Swoon, who is now semi-revealing herself as Caledonia Curry, is a street artist turned gallery artist turned activist. Each role weaves in and out of what ends up being a stunning and elaborate installation “Swoon: Submerged Motherlands” in the rotunda gallery of the Brooklyn Art Museum.
In it she uses her signature large-scale block printing technique to achieve a heavy lined, graphic structure to her imagery. Surprising though, is how well the other elements of her artist vocabulary work together in this show. While there is a touch of Waterworld sci-fi in the weathered and sun-bleached patina of the overall aesthetic of the show – it seems to be there for good reason. Swoon is interested in addressing the aftermath and environment circumstance of Hurricane Sandy that devastated parts of New York, and in particular her own neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn. She has built sea-worthy boats of debris and remnants of land-based civilization. Car parts, packing crates, miscellaneous construction materials combine to create sophisticated forts that float. In fact, the maiden voyage for these unlikely vessels was one that went from Troy, NY down the Hudson River to Long Island Queens, NY in 2008. They were then disassembled, shipped and reassembled in Slovenia and used to crash the Venice Biennial as an unlikely visitor/participant in 2009. Besides the vision, persistence, and absolute dedication to her work, Swoon also needs to be credited for being able to work with a community of artists and assistants who she leads to create and show such amazing and visionary work. It takes tremendous talent, humility and gusto to get all of this done.
In “Sumberged Motherland” the viewer walks into the top floor rotunda at the museum and is at first a little disoriented. Instead of a traditional clockwise or counter clockwise meandering to see an art exhibit, there is an immediate pull towards the center of the gallery. And there at the core of the installation is a huge fabric covered tree sculpture that reaches up 72 feet to the top skylight of the rotunda. The base of the tree stretches out in tendrils of fabric root systems, and is surrounded by various sculptures: the floating vessels/boats, a little house/hive that fits four people comfortably and invites viewers to sit, and a slew of blockprinted, wood-backed figures. Images of women abound. The artist references her mother, and the various life cycles that her mother has transitioned through. At the top of the house/hive structure is an image of a breast-feeding mother – grand and nurturing. The walls of the rotunda are streaked with yellow paint along the outer circle, and inside are streaked with a watery bluish green. There is an oceanic feeling that results and a field of blue fills one’s peripheral vision to support the boat voyage narrative. The range of materials and scale shifts work well in this installation. Intricate paper cutouts (mostly laser cut), add decorative filigree and juxtapose well against the weathered and distressed wood, metal, and other salvaged materials. Particularly stunning is how these cutouts, acting like stained glass elements against the skylight, fill the top of the rotunda. They cast dramatic shadows around the top of the architectural dome of the gallery. The dominant toned paper block-prints fit well with the overall earthy materiality of the show and support a sense of humility in the presents of nature. “Submerged Motherland” is a testament to Swoon’s development from making art for the streets, to making art for galleries, and then back again with literally more momentum and in more dimensions.
written by POVarts East Coast Editor: Kit Franco
The exhibition dates: April 11 – August 24, 2014 at the Brooklyn Museum, NY