Originally known for her street art, Swoon (born Caledonia Dance Curry in 1977) is a mixed media artist who specializes in life-size wheatpaste prints and paper cutouts of human figures. She studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, receiving a BA in fine arts in 2002. She started to gain recognition for her street art around 1999 and large-scale installations soon thereafter; in 2005, she was the subject of an eponymous solo exhibition mounted by now-mentor Jeffrey Deitch. Swoon has since been featured in major museums including a 2014 solo show, Submerged Motherlands, at the Brooklyn Museum.
Curry was born in New London, Connecticut, and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida. She moved to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, New York when she was nineteen to study painting at the Pratt Institute.
Then, Curry joined groups in New York City like Grub, which provides free Dumpster-dived dinners in Brooklyn. She also founded the Toyshop collective, known for organizing events such as a march through the Lower East Side consisting of 50 people playing instruments made out of junk.
Swoon regularly pastes works depicting people, often her friends and family, on the streets around the world. She usually pastes her pieces on uninhabited locations such as abandoned buildings, bridges, fire escapes, water towers and street signs. Her work is inspired by both art historical and folk sources, ranging from German Expressionist wood block prints to Indonesian shadow puppets.
Swoon started her street art in 1999. At the time she was attending the Pratt Institute, studying painting. However, she began to feel restrained by the sense that her life was already laid out for her. She believed that she would simply paint a few pictures that would end up on a wall in a gallery or someone’s home. Her art would only be seen by those affluent enough to go to galleries and buy art. At the same time she was trying to find what she describes as context. She stated that she wanted to become part of the world. Her response to this desire was what she believes to be a very literal one: gluing her art to walls. Wheat pasting became a way for her to discover and understand her impact in the world. Swoon describes that as a young woman, she did not have a sense of her ability to make a change. By putting up a small wheat paste sticker, she was able to transform a wall and it would be there when she walked past it the next day. It was a tiny literal change.
The majority of Swoon’s street art consists of portraits. She believes that we store things in our body and that a portrait can become an x-ray of those experiences. She wants her portraits to capture something essential in the subject. She tries to document something she loves about the subject and has seen in him or her. It is a way to connect with the subject. By putting the portraits on the streets she is allowing for others to witness this connection and make their own.
One such connection, she says, has stuck with her throughout the years, as she mentions it in multiple interviews. She met a woman who asked her about a small piece of art that she had put up in a neighborhood. The woman proceeded to tell her that a mentally disabled man who lived in the neighborhood had started to call it “The Secret” and he would take people to it and show them. The little piece had become a special thing in the community. This moment has affected Swoon, telling her that one tiny thing can make an opportunity for connection and can inspire the feeling that maybe there is another world existing around us and that we only need a perception shift in order to see it. She has since tried to evoke this in all of her other artwork. Originally she believed her series of portraits would be a two-month project but she has continued to make them for over ten years.
Living in New York City greatly affected Swoon as an artist. She loved its graffiti, its layers, and others' feelings toward the graffiti and other aspects of the city. She wanted to interact with the layers of the city, what she describes as “the naturally occurring collage of the city”. Her first series of prints were done on tracing paper so that the colors of the walls and the chipping paint could still be seen. Her prints tried to create life in what would be an otherwise dead space.
Swoon and a crew of 30 crashed the 2009 Venice Biennale with the Swimming Cities of Serenissima, a performance project similar to the Miss Rockaway Armada and the Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea. The crew sailed from Slovenia in rafts made of containers-worth of New York City garbage, as well as one raft made from material scrapped along the Slovenian coast. The project stopped at various points on the way to meet locals, collect artifacts for their on-board "cabinet of curiosities" and to prepare for the culminating performance entitled The Clutchess of Cuckoo.
The crew included members from the anarchist bicycle-art group Black Label Bike Club, Chicken John, artists Iris Lasson and Arielle Bier, other artists, activists, and musicians. They gathered at on the Slovenian coast on April 2009. Slovenian officials at first held the containers, from New York, in customs, not believing they were full of trash.
The rafts had eating, cooking, and sleeping quarters. Once in the Venice Lagoon, the rafts' company performed throughout Venice nightly and docked at Certosa Island. For example, they played on the Grand Canal at 3:00 a.m. When the group ran out of money, they used the shipping containers as housing.
Konbit Shelter is a sustainable building project begun in 2010 with the objective of sharing knowledge and resources through the creation of homes and community spaces in post-earthquake Haiti. A group of artists, builders, architects and engineers are working to build permanent, creatively designed structures utilizing the techniques of Super Adobe earth bag construction and dome architecture. The buildings use inexpensive and locally-available materials and are meant to be resistant to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and fires. The technique uses little to no wood, an invaluable asset in timber-depleted Haiti. As of December 2010, a community center and a house had been completed.
Curry works with a collective of artists based in Braddock, Pennsylvania, known as Transformazium which provides classes and opportunities for hands-on learning. Their focus is on creative re-use and re-imagining of Braddock’s derelict urban spaces and resources.
In 2015, Curry founded a non-profit organization, The Heliotrope Foundation to further her community-based projects in Haiti, New Orleans and North Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Swoon did not begin to tag her art under that name until later into her career; she at first worked anonymously. It was not until her then-boyfriend had a dream about the two of them doing graffiti and running from the police that she got the name Swoon. In his dream, she was writing Swoon on the walls of buildings. Thinking that it was pretty, Curry started tagging her art with the name. After a few years, she began to gain recognition as Swoon. She found it funny that everyone expected her to be a man. They wanted that “Swoon-guy” to come and do shows in their neighborhoods. This also serves to highlight the disproportionate ratio of men to women in graffiti art. It is often seen as too dangerous and aggressive for women. Swoon was able to find success in an art form usually unwelcoming to others of her sex. However Swoon does acknowledge that her gender provides invisibility from the police while pasting that her male counterparts do not have.
Over the years, Curry has started to see “Swoon” as an idea. It is a word embodies her belief that creativity combined with dedication can create “cracks in the facades of impossibility and inevitability”. She is known as a leader when working within collectives. As a keynote speaker at southern graphics conference in 2011 she said: "[w]here once there was noise, now there is a voice."
Swoon started doing large-scale installations in 2005. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art started collecting her work and Jeffrey Deitch started to represent her there.
In 2011, Swoon created a site-specific installation depicting the goddess Thalassa in the atrium of the New Orleans Museum of Art. The piece is currently on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts through March 2017.
In December 2011, she held her first solo exhibition in London, England, filling the gallery at Black Rat Projects with sculptures and paper cut-outs.
In 2014, she had an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, entitled Submerged Motherlands.