"Thalassa": Goddess of the Sea

"Thalassa" on the ceiling of the DIA | Photo by Katelyn Crumb

Thalassa swings high in the ceiling of the second level in the Detroit Institute of Arts. There she emerges from the sea where she lives. Her paper waters and plywood body were created by New York based artist Caledonia Dance Curry, or “Swoon” as she goes by. Her massive Greek goddess inspired sculpture is being shown in the DIA’s Great Hall until March.

Swoon (American b. 1977) is a “Street Art” artist. According to Artnet, “When Swoon first began creating Street Art, she focused her energy on things that were meant to disappear and her ability to let them go. The creations are not as permanent as spray paint, but they stay around for a long time. The artworks eventually either flake or rot away.” Swoon’s signature art are life-size human forms made from recycled paper and wheat paste.

Swoon originally created the “Thalassa” exhibit for a museum in New Orleans and spent several weeks adapting and creating it to be accustomed to Detroit’s own museum. First created after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the sculpture was inspired by concerns about pollution in the oceans. Thalassa is adorned with sea creatures, and the brightly colored papers and prints that she sprouts from represent litter and pollution found in the world’s oceans. The exhibit is vastly different from Swoon’s other creations, which are close to the ground to allow her audience to enjoy them on a personal level. Like most of her well-known works, “Thalassa” is made from recycled paper and print cutouts.

According to Brooklynstreetart.com, Swoon’s exhibit at the DIA relates to Detroit’s “art recovery.” Thalassa rises from the littered seas, much like Detroit is recovering from “economic devastation.” Swoon gained notoriety for her New York Street Art, where she has glued her recycled art to abandoned buildings and industrial sites. However, unlike some street artists who may have gotten in trouble for use of street spaces, Swoon’s art benefits from its temporary nature. Swoon explained to the Detroit News that “wheat paste comes off really easy if anyone objects.” The process that Swoon uses to create her exhibits is as interesting as the final product. Videos of her putting together her exhibits can be seen on YouTube.

In addition to the exhibit at the DIA, Swoon has a solo exhibition, titled “Swoon: The Light After,” at the Detroit Library Collective, which will be open to the public through Nov. 26. DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons explains how Swoon’s art also provided an opportunity to work closer with the community. Salort-Pons told Michael H. Hodges of the Detroit News, “It’s a way for us to reach out to the Jefferson-Chalmers community and bring new audiences to the DIA.” As Hodges reports, “The Light After” will feature “paper portraits, including a particularly affecting one starring [Swoon’s] mother, who died of lung cancer, represented as both skeleton and happy young woman holding a toddler.”

Representing happiness out of grief, hope out of ruin is the common theme of Swoon’s work. Whether viewing the paper cut-out portraits at the Detroit Library Collective, or seeing Thalassa, the Goddess of the Sea, hanging from the ceiling of the DIA, Swoon’s art is truly an uplifting experience.