Archive for the ‘swoon’ Tag

From street to gallery and back again…

Instead of making it to opening nights, recently I’ve been lucky if I’ve made it to the last day of an exhibition…. Today I finally got to see Rone’s solo show, L’Inconnue de la Rue, at Backwoods Gallery in Collingwood, Melbourne.

Rone has been a really important figure in the Melbourne street art scene for a long time now. His collaborative work with Meggs and as part of Everfresh has contributed enormously to the streetscapes around Fitzroy and Collingwood. So it’s great to see him having a solo show (and a hugely successful one at that, with all works sold even before opening night). You can find pictures from the opening night hereand read more about the show on the Everfresh site here.

To coincide with the show, Rone put up some street pieces at one of his favourite sites, just off Brunswick Street (and I know some other local bloggers have been complaining recently that many artists don’t put up street work except when they have a show on – so that the street works function as a kind of advertising for the show – but I don’t think anyone could ever seriously lay that charge at the feet of any of the Everfresh members):

These new street works have a bit of a Warhol-ish feel to them, and seem to me to work in this space in a really satisfying way. I had imagined that the gallery pieces would be very similar to these, and they are, in some ways, but Rone has worked the gallery images to a new level of complexity:

The images are constructed through multiple layers of printed posters, which Rone has then ripped and torn back. The images have depth, just as walls on the street build up layers of posters, flyers, stickers and so on:

They also made me think of how sometimes street artworks are torn by cleaning crews, or by acquisitive fans, trying to take a work from public space for themselves. Like this remnant of a Swoon paste-up, forlornly clinging to a wall, the main body of the artwork torn down:

Just as a fragment of Swoon’s subject gazes out from the wall, so do the women in Rone’s images gaze out from the layers of ripped posters – the textures and experiences of the street transported into the gallery.

Swoon at Metro Gallery

Last night was the official opening of Swoon’s show, Thekla, at Metro Gallery in Melbourne.

It would be an understatement to say that this event drew the crowds.

The gallery was packed. It was actually quite hard to view the artworks properly under those conditions, and so I’ll be returning another day for a better look.

The show uses every inch of the gallery’s available floor space, and in addition re-shapes the gallery rooms (by adding painted and graffiti-ed steps here and there) and transforms its textures, by cladding its white walls with paper and cardboard. The artworks are sometimes affixed to these transformed walls; at other times they stand upright on the floor, angling out from the walls so that the exhibition has a pleasingly multi-dimensional feel. Apparently it took the best part of two weeks to install this show, and the efforts were well worth it – the space looks incredible.

Some of the works I had seen before, on the streets or in other galleries. Even so, they are given a freshness by virtue of their inclusion here in a coherent large-scale show, which allows all of Swoon’s great strengths as an artist to be displayed: the sense of storytelling, the vividness of the characterisation of her subjects, the many different skills used in making the artworks, and the way that a gallery space is taken over by the artworks and converted, temporarily, into something else – some other space.

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

The works are so incredibly detailed:

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

It’s worth mentioning that Metro Gallery is based in Armadale, an area of Melbourne which is – you could say – not well known for its street art. Certainly, the crowd last night contained a large percentage of the very well-heeled and very well-off. And no doubt many of those present would have been well pleased by the speech given by the guest invited to launch the show, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu.

Baillieu’s speech seemed to have been written by someone who knew nothing about (a) street art (b) Swoon and (c) Swoon’s art. You would think that at some point yesterday afternoon when the speechwriter sat down with a piece of paper to sketch out a few talking points for Baillieu it might have been noticed that they were woefully under-informed. Apparently not. Baillieu talked at length, managing to embarass himself and much of the audience, who were cringing as he said incoherent things like ‘You’re Swoon, I’m swim, this is swell’. The best you can say about it is that after a time, the speech ended. Shockingly bad.

And enough dwelling on the ignorance of Liberal politics, let’s look at some more images of Swoon’s beautiful works:

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

Thekla is on until 5 March. ‘Worth seeing’ is an understatement.

Small acts, amazing effects.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend not to do announcements about upcoming shows, figuring that there are plenty of other blogs and sites that do a sterling job in that respect.

But every now and then shows come along which either seem so unmissable or they involve work by artists whom I really respect or admire.

Coming up at Metro gallery in Melbourne is an exhibition that falls into both these categories. Metro is hosting Swoon’s first solo exhibition in Australia.

I’ve written about Swoon’s work before on this blog: you can read that post here. I’ve long been an admirer of her art: it is diverse but coherent, it moves beyond street and gallery with apparently effortless ease, and it has evolved in fascinating ways so that as well as adding artworks to buildings and other parts of the built environment, Swoon has in recent years been creating new built environments herself.

Sometimes these have been elaborate structures designed to float on rivers and seas, such as the rafts which sailed the Adriatic into Venice, to gatecrash the Biennale. At other times, they are specifically designed buildings, intensely site-specific works which also have all the functionality of a building – they are made for particular purposes, such as the Konbit Shelter in Haiti. In relation to this latter project, Swoon has working with architects and urban designers as part of a group seeking to assist in the reconstruction of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there. (You can read more about that project here.)

To get more of a sense of Swoon’s work, it’s worth doing a couple of things. First of all, have a look at a recent post on the excellent blog Brooklyn Street Art, which describes a studio visit with Swoon and has lots of great photos of her at work. Then, check out YouTube. Have a look at this:

Only three minutes long, but it gives a great sense of both of Swoon’s art and her energy and enthusiasm…

And then, check this one out:

This is a TED talk given by Swoon in Brooklyn recently, in which she talks at greater length about her work. Totally inspiring and, again, such infectious enthusiasm.

I was fortunate enough to meet Swoon last April in New York, and it really was one of the highlights of my time researching in this area. We spoke at length about the transformative potential of art and about the nature of relationships between people (and art) in public space, in neighbourhoods, in derelict spaces, on water, and in buildings.

in November 2010, Swoon created a site-specific installation for the exhibition Small Acts of Resistance at Black Rat Projects in London. The exhibition was designed around the work of several artists whose work combines ‘the artist’s aesthetic vision and the activist’s world changing ambition’. In Swoon’s work we see this combination at its most effective. The acts of a street artist may be relatively small, but their effects – well, their effects go far beyond the limits of any one paste-up or sculpture. Maybe art like this can change the way you see or the way you think.

Go and see the show. It’s on from today until 5th March 2011, Metro Gallery, 1214 High Street, Armadale.

The Underbelly Project

As is by now well known to almost everybody with an interest in street art (and to quite a few more besides), a massive art project was organised by two individuals in New York City, and carried out with the involvement of more than 100 different artists from a range of countries – The Underbelly Project.

News of Underbelly recently broke in the New York Times and the London Times , and it’s fair to say that there has been quite the media furore about it.

(For many Australian readers, it may come as both a relief and a surprise to learn that ‘Underbelly’ refers to something other than an initially interesting and then subsequently tacky TV show on Channel 9….)

Underbelly, as an art project, is one of great audacity. It displays the work of the 100-plus artists on walls around a disused subway station in New York City. Painting had to be done in secret, during the night, and at some risk to the participants. It involved months of planning, organisation and execution, including documenting the artwork through photography and film. Artists whose work is displayed include Faile, Anthony Lister, Swoon, Indigo, Logan Hicks, Dan Witz, Rone, Meggs, PAC, Stormie Mills, Remi/Rough, Elbow-toe, Roa, Imminent Disaster, Mark Jenkins, Sheone, Smith/Sane, Revok and many more. You can see some of the works on Vandalog among other sites.

In April this year, I spent a few weeks in New York City, and met up with one of the two people behind Underbelly. I watched as he scrolled through dozens of astonishing photographs on his computer, explaining how lights had to be brought into the pitch blackness of the tunnel both for the artists to work and for the documentation of the process to be possible. Once the final piece had been painted, he told me, the entrance to the platform would be sealed off, and the location would be kept secret, so that the art would remain, and the documentation would attest to its existence, but no-one would be able to sell the images or to destroy it (time and the inhospitably humid environment of the tunnel would do that).

Hearing this account and seeing the images, I was quite awestruck. The project is so huge – partly because of the number of artists involved, with many coming from overseas, so even simply the logistics of coordinating visits to the tunnel, and allocating space within it was a major undertaking. It is also huge in that its execution took place over several months, in which the project, its nature and location must have been one of the best kept secrets in street art.

I was also captivated by the idea of taking street art underground, to a location that intersects with the history of graffiti and subway writing. I listened to the account of how the project would be independent of the art market, with the works existing within the tunnel, unable to be sold off afterwards (something that sounded extremely compelling, given that even works placed on the street for public enjoyment have often been removed in order to be sold).

And I must admit what got me the most was the idea that the tunnel would be sealed and no-one would be able to get in to see the artworks. It did give me a slight pang to think that such amazing works would be hidden from all spectators, but that was far outweighed for me by the romance of the idea that the artists would make the works, underground, in secret, in a space that acknowledges street art’s debt to the cultures of subway writing, and then that space, with all its beautiful artworks, would be sealed….

The very motivation behind Underbelly was a romantic one, I think. The project was born in the shared appreciation of two individuals for the empty and forgotten spaces of the city. It remained true to that shared sensibility; and it did not warp into something commercial.

It was one of the most exciting initiatives that I have come across, in all the years I’ve been thinking and researching in this area.

It felt incredibly exciting to see the media coverage of the project, and to see photographs of the works published so that they could be seen by others.

And my admiration for its creators knows no bounds.

But over the last several days, it would seem that, amongst the admiration and appreciation that has been offered, there are those who see Underbelly differently. Some seem to see it as a challenge, as if the organisers are saying, ‘go on, try and find it, bet you can’t…’ (see here for a forum in which some discuss how to find the tunnel and their experience of being arrested in doing so). Others seem to see it as a provocation, as though its existence needs to be condemned: this includes, interestingly, both the police, who are basically stationed at the location at present and arresting anyone who enters it, and individuals who have reportedly entered the tunnel and trashed some of the works. Still others have criticised the project’s creators, accusing them of cashing in,by making a documentary film about the project (this seems like such a bizarre criticism, given that the organisers felt that a film would allow a wider audience to get access to works that would otherwise be hidden from view. Full disclosure: I was interviewed about the project for the film.).

So: is there no romance left in street art? Maybe cynicism has taken hold of many of these commentators and critics, but in my opinion, the very existence of The Underbelly Project is a testament to the fact that some people in the world of street art (from the organisers through the artists who took part to the bloggers who visited the site and kept its secrets) still believe there is a place for hopeless romance amid the commercial imperatives of the market.

Women and Cities: Swoon

Twitter is emerging as another way of getting information about urban art and street artists (I’m on Twitter as @scotinoz), and it was through Twitter that I learned today that Swoon’s Swimming Cities of Serenissima has arrived in Venice. For those of you who don’t know Swoon’s work, she specializes in large (life-sized) block-printed paper cut-outs, which are then wheat-pasted onto surfaces, which might be the walls in a gallery or in the street. She is based in New York City, but her work appears in cities all over the world. Here’s a great video of Swoon giving a presentation about her work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York:

While walking through Haight Ashbury with Russell Howze, veteran archivist of stencil art, I saw this piece by her:

swoon, lower haight.JPG

It’s a quintessential Swoon piece: a woman, rendered in intricate detail, beautifully drawn, and placed with care in a space in which she appears to be glimpsed by the passer-by while she is engaged in some quotidian activity.

While I was in San Francisco, Russell also took me to the Luggage Store Gallery. This gallery has featured in an earlier post on this blog  (see ‘On tagging’, January 2009), and the gallery is certainly worth visiting just for a look at the archive of tags provided by its stairwell, but on the day that I was there it was also the site of an exhibition of Swoon’s work.

Instead of simply being pasted onto walls, as happens when Swoon (or any other artist) puts up work in the streets, here she had pasted them onto cardboard or wood, or other found objects, which were then displayed in a manner which lent them depth, perspective, dimensionality. These photos will give you an idea of what the works looked like:

swoon at the luggage store6.JPG

swoon at the luggage store7.JPG

Swoon had made use of all the space available, even extending her work over the gallery’s windows:

swoon at the luggage store4.JPG

For the spectator, this provided the novel experience of standing inside and looking through an artwork to the street outside (a neat re-working of the constraints enforced on much urban art, in which the artwork can exist either in the street or in the gallery, but not in both places).

While one strand of Swoon’s work focuses on figures in the everyday, The Swimming Cities of Serenissima derives from what is emerging as another major interest, the built environment. As the website for The Swimming Cities of Serenissima states, the vessels are inspired by ‘dense urban cityscapes and thickly intertwined mangrove swamps from [Swoon’s] Florida youth’. It involves three vessels, ‘built from salvaged materials, including modified Mercedes car motors with long-tail propellers’, which have been sailed by a crew of 30 artists from Slovenia to Venice. The vessels resemble ships but also evoke the floating skyscrapers of Gotham or the counter-intuitive wonders of Venice itself.

This is the third floating sculpture made by Swoon (previously, she created the Miss Rockaway Armada which sailed down the Mississippi River, and The Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea, seven rafts which sailed from Troy, NY, to New York City). Reading about the remarkable floating cities created by Swoon made me remember another highlight from my visit to San Francisco, visiting CELLspace. This is a fantastic place combining studios and gallery space for at-risk youth and artists in the Mission District, to see Card Burg, a city being constructed from cardboard:

card burg1.JPG

card burg2.JPG

It was absolutely wonderful to wander among the towering skyscrapers and to see the small spaces of everyday lives within the metropolis – an incredible urban artwork about the nature of life in urban space.

I’m pretty sure that for anyone lucky enough to see one of Swoon’s swimming cities, the experience will be similar: wonder, awe and sheer pleasure. But I’ve also been thinking about these two separate strands in Swoon’s work: the individual and the urban. Individuals going about their business, sitting on the stoop, walking through the city. And cities: fantastic, miraculous spaces wrought by the imagination. It makes me wonder whether it’s possible for the two to be brought together: if the contemplative woman can be allowed to exist within the urban setting.

Of course, you could argue that this is exactly what Swoon’s street images do: the paste-up of a woman is placed in urban space. But I wonder if we need more than that. When I saw Card Burg, I realised that part of the pleasure in visiting that imaginary city was brought about by the exhilaration of – literally – walking tall among the city’s buildings. The altered dimensions of Card Burg meant that I stood almost as tall as the skyscrapers.

Similarly, Swoon’s swimming cities shift perspective and dimension: the city is produced in inevitable miniature, and is thus, somehow, tamed. To me, what’s important here is the transformation that’s brought about of the experience of being a woman in the city. For far too many women, city spaces are still the location for sensations such as anxiety, fear, intimidation. Is it possible for an artist to create an image of being a woman in the city that can acknowledge that reality and that can still seem beautiful? This isn’t a criticism of Swoon’s work, which I find inspiring and hopeful and lovely. But it’s important to note how difficult it is for art to do justice to the fact that, for many women, ‘walking tall’ in the city is fraught with risk as much as pleasure.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers