Garbage Bouquets and Beautiful Shipwrecks at Brooklyn Museum Swoon Exhibition

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Installation view of Swoon's “Submerged Motherlands" at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo: Terri Ciccone.

The shadows cast by the elaborate paper foliage and magnificent boats in Swoon's new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum are as important as the installation itself. With “Submerged Motherlands," which extends to 85 feet high in the museum's rotunda, Swoon (also known as Caledonia Curry) pays tribute to the devastation wrought by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the tsunami that destroyed Doggerland (a landmass that once connected England to Europe) 8,000 years ago. The play of light on an through the tree's branches and leaves amplifies the installation's emotional impact.

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Installation view of Swoon's “Submerged Motherlands" at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo: Terri Ciccone.

The work in the space conveys this feeling of being part of a larger environmental event. The massive structures in the rotunda conjure an entire world. An enormous tree sprouts up from the center of the space, its cloth ropes arranged to look like branches adorned with enormous paper cut-outs for leaves. The shadows cast by the tree and its appendages create a beautiful kaleidoscope effect.

At the structure's base are piecemeal vessels that look as if belong to the post apocalyptic fleet in Waterworld. Each ramshackle raft is made of a surprisingly beautiful bouquet of garbage. Swoon and her posse of artists, musicians, and bikers actually sailed and paddled the boats to the Venice Biennale in 2009 as part of the project “The Swimming Cities of Serenissima." The crafts were built in 2006 and 2007; they floated down the Mississippi and the Hudson in 2008, before setting sail for Italy.

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Installation view of Swoon's “Submerged Motherlands" at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo: Terri Ciccone.

Swoon has developed a following for beautiful and stylized street art cut-outs, which highlight local residents. Examples of this part of her practice are arranged around the Brooklyn Museum rotunda. One of these characters sits nursing a baby and smiling atop a shelter structure that viewers can walk through and sit in. Such makeshift buildings are another facet of Swoon's practice. In 2010 she began the Konbit Shelter Project, which focused on building sustainable, earthquake-resistant homes in Haiti and mobilized volunteers.

Standing in the prismatic shadows of Swoon's “Submerged Motherlands" evokes a feeling of loss and, simultaneously, rebirth. The piece encourages viewers to get lost and transported to a different place, all the while remaining rooted in present-day issues.

Swoon's “Submerged Motherlands" continues at the Brooklyn Museum through August 24.

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The artists Judy Chicago (center) and Swoon (right) at the Brooklyn Museum.
Photo: Terri Ciccone.