Swoon Breathes Life Into Deserted Detroit Architecture


Just weeks after her 20-foot-tall sculpture Thalassa was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts, New York street artist Caledonia Curry – better known as Swoon – unveiled another large-scale installation gallery in downtown downtown as part of a solo exhibition at the Library Street Collective Detroit.

The 2,500-square-meter installation The Light After (2016) uses hundreds of hand-cut paper and mylar elements. The gallery’s architecture, a former vacuum cleaner factory from 1926, creates a visual manifestation of the mystical. The rectangular showroom of the gallery gives way to a passage that is reminiscent of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”, which in turn leads into a more open, modern space – a former garage with floor-to-floor ceiling windows – the Swoon into the so-called “meadow” of the Installation has transformed.

The piece was inspired by a clairvoyant dream the artist had when her mother died three years ago, one that she later identified as a so-called empathic death experience. The work’s aesthetic qualities mimic the sensations associated with death, including serenity, warmth, dissolution, and the presence of a light.

“Each of the three rooms through which the viewer moves is translated into a specific phase that is often described by people with near-death experiences,” the artist told artnet News via email. “I found it almost uncanny how the existing rooms and corridors were translated. Architecture reads so many things for us and so easily translates into deep symbolism about travel and changed realities, and I think that’s a by-product of how inseparable we are from the architecture of our spaces. “

Not every viewer will identify the symbolism, Swoon admits, but she finds that even they can “easily enjoy” the “dreamy and exuberant” qualities of the work. Nonetheless, she immediately noticed that her work was particularly well received by one viewer.

“On the night of the opening, a woman came up to me and told me about her experience with a bus and what followed,” she said. “It was very emotional for both of us because she was very deeply connected to the work and I was so touched to know that the piece really communicated.”

In Detroit, where gentrification is a major concern, Swoon’s preeminent role in the local arts scene is undeniable: she came to town for the Allied Media Conference in 2006 before returning in 2010 to work on a Power House Productions project to remodel several abandoned homes to work in Detroit’s Moran Street, where she made a number of her branded portraits out of wheat paste paper. Her two current exhibitions are accompanied by a community mural project in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood of Detroit, which is being painted with the support of local artists.

“Artists and public art have become catalysts in the revitalization of the city of Detroit, and Swoon has played an important role in our efforts to improve relationships between the city and its suburbs,” said Anthony Curis, owner of the Library Street Collective Born and raised in Detroit who runs the gallery with his wife JJ and speaks to artnet News. “Her desire to consider the people who surround her public work makes it all the more important to the place where she lives.”

“Swoon: The Light After” runs through November 26th at 1260 Library Street, Detroit.

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Dusty Kennedy