Swoon on experimentation, building community, and learning to embrace online communication
By Siena Oristaglio on February 13th, 2019
Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) is an acclaimed mixed media artist who became known for her street art in the late 90s. She has since expanded into large-scale installations and explores the relationship between people and their built environments. Her mission is to use art to rebuild communities and humanize today’s most pressing social and environmental issues.
You can discover and experience her beautiful work all around the city of New York.
You mentioned in an interview in May of last year that you are interested in venturing into experimental film. Have you started to explore that genre? What new projects are you most excited about in the upcoming year?
Yes, totally started exploring! It’s incredibly fun to add the dimension of time to the visual language I’ve been building for the last 20 years. It makes me realize how much narrative already exists within my work. I’m just excited to take some time this summer to keep exploring. It’s all an experiment at this point.
How have you used social media and/or online tools to benefit your artistic practice? What are your favorite and least favorite aspects about engaging with the internet as an artist?
I was surprised to learn that I love social media. I avoided it like the plague for years, until one of my studio assistants started an Instagram account for me as a parting gift when she was leaving the studio to focus on her jewelry making career. I guess it had been really useful for her and she wanted to share the good. Slowly I started posting, just bits here and there, but then eventually I realized that I am such a communicator - it’s in every fiber of me to want to express ideas and images, and so the more I shared, the more rewarding it became. I can really work through ideas and share big pieces of who I am through my channels. And it helps me support my studio and projects through being able to announce print releases or Kickstarter campaigns.
My least favorite thing are the trolls - it takes practice to remember that some people are just puking out their nastiness and suffering onto the world through these channels too, and not to take it personally.
Can you tell us a bit about the methods you use to to fund your work? We know you’ve run a couple of Kickstarter campaigns via your non-profit, The Heliotrope Foundation — what was your experience with this method of funding? What other funding methods have you found effective for your artistic practice?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a strong art market around my work, which really got traction through my show with the gallerist Jeffrey Deitch back in 2005. When I very first started to support myself through art (rather than waitressing), I would sell prints out of my apartment to people who found me online through a website some friends had included me on. Then for a while after my work started to sell more widely I spent all of my money on community based projects, but eventually that became unsustainable and so I started an organization and started hosting events and throwing Kickstarter campaigns to fund the projects. These things take A LOT of energy, and it’s easy to spend so much making the rewards that it feels like there’s never enough for the project. We also run a print site where I trade artists a piece of my art for the use of one of their digital images, so they get art, as well as supporting our work in Haiti for example, and that has been a strong source of stability for Heliotrope over the years.
Speaking of The Heliotrope Foundation, what have you learned from creating and managing a non-profit organization? What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own?
I have found that my friends, and my closest collectors, people I know fairly well are still Heliotrope’s biggest supporters. Even when the base for a project grows, it’s still the people who know you and care about the work who will be the core of it - so start with that in mind. Ask yourself who gets you, who believes in what you are trying to do? Start building together from there.
As an artist who balances so much — from institutional shows to creating personal work to organizing social impact projects — how do you stay organized and manage your time effectively?
Delegating is everything. Finding a good team and trusting people to do their jobs well. Even when I was a waitress I would occasionally hire people to help me with aspects of my art. Even on my tiny waitressing salary, it was still that valuable to get help sometimes. Also clearing some days or even weeks with no meetings to just focus on art making - to be able to shift into uninterrupted creative mode. Trusting your instincts about when to go ahead with a project and when to pause. Morning meditation helps a lot too. Helps me get stable to handle the day ahead and whatever it’s gonna throw at me.
Caledonia Curry, who exhibits her artwork under the name SWOON, is a classically trained visual artist and printmaker who has spent the last 14 years exploring the relationship between people and their built environments. Her early interventions in the urban landscape took the form of wheat-pasting portraits to the walls of cities around the world, and her public practice has expanded to using art to rebuild communities and humanize today’s most pressing social and environmental issues.
She co-founded Konbit Shelter in 2010, an artist’s response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti that same year. Other community-based endeavors include collaborating on the construction of musical architecture in New Orleans, and a neighborhood revitalization project in North Braddock, PA. Alongside her place-based work, she has a studio practice of drawing, printmaking, architectural sculpture, and installations. Curry’s work has been collected and shown internationally at galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and the São Paulo Museum of Art.
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