“The first time I worked in a museum was about seven years ago, I think, and I remember being a little bit frightened of it . . . my inner 15-year-old punk was like, ‘What are you doing?!’ ”
Part punk-rock activist, part classically trained artist, Swoon, a/k/a Caledonia Curry, has sailed the Mississippi with a merry gang on homemade rafts and created earthquake-resistant structures for Haiti. When not leading a collective or pasting delicate cut outs all over New York, Swoon is a street artist who is relatively unconflicted (and particularly thoughtful) about creating work indoors. The ICA commissioned her to create a piece for the Sandra and Gerald Fineberg Art Wall that opens this week. I caught up with Swoon while she was on a break from installing the show.
>> PHOTOS: Swoon Art Wall at the ICA by Joel Veak <<
COULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PIECE YOU'RE CREATING FOR THE ICA? With this particular piece I chose the theme of the Anthropocene extinction, which is the mass extinction event that we're in right now. It's the biggest event that's happened on the planet since the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. And yet it's very difficult to pinpoint. It's this mammoth but slow-moving event, this disaster that we are precipitating. So there's a temple which is made out of bamboo and that's hanging in the elevator shaft and there are hundreds of species that are germinating from and flowing out of the temple. There's a demon figure which is definitely inspired by Tibetan protective demons, but this one — I was drawing the devouring demon, the death urge, the destructive impulse in people, which I think plays out in us personally and I think plays out in our whole culture.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CREATING WORK IN A MUSEUM VERSUS BEING OUTSIDE? DO VIEWERS EXPERIENCE YOUR WORK DIFFERENTLY IN RARIFIED SPACE? Oh, definitely. The thing about working in a museum is — I feel like so many of the projects I've been doing over the last few years have been just like, climbing up a muddy cliffside on your elbows in the pouring rain. Everything is an insane hurdle, and everything is all about all of these different circumstances and logistics that you are trying to overcome. And that's wonderful, that's what makes the work what it is. But on the other hand, being in this environment and being able to have that fluidity of having an idea and just being able to realize it is really wonderful. In a way, being able to make a piece like this is really a gift I've given myself.
IT'S INTERESTING WHAT'S HAPPENED WITH THE INSTITUTIONALIZING OF "OUTSIDER ART." ARE THERE STILL OUTSIDERS? WHAT ARE THEY OUTSIDE OF? I can't exactly comment on the whole entire — that's a hugely broad question. . . . But my relationship to working outside versus working in institutions — for me, it doesn't feel as conflicting as it once did because I've come to see it not as a dichotomy. I've been working in so many different contexts — I've been building homes in Haiti, I've been building boats that go on waterways, I have a collective in Braddock, Pennsylvania, that's working on urban farming and on rehabbing old buildings to make a community center — and so I approach each context really specifically and try to just respond to it. The first time I worked in a museum was about seven years ago, I think, and I remember being a little bit frightened of it . . . like my inner 15-year-old punk was like, "What are you doing?!" — and then I immediately went with a whole gang of friends and built rafts and went down the Mississippi and was like, "Oh, this is a choice that you make."