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Activities for Educators Inspired by Swoon: Seven Contemplations

Caledonia Curry is known to her friends as Callie and to the art world as Swoon. Swoon began her journey as an artist by wheat-pasting portraits to the sides of buildings and walls. She has since created larger works for indoor spaces that explore some tough themes and questions. For Swoon, one way to respond to and heal from tragedies and hardships is by looking at art and meditating on how the art makes you feel and what it makes you think about.

Activity 1: Mythology as Inspiration
Activity 2: Meditative Drawings

Activity 1: Mythology as Inspiration

Artists are often inspired by stories. Swoon is interested in the way that myths can morph into different stories over time. In Greek mythology, Thalassa was a sea goddess who occasionally emerged from the water to talk to humans. This story inspired Swoon to create a large-scale sculpture that comments on her love and respect for water.

Installation view of Thalassa in Swoon: Seven Contemplations at Albright-Knox Northland. Photograph by Brenda Bieger and Amanda Smith.

Objective

Students will find a myth that is interesting to them and create a stop-motion animation with a flipbook. As an option, the animation can be turned into a video with a stop-motion video application.

Fun Fact: Swoon’s friend posed for this work of art

AK Collection Connection: Grace Hartigan’s When the Raven Was White, 1969

Vocabulary

Myths: stories from all around the world that tell why the world was created and why certain things happen; many tell of gods, heroes, and events that some people of ancient times believed to be true

Materials

  • Multiple sheets of paper (or index cards or Post-Its)
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Dark pen or marker
  • Something to bind with (binder clips, stapler, tape, hole punch with string or twist ties)
  • Colored pencils or markers (optional)

Optional (stop-motion video):

  • A computer or tablet that has an application to create a stop-motion video (there are many free ones such as Stop Motion Maker and PicPac Stop Motion & TimeLapse)

Discussion

What stories from mythology are you familiar with? Why do you think you know those stories and not others? Why do you think an artist would use a myth as inspiration?

If you were to create a goddess of the sea, what would she look like? Would she have any distinguishing features? Why do you think the ancient Greeks portrayed her with “crab-claw horns, seaweed for clothes, and a ship's oar in her hand”?

Artmaking Activity

Ask students to research and pick a story from Greek mythology, like Swoon, or one from their own culture. Once they pick a story, ask your students to think of one object or creature from the myth that goes through a transformation (such as water into a sea goddess or a raven turning from white to black). 

1. Practice drawing what your object or creature will look like at the beginning and end of your animation. Select which parts will go through a “transformation.”

2. Gather your paper into a small, thick stack. This works best if each sheet is the same small size, so you may need to cut your paper first.

3. Bind your paper together along one edge.

4. Draw your image on the side of the booklet that has loose edges. (Suggestion: Draw in pencil first before you add pen or marker.)

5. Draw the same image on the next page with one tiny variation. Continue this process by varying the image slightly on each subsequent piece of paper.

6. If you want, add color to your flipbook.

7. To make the animation come alive, hold on to the binding with one hand and flip through the booklet with the opposite hand.

Activity 2: Meditative Drawings

Swoon took an empty wall at Albright-Knox Northland and completely covered it in a bright teal blue with multiple designs, textures, and assemblages that look like wheels and mandalas (geometric representation of the universe found in Hindu and Buddhist traditions). In this work, titled Cosmos, Swoon’s use of imagery recalls notions of divine thought and the contemplative spirit that has characterized humanity since our ancestors first looked in awe at the universe we inhabit.

Installation view of Cosmos in Swoon: Seven Contemplations at Albright-Knox Northland. Photograph by Brenda Bieger and Amanda Smith.

Objective

In this activity, students will think about space and big feelings as inspiration to create meditative cosmos-inspired works.

Fun Fact: Swoon doesn’t do this entire transformation herself; she has a whole team of artists that help her install her works.

AK Collection Connection: Sandra Cinto’s Tempest in Red, 2009

Discussion

Why do you think this work is called Cosmos (which is another word for “universe”)? What does awe feel like in your body? (What is awe? Think of the words “awesome” and “awful,” and how something can inspire awe in positive and negative ways. When something holds you in awe, it can be both scary and wonderful at the same time—like being in space!)

Show the image of Sandra Cinto’s Tempest in Red. Ask your students how the image makes them feel (what emotion correlates). Have them imagine being inside the scene that is depicted in the artwork. Would they want to be there? Why or why not? Next, ask your students:

  • What emotion would you give to a clear, starry sky?
  • What emotion would you give to a full moon?
  • What emotion would you feel if you were up in space in an astronaut suit?

Ask your students to think about how they are currently feeling: calm, excited, sad, angry, frustrated? Then ask them to think about what patterns, shapes, and lines they can use to show this symbolically within their own unique design.

Artmaking Activity

1. Begin by drawing several large shapes throughout your paper.

2. Next, fill in the large shapes with small, intricate patterns in a way similar to Swoon. These could be in the shape of waves, mountains, trees, people, birds, puddles, the sun—anything you’d like.

3. Then, slowly add more patterns around the shapes with focus. For inspiration:

  • What patterns do you see around you?
  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “pattern”?

4. Add details to finish your work. How did drawing mindfully make you feel? Would you want to practice this again in the future?

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