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Brooklyn street artist Swoon's immersive installation debuts at Brooklyn Museum

Homemade sculptural rafts that traveled down the Hudson River and the Adriatic Sea to Venice. Roughly 30 people at a time lived aboard them and traveled for a few months each summer in 2008 and 2009.
Homemade sculptural rafts that traveled down the Hudson River and the Adriatic Sea to Venice. Roughly 30 people at a time lived aboard them and traveled for a few months each summer in 2008 and 2009.
Madina Toure/

Brooklyn residents and other New Yorkers flocked to the Brooklyn Museum for the opening of the highly-anticipated immersive installation by renowned Brooklyn-based street artist Swoon on Thursday.

"Swoon: Submerged Motherlands," a monumental-site specific installation, transformed the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery in the fifth floor rotunda of the museum into a landscape and immersive experience.

The installation features a 60-foot tree that rises into the rotunda's 72-foot-high dome with a constructed environment at its base. The constructed environment consists of sculpted boats and rafts as well as signature prints, drawings and cutouts of Swoon's friend and her new baby, portraits of her mother's life cycle and a gazebo with honeycombs and wasp's nests.

During a film playing at the museum, Swoon said that she and engineers spent weeks carrying and shredding dying fabric with instant coffee, paint and fabric dye. It took them two days and roughly 70 to 80 gallons of liquid loaded into pressurized tanks, she said.

"It was such a unique space in the building that I wanted to make something that really fit into the space and rose up into the space and addressed the whole space," Swoon explained.

The theme of the installation is climate change, focusing on Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York City in 2012, and Doggerland, a landmass connecting Great Britain with Europe destroyed by a tsunami 8,000 years ago. When Sandy hit, she began to think about climate change — in particular, rising seas and dislocation of communities, she said.

"It seemed like an important time to continue that kind of thinking just as a way to sort of meditate on our anxieties about this situation, bringing this thinking to the forefront and trying to tangibly get our hearts and minds around it," she said.

Born in New London, Conn., and raised in Daytona Beach, Fla., Caledonia Dance Curry — known as Swoon — embraces everyday people, addressing social and environmental issues vis-à-vis printed portraits on abandoned buildings and figurative installations.

At the age of 19, she moved to Brooklyn to study painting at the Pratt Institute. She started doing street art in 1999 and took up large-scale installations in 2005. Her art can be found in collections at the Brooklyn Museum as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern in London.

First Lady Chirlane McCray, Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife — a Park Slope resident — visited the installation on the opening day. The museum's director, Arnold L. Lehman, gave her a tour of the installation and an exclusive tour of the upcoming exhibition for Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, which is scheduled to open next Friday.

Prospect Heights resident Bob Trancho, 65, and his wife, Nancy Trancho, 63, live across the street from the museum and visit frequently. They discovered Swoon through their daughter, a former Red Hook resident who is a fan of the artist.

"It's astounding how she's transposed that from flat, two-dimensional buildings into this gigantic, three-dimensional installation," Bob Trancho said. "It's really impressive."

Kimberly Jacobs, 28, a fellow at the St. Louis Museum in Missouri, was visiting the city when the installation opened. She described the installation as "encapsulating."

"It brings you into this world of reality and fantasy," Jacobs said. "Her inspiration, of course, is based on the realities of the shift of the environment, and how do we deal with that besides going into ourselves and imagining what our world would be like if that environment took an even more drastic turn?"

The installation will be on display until Aug. 24. Visitors will have the chance to meet and interact with Swoon later this month. For information about museum hours and the cost of admission, visit the museum's official website.

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