Black Rat Projects, London
1st December 2011- 14th January 2012
It is always curious when street art makes the transition into the gallery space. Taken away from the context of the urban public realm, it automatically loses the aesthetics and politics that come with it, essentially, the inherent risk of making art without permission directly onto city walls. As a result even the most edgy street art can seem rather polite, as if trying to pose as a gallery ‘show’ but without quite knowing why it’s there.
Swoon, however, effortlessly treads the line between public and gallery space. Her delicate paper cut outs and assemblages of found objects can be seen on streets all over the world, where she reclaims corners of the city to paste up intricate paper portraits and fantastical scenarios which she leaves for an anonymous public to enjoy, deface or simply dissolve over time.
At Black Rat Projects in London’s Rivington Street, Swoon’s first London solo show Murmuration transforms the former railway arch, now cavernous gallery space, into a theatrical, imaginary cityscape. Dramatically lit, you feel as if you have stepped onto the stage of a shadow puppet theatre with larger than life cut-out characters, overlaid with what has become her trademark wood-cut-printed paper, emerging from the wings. Swoon pays attention to every corner of the space to create an immersive environment; her delicate lacy patterns disperse across the ceiling and onto the floor. Along the walls, a collection of old doors, windows and found urban detritus provide a collaged backdrop for more paper cut gures and decaying buildings that evoke scenes from the slums of Mumbai or Delhi. Real, immaculately rendered portraits morph into mythological creatures; a girl in Muslim dress emerges from the cityscape, intertwined with images of buildings, and opposite, a giant cut-out sea goddess dominates centre stage with waves lapping around her dress.
Swoon, whose real name is Caledonia Dance Curry, is based in Brooklyn, where she has formed the Toyshop Collective – a group of artists who work with her to help to realise her ambitious projects, both through scavenging materials and disseminating more adventurous work and ideas around the world. These ventures include voyages on rafts made of reclaimed junk (she sailed a series of these in to gate-crash the Venice Biennale in 2009) and the building of an earthquake proof community centre in 2011 to support the regeneration of Haiti. Whatever the context, Swoon’s work is about reclaiming spaces, with a democratic conviction at its core. Her pasted street art, political actions and happenings in the public realm are explicit in this and have a maverick energy and dissidence that comes across in her gallery shows. So, while Murmuration at Black Rat may lack rebellion and revolution, it compensates with a rare opportunity for escapism that removes you far from the streets of Shoreditch and into another, entrancing world of childhood, myth, memory and fantasy. An opportunity which, on a bleak and windy December morning, I welcomed gladly.