To celebrate the release of her new book and her project with Urban Art Projects, Swoon will be signing books at Urban Art Projects’ headquarters (136 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn) tomorrow night from 6 to 9 p.m. We caught up with her recently to find out what she's been up to since we last spoke to her in 2008... answer: a lot!

Hello, Swoon! Since the last time we spoke to you, you took your Swimming Cities flotilla to the 2009 Venice Bienniele. How did the mainstream art world react when you and your thirty pirates crashed their art show? Well, when we first arrived the people who were hosting us on Certosa Island said that the police called, claiming to have been alerted by the organization of the Biennale that there were some bad-news-trouble-makers coming to camp on the island, and that they should beware. They laughed. Another time we tied up a little too close to the Biennale and a very angry man cut our ropes. In the end though, while we ducked into the Biennale twice for fun, we were much more interested in Venice itself—the Biennale was just the time that we were able to mobilize help to send us to Venice, that original floating city, and object of obsession.

Last year you did a great piece in Gowanus, on a door you'd hit before. Could you tell us a bit about that piece? Do you have any plans to do more work in New York this year? That piece is created from a time when I lived in Cairo for two months. It’s mainly drawn from pieced together details of Islamic Cairo. I was just really drawn to the penetrating gaze of this young woman, one of those looks that could be interpreted in so many different ways, and the challenge to draw all of those layers of expression all at once (which I usually fail at, and that failure is maybe the thing that makes me always keep going). One small detail that I love about that particular installation is that the tag to the right of it used to be in silver, a few years back when I had pasted a different piece there. Now that I have returned with a new paste up, the tag is back in the same place but in a different color, it’s this tiny quiet dialogue of events that happens outside that I sometimes really nerd out about.

And I definitely plan to do a bit more work in the city soon, it’s the silly thing about traveling too much, other cities always get all my focus, and I leave so little for my home.

Your gallerist, Jeffrey Deitch, has been appointed as new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. What do you think about the choice? Since Jeffrey has been the biggest advocate for streetart in the mainstream art world, what effect do you think that'll have on streetart's presence in museums? Honestly I am just really sad to see Jeffrey leave NY. I am sure this will create good change in other places, and be good for his life, but Jeffrey did a lot for the occurrence of huge unlikely ridiculous things in this city, and I almost can’t imagine what comes next.

For your next project, you plan to take Swimming Cities rivercraft to India, sailing down the Ganges from Haridwar to Varanasi. That sounds like a wild adventure, and actually kind of dangerous! How is this project going to be different from the past ones? Actually the India project is not me - I have passed the torch. It turned out that after a few years of working on the boats, there was an amazing group of people with a very intense body of knowledge about building and navigating crafts in daunting locations. They didn’t see any reason to stop just because I was moving on to other endeavors, and I didn’t see any reason not to give them the name and any other support I could offer.

You've used your success to support many worthy projects in developing countries. For instance, we noticed these pieces you did in Zambia. What brought you down there? What are your top social action priorities right now? Going down to Zambia was amazing, and I hope to continue working there in the not too distant future, and to help support the school that we worked at. What brought me down there was a really great partnership between Michael Rushmore and Black Rat gallery in London. We have all been kicking around the idea of trying to create a gallery, or at least a series of projects that brought together our resources as artists with our values as people in the world. I see this trip to Zambia as a little tiny first step.

My top priorities right now in terms of socially engaged work are a rebuild project in Haiti, which I am organizing with Ben Wolf, and a few collaborators, hoping to go build structures in Haiti in June. And also the arts based community center that I am developing with a group of community minded artists in Braddock Pennsylvania.


You seem to have spent so much of the last five years traveling around the world—do you ever think about settling down somewhere? Maybe back here in NYC where you first put up work? I live in New York now. You wouldn’t know it, but i do. No, if I settle down, it’ll be in a tree house in the woods, or in a cave by the sea, till then I’m a rolling stone.

You have a new book coming out- it's the first monograph devoted to your work. Looking through the pictures, we were struck by how much artistic ground you've covered in just ten or eleven years. What do you see as the essential themes that bring all of your work together? Workaholism. Um, just kidding. Themes? How about the hands on creation of our world—that’s tops. And the creation of moments of pause, human connection, empathy, surprise, wonder and ridiculousness. Bringing what you make to people in places where they are not expecting it. The belief that loving attention can and will be transformative. Democratized public spaces. The tying together of classical mediums and modern contexts. An obsession with looking deeply into the faces of other human beings. Also, never wait, and never let the bastards get you down. Are those themes? They should be.

What's exciting you right now in the art world? Are there any new artists you'd like to introduce to our readers? New Orleans is really exciting to me right now. Especially a really amazing painter in New Orleans named Myrtle Von Damitz III and also some sculptors from the devastated Grand Rue in Haiti who’s work Myrtle just introduced me to.