Review: Swoon at Black Rat Projects, Shoreditch

Show under construction. Pic: Swoon

New York based street artist Caledonia Dance Curry, better known as Swoon, unveiled her new east London exhibition ‘Murmuration’ on Thursday.

Her first solo show of sculpture and illustration is housed in Black Rat Projects,  a gallery space under the railway arches in Shoreditch where the glaring strip lighting has been torn out for the exhibition and replaced  with the soft glow of bare light bulbs, creating the atmosphere of a downtown Manhattan speakeasy in what was actually a cavernous space.

Cavernous was necessary to house Swoon’s sculptures, some of which tower with twenty feet in the air. Cardboard illustrations of mermaids with crab claws for lungs and hands clutching at seaweed toy with childhood myth, something so often brought alive in children’s books by traditional illustration.

The exhibition’s name, which evokes ideas of the sea and nautical mythology, is further subverted by the use of soil around the bottom of some cardboard sculptures. The earthy smell transports  viewers away from the tar of the London street, to homes and holidays past.

Swoon’s black and white line sketches are simultaneously cartoonish and lifelike, bringing to mind the style of illustration in graphic novels. There is a measured yet kinetic quality to the artist’s work, from the mermaid seemingly longing to surge upwards to the water’s surface, and a beautiful piece depicting a man in the process of carefully placing an object atop a pile.

Increasingly, gallery spaces are allowing the artist to embed their works firmly into the environment. For Swoon this has meant not only changing the lighting, but also using her famous paper pasting technique to adorn the walls with intricate cut-out patterns, which spill out from her artworks onto the bare brick behind them. Paper is pinned to beams, and wooden panels are balanced against sections of glass doors and other oddities to create a layered feeling: an amalgamation of objects stacked together in the organised chaos of limited space.

Indeed, the whole exhibition feels like the inside of a carefully kept garden shed; fitting, as a shed could be found near the back of the space. Eyeholes had been cut into the shed’s side. Peeping through the gap in the wood, one is transported back to childhood, the joy of imagining spaces behind locked doors and weaving fantastical personal stories.

For a first solo show, ‘Murmuration’ is undeniably impressive. Swoon shows how an illustration can, in the right environment, evoke both memory and myth for the audience.

The exhibition will be at Black Rat Project on Rivington Street until January 14 2012. Entry is free.

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