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ARTWORKER OF THE WEEK #40
SWOON

Swoon is a 27-year-old New York City-based artist rooted firmly in a post-aerosol street art aesthetic. With her main focus being the creation of person-sized, cut-out paste-ups based upon people in her life, Swoon cultivates awareness in the metropolitan pedestrian that happens upon one of her street pieces. Swoon asks the question "when does meaning occur?" and "when is something itself?" Take for example a street corner: when or why does it become meaningless to the people who walk by it every day? She places her art amongst the streetscape -- into a pedestrian's field of vision. By facilitating this relationship -- stranger and street art -- Swoon makes us ask, "when does meaning occur?" Recently on the north side of Houston Street at the corner of Avenue A in downtown Manhattan, someone had drawn an arrow pointing to one of her paste-ups on the side of a deli. Next to the arrow pointing towards Swoon's piece it said: "That's art".

Additional Info
New York Times article (free but you must register)
New York Times multimedia presentation (no registration needed)
The Morning News interview
Another interview
On more interview
Various images I and images II
Something Else... at the Vinyl Factory Gallery, London, UK (11/2004)
The Morning News roundtable on street art (23/03/05)
KultureFlash photo essays I, II, III and IV

KULTUREFLASH INTERVIEW

This interview was conducted via email.

Ryan O'Connor: I wonder if the arrow should really be pointed to the place off the wall where pedestrian viewers and your work intersect -- they find each other not on the walls but in the city. Is your art the cutout or the relationship created with viewers and the city?

Swoon: Ooh, you are getting sly with me right off the bat. This is good, I'm glad. So, Brassai said this thing that became instantly important to my working aspirations the minute that I read it. It was while he was photographing stone carvings done all over the city walls by Parisians in the 1930s, and he said, "Many graffiti born on the walls of Paris have struck me with he force of an event, as if the world were suddenly larger." When I ask myself what he means by the world becoming larger I think of this space that you mention, the momentary intersection of the paste-up on the wall and the pedestrian whose eye it catches. If it's truly going to become a space of its own, however fleeting, something has to happen in that split second. That something is, I hope, a moment of recognition, a wink from another human presence which is there but not there, like a little reflection of self embedded in the wall.

RO: With Street Art you have the relationship between the pedestrian, the street and your piece. When your work goes into a gallery does the relationship between the viewer and your piece change? On the street, people stumble upon your work whereas gallery visitors are seeking out art.

S: In the gallery setting I try to take advantage of that over-precious, protected space to create a small world. The work changes immensely because it is about creating a whole environment at that point, but still many people have expressed disappointment at seeing the figures hanging silent on the wall of a gallery. When people find these things outside and by surprise, and they realize that they are open to the elements and will soon be destroyed, I think they feel a different connection to them, often a more personal one.

RO: Last summer the art collective you belong to in Brooklyn NY did a piece with the The New York Earth Room [Walter De Maria]. Tell me about it.

S: Hee hee… you're being bad Ryan, nobody ever asks me about that. So, cutting straight to the chase, we mud wrestled in it. How could we have resisted? All of that luscious black dirt. It's like a balmy summer's day trapped in an expensive piece of downtown real estate. It seems to me that piece must feel a lot of pressure to behave and earn its keep -- we just wanted to free it from that burden for about three and a half minutes. A lot of what Toyshop [Collective] does is about releasing the potential for absurd exuberance present in any given moment.

RO: What collaborative efforts are you working on if any in the next six months?

S: Doing a lot of solo stuff in the next six months. I need some of my fellow collaborators to kick me into gear on the collective projects.

RO: Recently I saw yet another post of reverence for Andy Goldsworthy on the Street Art site Wooster Collective. I know that you too have voiced eloquent words of respect for Goldsworthy. Do you think that street artists are attracted to him in particular? How does someone like that exist in the "art world"? He is not unlike you in that the majority of his work exists as full interaction with a changing environment. In your case the urban walkway, in his the sea shore or stream bed.

S: It's surprising to me to see those sentiments echoed among so many street artists but I have always felt a connection to him, and so I guess it makes perfect sense. He was one of those very early inspirations for this impulse behind my street installations to make a moment not an object.

RO: Who are you feeling right now as far as music?

S: Music huh, well it's the balm of my soul, it's behind me as I work, cook, do the dishes, dance, carry on with my day. Lately I am jealous of it as a medium, 'coz I think that I will never make anything that is as important to anyone's life as music is to mine; I mean, will I ever make something that actually carries someone through their day? I know you were probably asking about specific artists, but that's my answer.

RO: How many periods or "stages" has your work gone through throughout the last few years?

S: So many. Just starting from the time when I began working on the street, at first I was making tiny collage posters and hundreds of handmade stickers. I was obsessively sticking them everywhere and asking myself all the time what I was doing this for, but the fixation wouldn't turn me loose. Then I started taking over billboards and other commercial spaces and paying a lot of attention to the political aspect of working with public space. I started a collective, we were throwing street parties and doing events, and still this all felt very connected, like the logic was a straight line from the first sticker I ever stuck to the side of a payphone -- it was all addressing the uses of our city streets in physical, tangible ways. At the same time that this was going on I made the leap into the full sized figures that were just a sheet of cut paper and I pursued that path until it started to wear on my arm and I realized that my mind travels in too many directions to stick to one medium anyway, so I started to incorporate some techniques of wood carving, linoleum block printing, silk screen, painting and so on. I find that every medium has its own logic and demands, and that my thought process expands as I push around inside the limitations of each of them. At a certain point I began to get a lot of offers from galleries and institutions, and I found that I wanted to accept some of them. Doing so gave me the space to make another conceptual, aesthetic leap through creating more complex installations than would be possible under the rules of the outdoors. That's about where I am right now.

RO: Do you work alone? When you paste up on the street do you go alone? Is that a conscious decision, or a rule based decision? As in you paste up alone so there is less separating you, the art, the viewer, and the street, or do you paste up alone to mitigate your exposure to the police?

S: I usually go alone but not always; it's a kind of a meditative process, I ride around and see which spots call to me, so sometimes it's better to do that alone. Also, it sucks to get someone arrested for helping you out, really it does. (Sorry Gonz!)

RO: Are we experiencing a golden age of street art?

S: Word. Lots of stuff going on.

RO: In closing, I would like to relay some words of encouragement from you specifically to the young girls and women out there doing art or thinking about doing art. If I put you in front of a room full of young female artists what are your words of encouragement? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

S: I'd say try on a little overconfidence, and to use an old cliche, fake it till you make it. I think culturally we are raised to recede into the background -- stand by your man. Mostly girls aren't brought up to be overconfident, chutzpah isn't considered attractive and it takes a lot of brass to think that anyone wants to look at that puke you just slung on a canvas, but in many ways that's exactly what it takes to make a space for yourself in the world. I learned a powerful lesson in this respect when I applied for a grant that I wasn't at all ready to apply for, in the name of a collective that wasn't officially formed yet, and we got it. I had to step out a few feet beyond myself to even try for something like that.

Ryan O'Connor is an artist. Recently, his sculpture was in the DUMBO Arts Festival. He is member of the Madagascar Institute art collective which built a 7 metre wrecking ball crane for the Robodock Festival in Holland. In March, Madagascar will create a site-specific installation for -scope New York's Culture on the Verge event.

Image © Swoon

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