An Artist’s Homage to the City
July 27, 2011
Photo: antlered‘s flickr
In a recent interview by Urban Omnibus, we learned about Brooklyn-based artist Swoon, whose work explores a variety of media, from wheatpasted portraits that change and deteriorate with their urban backdrops to the cityscape-inspired raft flotillas seen above. Swoon even has her hand in architecture, co-running a group of artists, architects and engineers called the Konbit Shelter Project. Her research and construction of coiled dome-shaped shelters blur the line between art and humanitarian aid in post-earthquake Haiti. All of her work engages in a deep and intimate dialogue with the city and inspires us with a dogged sense of hope. Click to see more of Swoon’s work.
Photo: f.trainer‘s flickr
Photo: luna park‘s flickr
When we had first heard of Swoon, she was known for papering the city streets with her wheatpasted portraits. Animated by the sharp cuts of her woodblock printing technique, Swoon’s city characters emerge from their battered and graffitied surroundings and have an arresting beauty about them. Even when they gaze away, the eyes and expressions of these men, women and children have endless stories to tell. If you stumble upon one of these weathered portraits on a neglected building wall or a shuttered gate, you sense an instant but fleeting connection—a strangely deep feeling of understanding. Literally worn over time, the individuals Swoon briefly embeds in the city seem to have witnessed the worst hardships of life yet continue to glow with their faith in humanity.
Photo: antlered‘s flickr
In 2006, Swoon began building and sailing on flotillas made of salvaged junk with a group of international artists and musicians. Taking a fleet of these handmade pontoons, she floated down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans one summer and, on a separate occasion, journeyed from Slovenia to Venice. In her interview, Swoon called the rafts “little, monstrous, fantastical, floating bits of the city” that were made as a kind of homage to the places they interacted with and explored. With a wonderfully poetic analogy, she described the floating communities she helped create as “seeds, blown far away from the mother tree, having evolved in their own way, somehow finding their outgrowths back in their land of origin.”
Photo: Tod Seelie Photography
These days, Swoon can be found in Haiti researching and building prototypes for earthquake relief shelters. When discussing design and construction, she hails the dome as “one of the most perfect structures” and discusses how the work of Nader Khalili inspired the project to use dirt dug out of the foundation to build organic, curving structures resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes. Though engineering considerations are strongly in mind, in her interview, Swoon stressed the importance of instilling beauty and soulfulness in the rebuilding effort.
From her street art portraits to her floating bits of the city, to the shelters in Haiti, Swoon addresses the question of how we can all live together. Her work is a learning process; it defies being distilled into a lasting object or an abstract idea. It seeks to better understand how cities, architecture and other systems will help us live together in an environment that is clearly losing its ability to support us. And like those demure cut-paper portraits that come and go on the city streets, Swoon has seen many sights, and she continues to glow with hope for the future.