Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea

7 hand-made boats created by artist Swoon and her collaborators arrive at Deitch Projects in Long Island City after a 3 week journey on the Hudson river.

“I just wanted to bring something absurdly joyful” – Swoon about the Swimming Cities

At SMAC we have a sweet spot for Swoon’s fantastic projects. We spoke to her in the summer about an installation at a HoneySpace and most recently about the project at the Deitch Projects.

Seven handmade boats glided into the waters of the East River, as part of Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea. The show, produced by New-York artist Swoon, debuted this fall at Deitch Studios in Long Island City.

“We had seven, but one died so we had to leave it,” Swoon shouted to the crowd celebrating the September opening of Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea. As a marching band played and the sun went down over Manhattan, a steamer and five other old-fashioned boats were being docked following a three-week journey down the Hudson River and around the tip of Manhattan. Wearing a girly white ruffled dress, smiling Swoon greeted the crowd and showered them with sunflowers.

“It was one of the most amazing moments in my life,” Swoon told SMAC. “Everyone seemed to be kind of ecstatic. It was really magical. I would say in my wildest imagining it would be like that.”
Swoon, a 30-year-old Brooklyn-based artist, has become famous for her elaborate paper cutouts that she affixes to the walls of buildings throughout the city: life-size fantastical portraits of children, mermaids, bicyclists, couples, pigeons and friends. Nonconformist independent of the rules of the game of the art world, for ten years she has been taking her bucket and brush onto the streets in order to glue the cut outs and prints to the walls of Brooklyn, lower Manhattan and Queens.

In 2004 the art dealer and critic Jeffrey Deitch noticed her work on the streets of New York and thought it was completely fresh. It took him about 8 months to connect with Swoon through a mutual friend.

“I went out to her home in Brooklyn, an amazing place, where there was an extraordinary amount of activity stuffed into two small rooms of a little house,” Deitch said.

Deitch’s interest became a turning point in Swoon’s life, helping her to bring the work to a new level, grow her audience and quit a day job as a waitress. Since the first Deitch show her work has been seen at Deitch Projects, Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, various art centers and galleries throughout Europe.
Swoon, however did not abandon her art hooliganism and still works on the street. Deitch gallery is supportive of it: “We were very sensitive to how she works, and what we tried to do in the gallery is to continue what she is doing: give her a context of extension of what she is doing on the street,” Deitch said. “We don’t ask her to clean it up and make gallery art, make paintings on canvas.”

Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea is a floating art performance, a project that took the efforts of seventy-five collaborators and a year to produce.

The boats, or floating sculptures, were assembled and shipped to Troy, New York, stopping by various towns along the river for impromptu performances.

In 2006, Swoon participated in a similar project with a group of her friends when they sailed the assembled rafts down the Mississippi River. This time, the boats are just a part of Swoon’s show, which also has an enormous exhibit at the Deitch Studios. A twenty-five foot high paper sculpture of two sisters embracing occupies the center of the gallery space.

The sculpture of two girls came out of Swoon’s dream when she worked on the Miss Rockaway Armada project on the Mississippi River. Some of the floats were having problems and a giant woman in huge skirts came to her in a dream saying: “You can just dock your boats in here, I’ll keep them safe.” Swoon imagines that if the East River were to rise, her boats could float into the shelter of the gallery space guarded by the sisters.

The image of a woman transformed into two embracing sisters. It became central to the installation as well as the narrative for the performances created by the playwright Lisa D’Amour.

12,000 sq feet Deitch gallery in Long Island City is covered by Swoon’s work. Some of it is familiar from NY streets and some of it is completely new. Boats, docked outside, are connected by ropes to the Sisters stature. Every single piece of the exhibit is unique and different, and at the same time being part of the romantic narrative from Swoon’s world.

Swoon has always been environmentally conscious. Even the engines for two of the boats are recycled motors of an old Mercedes and a Volkswagen Rabbit.
“For this show just about everything you see comes from somewhere else. Nothing was bought new,” said Zev Deans, a project manager for the show at Deitch Studios. “Some of the furniture was found along the river when the boats were coming down. There is an ecological lumber supplier they got a lot of their wood from.”

All the boats are properly registered, and captains are licensed, although some of the boats got their license plates a little later. Prior to the opening day, police came to the docks, creating hustle, Deans said.

“But everything came together at the last minute,” he said, “And came together beautifully.”

Swoon is planning to continue with her water-inspired projects and boats. One of the projects is to build a floating city in Venice, another is to create power-generative playgrounds.

“I feel like New York has this way about being sort of stoic about so many things,” said Swoon. She finds that New York is so much about commerce and intellect, and is “so much buttoned up” that she felt like doing something to shake it up a bit.

Article by Katya Soldak, Producer at ScribeMedia.org

The show is open until October 19, 2008
Deitch Studios in Long Island City
4-40 44th Drive, LIC, New York

For more info and images:

Special thanks to Tod Seelie for amazing images of the boats.

3 thoughts on “Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea”

  1. I saw the performance at the saugerties lighthouse. It was simply brilliant. Don’t forget dark dark dark who played the much needed music and the amazing group of anarchosyndicate types (mpls) who facilitated its expression. Bravo swoon.

  2. It’s nice seeing being able to see my cousin in “action”. Keep spreading that infectious charm, and keep doing what you do!

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