Swoon, Quite Rightly
By Lauren Cerand
For the careful urban observer, Swoon's paper cutouts are a familiar sight on the streets of New York. Open up a certain kind of vaguely hip publication these days (e.g. Street Logos, VERY New York, Clamor) and her work is almost invariably mentioned. An outsider artist of a different sort, Swoon turned to the street several years ago to explore a means of expression beyond the cloistered gallery environment so typical of the New York art world. After gaining a following so dedicated that she has her own fan fotolog, Swoon has brought an expanded vision of her magical world indoors for a solo exhibition at Deitch Projects.
An almost ironic confrontation with the essential nature of street art, Swoon's installation highlights the best advantages that the gallery setting has to offer by creating a carefully constructed experience and layered environment that operates on a number of levels, both in literal and figurative terms. Modeled after a demolished Hong Kong slum, the show opens with a multimedia depiction of a subway car, using both plywood and drawings to depict the typical alienation of Swoon's people, almost always together alone in their shared experience.
Lost in a teeming metropolis of solitary figures, Swoon's artfully portrayed character studies are the obvious stars of the show, but the backdrop is no less impressive. In the main gallery, a black constructed structure like an elevated train platform dominates one area while the rest of the space is given over to stacked debris and elaborate montages pasted to, painted on, and strung across every available surface. Children, old people, young people, and a seeming self-portrait of a young woman who is literally at the height of her creative power, her carefully folded hands crowning a tumbling barrage of vibrantly realized images down the back wall, are all depicted here. A pensive young man stares into the distance as a typical city scene plays out over his heart and torso. Weeds and clothesline, kinetic sculpture, pattern and ornament all vie for the viewer's gaze as it winds through the maze, up and around and back again.
In one of the most compelling portraits, a young woman looks over her shoulder, her back covered in tattoos that variously depict a sacred heart, lush fruit, a delicate tribal motif, and a pair of intertwined lovers. Paper cutouts and paintings of insects, flowers, barbed wire, and solitude also impress themselves upon the viewer at every turn during the experience of navigating the narrow pathways and artfully strewn refuse that characterize the richly detailed landscape of Swoon's imagination. Swaying gently like a welcome breeze on a hot summer night, objects are suspended from the ceiling using thin but obvious wiring that lends the experience of discovering a forgotten movie set.
The second gallery is smaller but ultimately more memorable due to its slightly more cohesive narrative vision. The floor -- a collage of old-painted doors, and scrap wood - is inscribed with a zigzag pattern in some places, Mondrian in others, and still others bear a careful, colorful check that has a certain pixel-like charm. A paper cut of a rollercoaster in silhouette on the wall offers an alternate skyline, which, in combination with the dominant motif of birds and a group of squatting kids who engage them in the far corner, adds more than a suggestion of the broken-down ambiance of Brighton Beach or Coney Island.
With far too many people inside the gallery to comfortably view the exhibition, or double back for another look, the opening night of the exhibition initially seemed to fail to do the splendid work on display justice. However, on second thought, it was an experience not unlike any daily walk in the city, where a bewitching glimpse of beauty can capture an otherwise engaged eye during a rushed commute. For one perfect moment, that's all one needs.
"Swoon" continues through August 13 at Deitch Projects
Lauren Cerand is a writer in New York.