n 2014 when I first moved to New York, I visited the Brooklyn Museum and saw the exhibit Submerged Motherlands. It was a dreamlike, larger-than-life experience created by the artist Swoon, who first gained notoriety in the early 2000s as a street artist. The intense detail and scale of every piece astounded me, and I’ve been following her work ever since.
Swoon, born Caledonia Curry, has been experimenting and challenging herself for almost 20 years. Since studying at Pratt Institute, she’s been creating massive installations for galleries as well as engaging in humanitarian efforts. Her work with the Konbit Shelter in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake helped create a sustainable community center and single-family houses in Cormier, Haiti.
Swoon invited me into her studio space in Brooklyn to talk about the link between street art and studio work, the messy process of drawing, and taking her artwork out to sea.
What was the transition from street artist to studio artist like?
I always had a studio practice, since I was a little kid. I studied classical painting, and even when I was doing work that was really made to live out in the street, most of the time making it was spent in my studio. So the real question was just around, “where does the art live?” At first I was like, “I don’t want to just make a square that goes over a couch.” And now, I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve threaded through so many layers of meaning and life into my work that I’m okay if one aspect of it is also a square over a couch. Like this is a portrait that’s part of a larger process, and if there’s a piece of it you can keep, that’s awesome.
I actually prefer that to only having things disappear. It’s nice to have a dual trajectory. So the studio process was always there, it was really more about the transition from street to gallery museum. At the time when I first got asked to do that, it was like, “Okay, does this really make sense? Is this right for me?” And then as you saw at the Brooklyn Museum, we had this 70-foot tree that was guy-wired into the building. Now you could see them up close, whereas they had just been on the water before. So what I found is that there are certain things that can happen in those protected spaces.
Do you plan to do any more street art?
Right now I’m taking a break because [with] every piece I was making, I was always thinking that it had to live out in the street. It was starting to dictate what I was making in a certain way and I was like, “You know what? If I’m going to really evolve creatively, I have to actually pause some of the things that are my known go-tos, so that I can surprise myself a little bit.” Like I have to stop doing certain things that are comfortable in order to get uncomfortable, which is that really creative space.
So the installation like Submerged Motherlands, how long did that take you to put together?
So long. Yeah, that was at least six months. And, in fact, more because you saw there were two rafts in the project and those had been built years before. So the tree, the temple, a lot of those drawings had been coming into fruition for like a decade. It took six months to get it prefabricated and get it put up. But to really examine the labor that went into it, I would say it took like a decade.
Talking about the boats, what was it like making a piece of art that floats? Were you scared at all the first time you rode it?
Yeah. I mean it was really astonishing in this way where, we did it, we built it. But still the feeling of being out on it floating, you were like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And driving it? You’re like, “Oh my god, I am driving my art at sea.” Just a wild feeling. Also like stepping away, like getting on the little skiff and driving out and seeing it. The first time that happened I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me, that’s what we did?” Like even I had been doing it for months. Seeing it be alive on water was just totally mind blowing.
Read the full article at The Verge.