Loeb Thaddeus Pawlowski explains why he was excited to invite activist and multi-media artist Swoon to the GSD recently, and describes how her collaborative practice amplifies some of the critical issues facing us today.
On the afternoon of April 24th I was honored to host Caledonia Curry, also known as Swoon, at the GSD. Swoon is an acclaimed artist and activist who first became known for her intricate wheat-paste street murals of friends and family. Swoon showed a survey of her work from printmaking to an evolution into larger scale architectural installations and documentation of the struggles of people in vulnerable places, like the post-industrial landscape of Braddock Pennsylvania and drug-war ravaged Juarez, Mexico.
As a response to the anxieties of global warming, she and her collaborators took to the water, building fantastical ships out of unconventional materials (garbage) and sailed them down the Hudson and then the Mississippi Rivers. In an email, she described the rafts as a fulfilling "a desire to head into the heartland of America and meet people where they are, for surprising conversations induced by the disarming capacity of wonder."
Later they crashed the ships into the Venice Biennale. She explained how the ships appeared to be randomly constructed, but they were actually measured to fit within an inch of the lowest bridge on the Grand Canal. The boats came back to the US and were installed in the rotunda at the Brooklyn museum for the Submerged Motherlands exhibition, a reflection on the emotional trauma of Hurricane Sandy and Swoon’s personal loss of her mother.
Having Swoon at the GSD was high on my list of things to do during my Loeb year, not just because of beauty and inventiveness of her work, but also because I believe her manner of practicing is a model of creative leadership. She initiates a project with vision and compassion, around which coalesces an alliance of makers, dreamers, thinkers and doers. I met Swoon a few years ago after the earthquake in Haiti and helped her with drawings for superadobe houses in Haiti, a project we called “Konbit Shelter.” Konbit is Haitian Creole for cooperative, community labor. This is what I have always thought architecture is about: a social art. This model of working I believe is essential today as the issues we tackle in our projects–climate change and the growing divide between the rich and poor–run wildly across fields and disciplines, and require to us to think about deeper and more trusting forms of collaboration.