A fleet of intricate, handcrafted vessels that functions as a stage, a sculpture exhibition and a social experiment, Swoon’s “Swimming Cities” project is headed to one of the places that originally inspired it: Venice. The street artist and her 30-member crew will dock off of Certosa Island during the Venice Biennale to give a series of performances, collectively titled “The Clutchess of Cuckoo,” which will feature music, shadow puppetry, and visual storytelling.
Swoon first launched what is now known as “Swimming Cities” in 2006. For the maiden voyage of her first vessel, the Miss Rockaway Armada, Swoon gathered a group of artists and other creative friends to cobble together rafts from discarded wood, foam blocks, bed sheets, car parts and other found “junk” before sailing the whole lot 800 miles on the Mississippi River for two summers in a row. In 2008, she took the idea a step further with “Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea,” a set of seven stunning sculptures that carried 40 artists down the Hudson River and culminated in a large-scale installation at Deitch Studios in Long Island City. The 30-member crew also stopped to perform music and a play about the imagined origins of the boats written by the multidisciplinary artist Lisa D’Amour.
For the Venice Biennale, Swoon has transformed her project yet again. The group started its latest journey, “Swimming Cities of Serinissima,” in mid-May, launching from Slovenia with three elaborate ships, all designed by the artist. As the boats dock in various towns en route to Venice, Swoon and company will explore abandoned buildings and other forgotten areas, amassing souvenirs and installing the collection on board as a “cabinet of curiosities.” In addition to the performance — “The Clutches of Cuckoo” is a collaboration with the band Dark, Dark, Dark, directed by puppeteer Ben Burke — guests in Venice will be able to board the boats to examine the treasures.
“Swimming Cities of Serinissima” isn’t technically part of the Venice Biennale. The artists never received an invitation. Arriving as mysterious outsiders is perhaps the most exciting part of their voyage; it always has been. From the project’s inception, the artist has aimed to capture the fantastical feel of these floating communities. Elements of surprise and enigma are the common threads that have tied all of these projects together: “We’re literally crashing the Biennale,” says the group’s spokeswoman, performance artist Adina Bier. “The boats are going to be a visual explosion. It’s a heavy statement.”
“Seeing people just be blown away and totally surprised, wondering what these floating junk boats and junk people could be – that’s exciting,” she says. “And that’s really what the project is about.”
[All images courtesy Swoon. Find out more about “Swimming Cities of Serinissima,” see the full performance schedule, follow the artists’ progress, and watch videos of the journey on the Swimming Cities Web site.]