Studies on Swoon’s Miss Rockaway

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~100cm x ~100cm, White Cartridge Paper Cutout

This study was based on #236 Miss Rockaway, paper cuts pasted to former Braddock Church Doors, made in 2014 and 175.3 x 223.5 cm in dimensions. (I do not own or claim to own any of Swoon’s work)

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The display of what appears to be dual skeleton mermaids on a pair of church doors immediately reminds me of the door gods in traditional Chinese customs, where woodblock prints of Chinese generals are stuck to front doors of homes and temples to attract good luck and fend off evil spirits. Unlike the traditional display, where the portraits are placed face to face, the mermaids are placed back to back. Furthermore, the mermaids are not displayed symmetrically on the doors, as the left one is slightly higher up and more orientated to the line of symmetry than the left. This perhaps might not be intentional since it was found to be extremely difficult to maneuver a paper cutout when it is drenched in sticking medium and to paste it onto a surface according to plan from my experience in my study of this piece. The rings behind the mermaids’ heads with stripes across them might be halos, perhaps suggesting that it might be related to themes of religion. I like how Swoon uses negative space in the cut paper to portray the hair of the mermaid, giving a sense that they are strands instead of a solid piece and to do so requires precision and a lot of concentration, which I think links to the idea of perfection during the process of producing this piece. Closer inspection of the piece shows deterioration of the paper cut as shown by the missing fin bone of the mermaid to the left associates to the idea of flaws. This can be reinforced by the state of the doors the paper cuts are stuck to as we can see from the flaking paint and the rusty handle.

Swoon (born Caledonia Dance Curry) is a street artist who specializes in life-size wheatpaste prints and paper cutouts of human figures. She usually pastes her pieces on uninhabited locations such as abandoned buildings, bridges, fire escapes, water towers and street signs. Swoon regularly pastes works depicting people, often her friends and family, on the streets around the world. Her work is inspired by both art historical and folk sources.” (Such can be observed from the paper cutouts that might associate the piece with the Danish fairy tale “The Little Mermaid”: skull crown and skeletal lower body of the mermaid might have established a relationship with death, enforced by the foam bubbles as the Little Mermaid turned into sea foam upon her death.) “Swoon 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.” I think this creates a personal link to her paper cutout portraits – in addition to a physical interaction between her work with viewers (i.e. eye contact), it also includes a mental connection between the piece and Swoon, which can be experienced by the viewer. This essentially shows Swoon’s impression of the person portrayed and is open for interpretation since I believe it is implicitly embedded into the piece. E.g. The way that the “mermaids” stare at me with a grin might imply a sense of mischief, or the fact that half of her body is a skeleton might be reflecting the person who was based on may be in a critical health condition (or even passed away) and this might be a method for Swoon to remember her as she might be someone close to her. 

        By gluing her work onto uninhabited surfaces all over the world where it is prone to weathering, the paper cuts decay along time depending on the weather conditions of the locations. It is observed that copies of the Miss Rockaway were pasted in streets of Brooklyn, Bilbao, London, etc. as well as on surfaces, which are sold to galleries and collectors (those of which are sold are of course only exposed to weathering for a limited period of time or not even exposed at all e.g. Miss Rockaway, 2008). It is interesting how the decaying creates flaws to the paper cuts as holes appear, or the paper rips or even get mouldy and peel off instead of deteriorating the quality of the art piece as it gets all broken up and incomplete, it adds to the piece aesthetically in a way how the remains of the paper cut allow the viewer to work out what it originally looked like when it first got stuck onto the wall and also challenges the idea “if flaws are necessarily bad”. Swoon’s goal of literally being part of the world by sticking her work onto those surfaces is successful, as the deterioration of those paper cuts would result into a mushy pulp of paper that would blend into the surroundings.

I intend to experiment paper cuts in exploring perfection and flaws as I see a potential of understanding perfection by using paper cuts as stencils since they would create a perfect negative image of what I would portray. The piece’s sister counterparts which are at the streets had a sense of layering from the peeled off posters and graffiti behind the piece, I think the involvement of other media should be involved in my study on Swoon to add another dimension in material for a sense of depth – i.e. maybe involving accidental art like paint spills in the background or even over my paper cut study or sticking paper cuts on top of another portrait (and maybe leave the paper to decay to study “flaws”).

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In my version I simplified the amount of detail due to the limited amount of time I was allowed to make this at school. The study is currently stuck onto an exterior wall at my school, exposed to the elements to decay.

Sources: Wikipedia and Swoon ISBN 9780810984851

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