea is that this Instagram will become a social network where people will continue to post their wishes. I will continue to post them and maybe, in the future, I will make another artwork out of this. I don’t know. For the moment, the idea is to open that space that I think is necessary for people to continue expressing their intentions.

And now what? How does your work routine continue?
The work of the thousand cranes taught me not to stay in the attitude of “well, until things don’t open up or until everything returns to normal, I will not do anything”. This came as a surprise, I would say, and many people got involved and generated an energy that made it possible to develop this project that has a lot of potential and, at the same time, a lot of power. So, I encourage myself and I encourage you to continue creating. I want to keep the creative energy in me, beyond the worldwide hiatus. I am doing two big works at the moment. This work taught me that even in times of difficulty very valuable things can emerge.