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Last Thursday I made my way through dark rain-soaked London to see a most inspiring exhibition: ‘Murmuration’: an installation at the Black Rat Gallery by artist Swoon.

Swoon aims to make art that speaks to people in a direct way, interacting with how we live in the real world. Much of her work involves pasting lovingly-made woodblock prints onto city walls, to enrich the space and offer art to people who are unlikely ever to enter a gallery. Materials are not precious and often recycled: their decay is less a sadness than a source of interest. Explorations of art as performance and a way of life have seen her sail rafts built from recycled material, most famously to the Venice Biennale, and build shelters for Haitian disaster sufferers.

Exhibitions are an opportunity to make work in a space where rain doesn’t fall. Murmuration is her first UK exhibition and a remarkable achievement. The gallery space (a large bare-brick railway arch) is dominated by giant prints pasted onto flats, a combination of stage set, installation and play space. At floor level, structures made from reused doors, architectural elements and plywood are covered in prints and layered patterns and images made from cut paper. Many of the structures have openings through which further narratives can be glimpsed.

Every accessible part of the gallery space has some form of decoration or image, from sea creatures climbing to the top of the arch to paper patterns: demons and fantastical creatures jostle against beautifully-drawn portraits of people she has met and been inspired by. The whole is a huge imaginative endeavour, rich with imagery and nuance, and held together by a powerful sense of design.

The entrance is dominated by a female form evoking the Greek goddess Thalassa. This figure first appeared as a response to the impact of the sea in New Orleans. Further in, a gigantic female figure sits opposite a towering citadel. There are wolves in the city, which sits on earth that stains its base. The earth mother has a mound of earth at her core also, but this gives her a sense of solidity which is in stark contrast to the relative fragility of the citadel. Portraits and symbols from across the globe sit alongside each other, spurring reflection on the human experience, on sustainability and how we live in our planet today.

Swoon hopes to inspire people to try things they think are not possible for them, to see beyond the everyday. Her work combines elements – print, texture, sculpture, drawing and photography (as source material) that are of interest to a range of OCA disciplines. The work is interesting technically as well as imaginatively. However the real success of Murmuration is the breadth of imaginative scope, and Swoon’s ability to bring a sense of wonder and possibility to a jaded London winter. But don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself!

A small selection of key Swoon links (there are many more)
Exhibition information:
This Ted talk gives an overview of her interests and achievements to date:
Videos and stills showing preparatory work for the Black Rat project
Time Out on Swoon and Murmuration:
Eileen Rafferty is a photography student with the OCA

Posted by author: Eileen
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13 thoughts on “Murmuration

  • Thanks very much Gareth – it was a really inpsiring and colourful place. In case anyone is wondering I should add that the gallery and Swoon were very happy for me to take and post pictures of the show.

  • Eileen, these pictures are absolutely wonderful. I like how you seem to have got to the core of the exhibition and understood it so well. I will go to the exhibition after reading this, thank you xx

  • Oh wow, really interesting post, great photos to go with the text as well! So much detail!
    I can only imagine it must have been almost like walking into a beautifully illustrated (children’s) book where imagination is not bound by reality.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • My goodness! This looks so interesting – wish I could get to London to view this exhibition. Great pictures Eileen and a well written text to go with them. Well done.

  • Glad you all enjoyed it – perhaps next time Carol? I think you have hit the nail on the head Dewald – it was like walking into a book – just fascinating.

  • Envy is not a virtue, but oh how envious I am that you saw this exhibition Eileen! And what wonderful photos and generous sharing in this post. Your photos and this work show a sense of the history that Swoon embeds into the art. This seems to come from the worn texture of the paper and the muted colours, but also the images themselves with references to the classics. This was an aspect f New York what surprised me when I went there. I expected everything to look brand spanking new. But in fact the streets seem more layered with history than paved with gold. But the lighting in this exhibition makes it all look fresh and ready for re-growth as opposed to sitting back in time.
    Love this post, thanks Eileen!

  • Julia, brilliant video link- I’ve seen starlings do this on the somerset levels and off the west pier at Brighton- it is amazing!!
    And the exhibition looks great,really interesting. As a student currently doing the mixed media course its great to see work, as Eileen points out, that embraces lots of different mediums. thanks for including various links, I shall definately be following these up, perhaps I’ll even go and have a look for myself.

  • Wonderful photographs Eileen which really convey a sense of what the exhibition must be like. Dewald talked about walking into a children’s book and my mind immediately leapt to those cut-out pop-up books. They spring up and surprise you with another aspect of the story.

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