Swoon: Swimming Cities of Switchback Seaby Ellen Pearlman
Deitch Studios, Long Island City, September 7 – October 19, 2008
Swoon—a street artist whose moniker shields her from potential prosecution on vandalism charges—sailed her ragtag Burning Man on the Hudson-like flotilla of seven sculptures nee boats to landfall in front of a cheering crowd of hipsters on the docks of Deitch Projects in Long Island City. An oom-pah marching band and the toot-toot of a whistle from a biodiesel motor announced the arrival of her patchwork vessels, little engines that could stocked by a crew of latter-day Merry Pranksters. A five-month endeavor, the flotilla was made of scraps from junk heaps and various dumpster-diving forays. It started its journey from Troy, New York, making three weeks of pit stops along the way to produce musical and theatrical performances.
The second part of Swoon’s work was a huge installation inside Deitch Studios. Constructed in two sections, above and below an imaginary flood line that presciently predicted Hurricane Ike in Texas, it culminates in a vision of a city rising above the sea. The work is strewn with a sensation of sea wreck and seaweed. Everywhere there are hemp ropes, ripped cords, and torn bits of draped, lacey fabric. The colors, muted and faded, bleached and forgotten, merges into her signature portrait cutouts of ordinary people block-printed on wheat-pasted paper.
Swoon’s earlier pieces were slapped onto out-of-the-way or abandoned buildings of New York, where the weather would tear and ravage them into time-based scraps of memory. Her technique as a woodblock printer, which she calls “paper cutting carving,” is influenced by German Expressionism, Indonesian shadow puppets and Gordon Matta-Clark. The idea of a picture on a wall is way too confining; instead, the city becomes her canvas, and in the case of the flotilla, the trajectory of the Hudson River serves as a calligraphic path. Swoon has said that she feels the need to tell the stories of ordinary people and that she wants to serve as a megaphone for those stories. This time she decided to include earth and nature as her mute companions, asking the whole world to wake up to an impending cataclysm.