Jamie Holman finds himself impressed with fearless art collective Swallow (sometimes):Jessye Curtis, Esther Merinero, Sarah Smith and Nina Wise.
Swallow is a collective of young women of a similar age and background who came together as students after relocating to London and meeting at Chelsea College of Art. They make paintings, photographs, films, sound and text based work, both as individuals and in collaboration. The name Swallow is at once vulgar and graceful, its ambiguous duality suggests the physical in terms of sex and the symbolic in terms of the bird. They may have not figured it all out yet, but watching them emerge, raw and brave in public, is as invigorating as it is at times painful.
The collective asks an important question of our fee-paying art schools. What exactly do students get for their cash? The pedigree of certain schools (and the reputation that simply attending one of them can bestow) is all very well, but the day-to-day reality of art school existence is another thing altogether: cramped workspaces, scarce tutorials and poor resources seem to be the norm. The legacy of the YBA generation still echoes through the corridors of the new-builds and glass façades, but does anyone at art school really expect to become a superstar by graduation anymore?
Swallow look to the city around them for inspiration and embrace its possibilities in the same way that performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Gordon Matta-Clark did in New York in the ’70s. For Swallow, as individuals and as a collective, London has become studio, gallery and muse.
“We all work from our own experiences, from our feelings as young women”, says the collective’s Sarah Smith. “That makes our work link together, regardless of medium or intention. Basically, we are doing it for one another and creating a support system for us all.”
There have been two Swallow exhibitions so far, which isn’t bad considering they have only just finished the first year of their degree courses. The first, The Morgue, in Chelsea, was a one night pop-up, a singular opportunity to view, in keeping with the conventions of the space (an actual morgue). Then followed The Lav, hosted, needless to say, in a public convenience in Kennington. These unconventional exhibition spaces provide opportunities for site-specific responses and the challenge of curating existing work beyond the white walls of the orthodox gallery. Importantly, the work of the individual Swallow artists is being clearly defined, and it is the collective that is making it happen, without recourse to the traditional art world infrastructure. As Jessye Curtis says: “We are all struggling, so we don’t see why we can’t create a revolution. Why not? There seems to be very little out there for the young artists who have no money and nothing to fall back on – we need to make it happen for ourselves.”