Exclusive: Swoon’s Salty Dispatch from the High Seas


According to the description on its website, the Swimming Cities of Serenissima project is “a fleet of three intricately hand crafted vessels that will navigate the Adriatic Sea from the Litoral region of Slovenia to Venice, Italy in May of 2009. Designed by the visual artist Swoon, the floating sculptures are descendants of the Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea (Hudson River, 2008) and the Miss Rockaway Armada (Mississippi River, 2006 and 2007).” For those of you unfamiliar with Swoon’s previous “floating sculptures,” they’re built from salvaged materials, crewed by other artists, and function like dreamy, creative utopias. It’s pretty amazing, really. Below, Flavorpill’s buddy Swoon takes advantage of some brief WiFi access to tell us about life on the high seas.

Flavorpill: What’s the strangest piece of “junk” that’s made it onto one of your boats?

Swoon: This year, we’re making a found-object cabinet of curiosities, in addition to all of the junk we build our boats from, so I would have to say that the vilest and strangest thing to come aboard has been a dog pelt found in Slovenia.

FP: How do you think living on the water changes a person?

S: You go a little feral on the water. Time operates differently. The basics of daily survival become harder, but you’re surrounded by so much beauty that it makes it all worth it. Then there’s how it changes you as an artist. This week, we’ve had kindergartners singing to us, families cooking us dinners that they haul to the docks in ten-gallon buckets, and amazing old ladies bringing lace for our show and fixing our sewing machine. This level of human connection and support has never happened in any of my other artistic projects, and it is so touching.

FP: Why do you think Venice has retained this mythic quality? What’s the connection between that floating city and the ones you’ve created?

S: Venice shouldn’t exist, but it does. There’s a kind of beauty and joy that’s very specific to seeing a seemingly impossible thing survive and flourish. I think that this is our secret too. We shouldn’t exist out here, but we do.

FP: How do you decide who gets to come on board the raft? Do you have a mental list of the kind of skills/talents that you’re looking for?

S: There is a huge community of artists, each working sometimes on their own huge projects, and sometimes on ones instigated by their friends. This is the larger group that makes this sort of thing possible. Then, when project time rolls around, you just make a dream team list of people who can build and engineer and organize things and solve logistical problems and lasso pilings from a moving boat and charm curious onlookers and paste and paint and write a play and speak Italian, and on and on and on. Then you start saying, “Hey, um, what are you doing this June?” I’m still pretty amazed by it all.

FP: Where in the world do you feel the most at home?

S: There are two worlds that I need to occupy, each as much as the other — this transitory floating one, and the quiet, solitary studio where i make drawings and tiny scale models and dream of the next transitory place to make.

Like what Swoon had to say? You can donate to the Swimming Cities project here.