In Conversation with Swoon
News / Meet The Artist

In Conversation with Swoon

31 Aug 2021

Swoon (aka Caledonia Curry) is an American contemporary artist known for her large-scale installations and intricate portrait pieces which bridge boundaries between the street and gallery. It’s this pioneering work, coupled with her relentless campaigning on climate change and social crises, that’s made her an obvious choice to feature in our current Game Changers exhibition: find out more here. In honour of the show, we are very thankful the artist has taken time out of her busy schedule to tell us more about her inspiration, methods, and plans for the future…

Hang-Up: How do you settle on your subject matter?

Swoon: Instinct usually. I pick the thing that magnetizes me.

HU: Do you prefer the studio or the street and why?

S: I prefer whatever approach feels best at the time. It could be the studio, the street, a narrative film, a waterborne vessel, a parade, a lecture, a workshop. For me the creative force can show up in almost any form and I try not to set too many rules on it.

HU: The gallery hosting your most recent exhibition, Turner Carroll, speaks of “a recurring motif of the sacred feminine?” in your work. Was it a conscious decision to embrace this motif or did it happen organically?

S: I have been inspired over the years by many people who make a case for balancing the forces at play in our society and in our individual psyches by learning to embrace all that we consider feminine. I grew up in a world where the abuse, constriction and control of women was something that could be seen across all cultures and all time. The message that this sends to a young woman finding her own in the world is overwhelming and even a little crippling. Identifying and celebrating the deep feminine forces inside each of us is a way to work against that paralysis, to find something generative and good.

Swoon in the studio, working on 'Sambhavna'.

Swoon in the studio, working on 'Sambhavna'.

Goldmark Art

HU: Can you tell us a bit more about the notion of femininity in your work and what it means to you?

S: When I look back over the history of Western Art I think, no woman has ever been where I am, or where the women who are my contemporaries are now. Even the women who came before us, Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, they dealt with so much more opposition and disregard than we do, and I hope that things will be even better for the next generations. This chance that I have now, to speak from the full genius of my being, having been believed in and encouraged since childhood, able to live the life of my mind out loud, and express myself fully as a woman, it still feels very new, and very necessary.

HU: How does it make you feel to include autobiographical elements in your pieces?

S: Understood. Honest. Vulnerable. Connected to the family of humanity.

A glimpse into Swoon's Brooklyn studio.
A glimpse into Swoon's Brooklyn studio.

A glimpse into Swoon's Brooklyn studio.

Arrested Motion

HU: Your installations are often on an epic scale. Can you tell us about the challenges and benefits of working to such a large scale?

S: The benefit of working that way is that when you go much larger than the human body, you draw people in to awe. There is a sense of quiet, and, if you’re lucky, an enveloping sacredness that arises when we work at that scale. The challenges are what you might imagine, it becomes like building a small city, it’s physically and logistically taxing, and then when you’re done it disappears, and people only see a photograph.

Girl from Ranoon Province (Bangkok) by Swoon on display in Hang-Up's Game Changers.

Girl from Ranoon Province (Bangkok) by Swoon on display in Hang-Up's Game Changers.

Simon Kallas

HU: What made you begin to use animation in your work?

S: I had wanted to be an animator since I was a teenager and first saw William Kentridge’s beautiful charcoal animations. But back then I was young and maniacal and full of the kind of rage that could only be exercised by huge actions out in the world. The kind of evolved tweaking that animation required was still beyond my reach. But then, 20 years later, I suddenly found that so many more rooms had been added on to the mansion of my mind. Some of those rooms included storytelling, others held the sculptural chops needed to realize a visual story, and in others, the patience to begin.

HU: Do you think art has the power to force social or political action?

S: To force? No. To inspire people emotionally in such a way that they decide to act? Yes.

HU: If there was one thing you could change with your work (politically or socially), what would it be?

S: I would want to find a way to be more environmentally sound without sacrificing the ability to execute large visions.

Dawn and Gemma by Swoon, street installation, 2014.

Dawn and Gemma by Swoon, street installation, 2014.

Site Projects

Swoon and her team working on 'Dawn and Gemma' mural in New Haven.

Swoon and her team working on 'Dawn and Gemma' mural in New Haven.

Site Projects

HU: Looking at your CV, your schedule seems relentless! How do you find the energy to keep going?

S: It’s relentless! But now I take some quiet months in the summer to recharge. And also, I have a tremendous amount of help in doing what I do. I could never ever manage all of this on my own.

HU: What’s next for you?

S: Well, right this minute I’m listening to an audio book about directing actors, so, we’ll see where this goes….

Zahra, silkscreen, hand cut paper and acrylic gouache on wood, 2020.

Zahra, silkscreen, hand cut paper and acrylic gouache on wood, 2020.

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