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Arts & Culture

This Space is Our Space: Swoon Comes to San Diego

Detail from Swoon's "Swimming Sisters of Switchback Sea" (2008). Hand-painted block print on wood with found objects.
Detail from Swoon's "Swimming Sisters of Switchback Sea" (2008). Hand-painted block print on wood with found objects.

Artist Callie Curry hails from Florida (she now lives in Brooklyn) but you can find her work all over the globe – inside galleries, outside on the street, and sometimes floating on water. Curry is a street artist who goes by the name "Swoon."

In blank year, she "crashed" the Venice Biennale and sailed the Mississippi in a barge fleet made of found items. Though this made quite a statement, Swoon is best known for her intricate, paste ups (she uses a flour based paste to glue elaborate and evocative human characters onto walls in urban spaces) that haunt street corners and alleyways from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires.

Curry was in San Diego recently, hoisting a “remixed” sculpture from the aforementioned barges to the rafters of MCASD’s downtown location, as part of their current street art exhibit, Viva la Revolución.


The piece, Swimming Sisters of Switchback Sea, does resemble the upper masts of a fantastic barge, but one inhabited by the sketched human characters that populate her street art. Here, a couple locked together in a passionate kiss dominates the gently swaying sculpture.

The diminutive Swoon - the only woman artist in MCASD's exhibition - had a crew working with her and she clearly commanded their respect as she oversaw the piece's sometimes precarious journey up to MCASD's ceiling.

I caught up with Swoon on a trip to Rite Aid to buy instant coffee –which was to be used as paint, rather than fuel. (It apparently lends a darkened, aged wash to parts of her installation.)

When you started working outside on the street, how did it change the way you look at urban space?

It naturally changes your viewpoint entirely. You are always looking at in terms of textures and spaces you would want to work in, and also looking at it for visual inspiration.


Tell us about the piece I just watched you putting up.

It’s a remix of a project from a few years ago called Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea: seven boats came down the Mississippi river, that sculpture [you saw] was the sculpture that was waiting in the center with all these ropes tied to the boat. Two years later, I pulled it out of the box and and we are recreating [it here].

What has been the most unexpected reaction to your work?

One time in Cuba, this woman was like ‘you can’t just do that…you can’t’ and I said, 'oh its okay…I think that this wall…is fine.' And she went on ‘no you cant just do that. In New York you can’t just go somewhere and draw something just because you’re allowed to, you have to go past the cultural board.'

Do responses to street art vary by location?

Who is that, what does it mean, what is the meaning behind it …[the Cuban lady’s reaction] said a lot about the culture of Cuba at that time. The responses that you do and don’t get say a lot about …[what’s going on where you’re working.]

It seems that street art was and is a male dominated scene, but you’ve said it helps to be a woman when working outside, doing street art. Can you explain that?

Not only do [people question me less due to my gender] but they’re also less confrontational with me. A lot of times there’s this way that men feel challenged by other men’s presence, or assertion of self. Because I am a woman and also very small, I just have a nonthreatening way. I feel like there is a different path that I’m able to take through all different kinds of human interaction: and one of them is this slightly mischievous character.

Are you confrontational?

In my heart I’m not really that confrontational. I prefer to have it be a slightly give or take situation…there’s a little bit of a way in which the visual space of the city feels like it should be democratically owned…but sometimes it’s purely selfish: I love that texture, I want to participate in that.

I feel it’s important that people feel that they have a way of being visible in their own city: making marks and telling messages and participating in the dialogue. For me, just a drawing of a person, that’s the way I am speaking, but I think it also sends a message to other people that might have things to say that ‘this space is our space’ and it is a place for public dialogue.

MCASD's Viva la Revolucion runs until January 2nd, 2011.