Ori Alon: Using Playful Paperwork to Empower
So I have a treat for you today! I’m so grateful that my friend Maedean was kind enough to share an interview she recently had with Ori Alon from the Centre for Supportive Bureaucracy.
This is such an amazingly innovative idea for bringing inspiration and empowerment into our daily lives that I can’t contain myself.
Ori Alon uses official looking documents in a playful, thoughtful way to create validating and uplifting paperwork!
My personal favourites are the “POSTED: No Easy Questions to Existential Questions.” and the “OK Parent Award.”
His story about why and how he shared his paperwork at the Republican National Convention is just lovely amidst all the dividing discourse we are used to hearing about the American election.
Here’s Maedean’s intro for the interview:
I am incredibly excited to be introducing Ori Alon and his work through the Center for Supportive Bureaucracy.
As a counsellor, I am constantly engaged in my own self-discovery process, while looking for ways to support people experience living with a deeper sense of self love and purpose.
As a person of color from mixed heritage, I sometimes have a troubled association with bureaucracy…African Americans were historically recorded as “property”.
I also recall the times when the only option for me to identify myself was the box marked “other.”
I suspect many persons also have a troubled association with “bureaucracy” as de-humanizing.
Persons who may have experienced social oppression, labelled as having mental illness, or even folks with a “record.”
The written word has a long longevity and power that the spoken word perhaps does not.
So I just love that Ori’s work just re-purposes bureaucracy and its tools ie: licenses, permits, paperwork… to re-humanize.
Read the interview, go to the website, and share a compassionate document with a colleague, loved one, or community. Their smile will be worth it!
Find out more about Maedean at the links below:
Find out more about Ori and the Center for Supportive Bureaucracy below:
HI ORI, CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE CENTER FOR SUPPORTIVE BUREAUCRACY?
I’m a bureaucrat-clown-therapist.
I started a fictional entity called the Center for Supportive Bureaucracy (Empowering Clerks Network) which creates various official documents such as Joy Permits (valid for 6 months and then can be easily renewed online or using white out),
Forgiver’s Licenses (Class A & B), Refurbished Report Cards, Certified Apology Declarations,
Adults Special Achievement Stickers, OK Parent Award, Racism Release Forms,
Open Carry permits for musical instruments,
Pain Deeds and many other forms, certifications, official Posted notices, traveling documents and emergency announcements.
I offer the services in events that I’m invited to such as festivals, museum openings, various workshops or training sessions for new ECN branches or go uninvited to different types of events, for example the RNC and DNC, issue documents and post satirical official notices on walls and fences (for example – “Posted, for safety reasons all adults must be accompanied by their inner child at all times”).
You can download and print all of them for free at www.supportivebureaucracy.org
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THE CENTER FOR SUPPORTIVE BUREAUCRACY? WAS THERE A DEFINING MOMENT? IF SO, WHAT HAPPENED?
Each time when such a creative experiment I did worked was such a moment.
When I realized that people actually need my typewriter letter writing service to write letters they wouldn’t have write otherwise (I helped about 200 people write personal letters using vintage typewriters),
when I was issued a Refurbished Report Card for the first time (see the story at my PeachaKucha presentation on the homepage),
when I issued Certificates of Recognition to people the first time and saw their reaction to it, to point a few of such moments.
Each time someone tells me that he or she were using one of the documents as a reminder to act more compassionately is such a moment.
Inspiration for the Project
My work is ‘merging’ compassion and Bureaucracy together.
It’s not an obvious relationship at first, but once you get used to it it’s quite fun and even make sense to some extent.
I’m inspired by so many other artists who came before me, challenged and expanded the way we think about our lives and the world, often creating similar quality of surprise.
The list is long but to name a few: The humanistic and hopeful humor of Charlie Chaplin,
artists like Marina Abramovic who’s courage to explore the boundaries of life and art,
the Yes Men who trick the system in so many hilarious ways (especially their NYT Hoax which I consider the best artwork of all times),
the short movie Validation by Kurt Kuenne in which a parking attendance ‘validates’ his costumers with compliments,
Sophie Calle’s explorations of documenting and intervening with people’s lives,
Neil Young’s way of merging vulnerability and Grange,
Israeli cartoonist Zev Engelmayer’s life work of mixing high and low culture and language and many other artists, musicians and writers.
I think an artist never creates things in a vacuum.
I don’t think any of my work was produced without all this inspiration I got from various sources.
ON YOUR WEBSITE, YOU TALK ABOUT SETTING UP AT THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION AND ISSUED PLAYFUL PLAYWORK LIKE RACISM RELEASE FORMS, JOY PERMITS, AND FORGIVER’S LICENSES. THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN BETWEEN DONALD TRUMP AND HILARY CLINTON HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST DIVISIVE AND CONTROVERSIAL IN AMERICAN HISTORY. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO TO THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION? WHAT IMPACT DO YOU BELIEVE YOU HAD OR HOPED YOU HAD?
I read history of pre WWII Germany and Hitler’s own life story, and what strikes me is that these were regular people, most of them not even so violent (the actual entities that terrorized most of Europe and committed most of the war crimes were the Gestapo and SS, less than one percent of the German population which is the normal number of psychopaths in a society).
Of course that doesn’t minimize the responsibility of the rest of the population.
Hitler himself tried to express himself creatively by applying to art school and selling his drawings in the streets of Vienna, before he became the person we all know (or don’t know – for example I didn’t know that he was addicted to serious drugs all throughout WWII).
I create a comic series of dialogues between postage stamps of Hitler, Stalin, Gandhi, Freud, Chaplin, Hendrix, Lincoln and other world leaders and ask such questions about the banality and source of evil all the time.
I see it on myself – if at a certain moment I don’t have access to creativity, humor, self acceptance or compassion from others I tend to be emotionally violent, towards myself and my relatives.
I think the comparison between Trump supporters and pre Nazi Germany has been described by so many people already, which made it almost banal. It’s not banal, as each one of his supporters has a life story, struggles that are unique to their own lives and healing to do.
I think that as a Certified Village Fool (I even self issued myself a Diploma for that) I can offer some help through humor that maybe can reduce some of the violence.
It can also help anyone as we all have issues in our lives, but going to Trump rallies was more emotional and felt like a more important mission to me and to many others who supported my trips. I might just be naive of course. I provided services to Trump supporters, Bernie or Bust people and many others who were in the conventions and rallies.
You can learn more about the experience in a short documentary that will be released soon.
WHEN THE GOING GETS UN-GOABLE, WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?
When people tell me that they used their Forgiver’s License, or face their Joy Permit every day on their fridge door and it actually helps them or when I see someone’s soul shines when I emboss their Certificate of Recognition, these moments are so precious to me and keep me going when I’m tired of printing or carrying the heavy portable office in the streets.
Also when people are enthusiastic to join the ECN and issue documents to their communities it validates my work as an artist (there are branches all over the country and in Canada).
I feel very grateful and lucky for the success of the project as so many great artworks don’t get to have enough audience.
One of my goals is to make it easier for people to express themselves , and when it works I’m happy and thankful for the opportunity to help with my art.
WHO MIGHT USE YOUR DOCUMENTS? WHAT KINDS OF ORGANIZATIONS?
It is very diverse, pretty much anyone can enjoy and benefit from them.
Kids, elders, various institutions, social workers, parents, students, various teachers, therapists, musicians, street artists etc.
Many people post the signs in their office board, issue Joy Permits and other documents to their friends and families.
Many individuals present their Certificates of Recognition in their offices and institutions present their LLE certification (Loving & Liable Entity) as a proof for their organization commitment to increase love production and consumption in the world.
THERE ARE LOTS OF HOLIDAYS COMING UP. ANY IDEAS ON HOW FOLKS CAN USE YOUR DOCUMENTS OVER THE UPCOMING HOLIDAY SEASON?
I have more requests for documents before certain holidays.
I’ve been leading documents issuing workshops before the Jewish High Holidays in which we issue Apology Declarations, Forgiver’s Licenses, and certificates of Recognition (in fact I just made a DIY version of the Forgiver’s License to answer the high demand before Yom Kippur).
Before Thanksgiving people often use the documents to show appreciation for their family and relatives.
Other documents are also used as gifts before Christmas.
I’m excited to see more ways in which people use them in their own traditional calendars.
I made a translation of the Certificate of Recognition to Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, Hungarian you can download and print yourself and I’m happy to add more languages if there’s a need for it.
The ECN also has its own unique calendar, for example each 26th of the month is Love Yourself More Day, which is celebrated by numerous recipients of services.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE WILL GET OUT OF USING PLAYFUL PAPERWORK?
Joy, compassion, self growth, help in improving their relationships, self expression, thinking about authority and our political system.
Is that too much to ask for a small scale art project?
DO YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE USING PLAYFUL PAPERWORK THAT RESULTED IN SOMETHING POSITIVE?
Someone issued a Certificate of Recognition to a worker that was asked to leave the workplace.
He told me that it switched the whole situation from being bitter and sad to a more celebratory one when the worker who had to leave felt appreciated by the community, and that it made a big difference for many people involved.
Such stories make me very happy as an artist, as I can really see the affect of my art on people’s lives.
WHAT IS THE QUESTION YOU WISHED I’D ASKED YOU? HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER IT?
That’s a great question 🙂
I wish you asked me what does the Center for Supportive Bureaucracy or I as an artist need.
And the answer to that is
that I think generally as a society we should celebrate more the people who express themselves creatively. Not just those who succeed in publishing books or movies but everyone who dedicate time and energy to create art. It’s one of hardest and courageous tasks in human experience!
As I wrote to a State Senator offering to reinterpret the Second Amendment to the right to bear creative expression, this is a key element for a healthy society.
I love seeing more projects being funded directly by the community, but I think we can do better,
and that everyone can support the arts more, with visiting exhibitions, donating money to socially engaged art institutions,
volunteering in projects they like or just give emotional support or a good word to artists in their lives.
It’s a really hard work that our society does not always appreciate.
Specifically for the ECN, I’d love to see more people printing the documents themselves and sharing the idea with their friends.
I mostly fund the project myself (hold your fingers for my grants applications), so even a small donation can help me print and mail more documents.
HOW CAN FOLKS CONNECT WITH YOU AND YOUR WORK?
You can download and print the documents yourself for free or ask to receive them by mail (by donation or by Pay it Forward base). I offer office hours at festivals and events, lead workshops and offer talks in colleges and other institutions and I’d be happy to come to your community too.
I’m always happy to talk to people about my work and answer any questions!