Brooklyn-based mixed-media artist Swoon is presenting “The Light After,” an exploration of the transition between life and death through the anecdotal lenses of the “near-death experience” (NDE) and the “empathetic death experience” (shared death experience) at the Detroit’s Library Street Collective gallery. The immersive site-specific installation is on view until November 26.
The concept came from Swoon’s own experience with what she later identified as and empathetic death experience: “When my mother passed away in 2013, I was asleep at the time. I awoke inside a dream to see falling snow. The snow started to open up into blossoms of light as it passed through my body, and it carried with it my mother’s voice. I woke up knowing that my mother had passed away, but I felt a little crazy for believing such a thing possible. My sister called shortly after to confirm that my mom had indeed passed. In the years following this intensely strange and profound experience, I discovered through research that it was a rare but extant phenomenon called the ‘empathetic death experience.’”
Hundreds of hand cut paper pieces of paper and Mylar elements covering a vast 2,500 square foot of gallery—floors, walls, and ceilings. The intricate and highly immersive “The Light After” explores the sensory aspect of the transition between life and death by site-specifically responding to the duality of the Downtown Detroit gallery’s architecture.
The front space of the gallery, the deep, rectangular ground floor of a former vacuum factory built in 1926, hosts the installation’s “tunnel,” a vortex that precedes the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” This rectangular re feeds into a much narrower hallway, which then emerges into a more open, modern space—a former garage, bright with floor-to-ceiling windows–which Swoon transformed into the installation’s “meadow.”
A limited-edition print, Snow Blossoms, accompanies the exhibit. The artist identified the natural element as the visual manifestation of her empathetic death experience, an aggregate of the installation’s “tunnel” section.
“It’s a big topic, but I think that the people who the concept resonates with will appreciate seeing an artist trying to take it on,” said Swoon. “And the people who don’t know or care to explore these phenomena can hopefully still appreciate the installation’s decorative tranquility,” in a collection setting with its original orientation uncompromised by the need for spatial amenability.
Nearby, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) will exhibit Swoon’s large-scale Thalassa, previously on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Installed site-specifically at DIA to accentuate the native curves, corners, and arches of the Beaux-Arts building’s Woodward Avenue entrance, the massive sculpture hangs from the ceiling featuring a linoleum block print of the sea goddess Thalassa and extensively adorned with paper, fabric, and Mylar cutouts. In addition to the show and in conjunction with the DIA’s exhibition of Thalassa will be a mural in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers district, to be completed by Swoon in collaboration with local artists.