Described by the Cult MTL magazine as a “socially conscious street artist“(see Note 1), the work of this Montreal based female street artist can be seen everywhere in our streets and alleys: St-Denis, Ste-Laurent, Mile-End, Petite-Italie, Rosemont and Homa. You just have to open your eyes to recognize her very special pieces inspired by the beauty of nature and the universe.
Interview with the artist – Feb-April 2015.
1.a Who are you (Tell us a little bit about you) ?
Swarm: « Swarm is a street artist and also a multidisciplinary artist. »
1.b What is your artist’s name or alias (aka) and how did you get it? / Are you using a single name or do you have multiple names, tags?
Swarm: « I came up with the name Swarm in my earliest stages of doing street art. It was the result of misspeaking while intoxicated. It’s taken on much deeper meanings since then. I’ve had a lot of time to think.
The name Swarm means so many things to me. It’s the “Swarm” of people at rush hour going home from work. It’s the “Swarm” of people in the streets. It’s the “Swarm” of bees and other insects on Earth. It’s the “Swarm” of galaxies in space. It’s the “Swarm” of asteroids in an asteroid belt. It’s so many things. You could apply it to so many levels of the universe… so many levels of existence… the “SWARM” is a naturally occurring pattern in itself! One could even apply the term to a mass rally of protestors fighting against the state. The name “SWARM” will always be something that I strongly identify with. »
1.c Where are you from? If you’re not from Montreal, what brought you to Montreal?
Swarm: « I’m from Ontario. I moved to Montreal from Toronto in June 2014. You know, life… »
2. The beginning.
When did you start painting/working on walls? (What year did you start working on walls ?) / In which neighborhood did you start in?
Swarm: « I started in 2012. I was in my first year at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), and it just kind of happened. I started in the west end of Toronto, in the abandoned linseed oil factory in Sorauren park, alleyways in kensington market and also some queen west alleys occasionally… there’s also the alleyway parallel to bathurst at dundas that i frequent still. I had fun with it, nothing I did was very good or notable, but it was the start of things. »
Ο Wheatpaste Ο – Toronto 2013 (Photos ©Copyright Swarm)
« I also found a blue post-it note pad on the ground and started drawing on them. These were some of my first pastes – tiny hand-drawn things with micron pens and gel pens. Later I made a couple of linoleum prints and an illustration of my first-ever pasted alien. Then I moved on to other illustrations… I normally just printed my stuff in black and white but then I started doing printmaking a lot more and made over 700 pastes in 2 days. That intense printing time was 2 years ago this june 2015. i’m still putting them up… I also occasionally made larger hand-painted wheatpastes in my early stages as well. »
How did you start doing graffiti?
Swarm: « I started hanging out with this girl at school and she introduced me to street art randomly. we went wheatpasting together a couple of times. She also introduced me to a friend of mine whom I still go on art adventures with… we aren’t friends anymore, that’s history, but I continued to do street art because I became obsessed. »
Who or what inspired you to started writing for the first time? / Now what artist or movement influenced you the most?
Swarm: « I can’t really credit anyone or anything specific. If I didn’t want to do it in the first place, it wouldn’t matter if I was hanging out with people who wanted me to do it or not. The thing that influences me to do it is my desire to do it. I can’t really explain my desires all the time… sometimes the only way to explain them is to fulfill them. »
How do you describe your work (personal style and how it has progressed)?
Swarm: « My work is influenced by naturally-occuring patterns throughout all levels of the universe. I use naturally occurring patterns in my work and I’m always finding new ways to tell the same stories. This is related to my other more politically charged pieces (which are specifically about colonial capitalism) in the sense that I believe it’s important to protect our place in the universe, the only place that supports our kind of life.
For example: Naturally occurring patterns occur in plant life, which also happens to be the creator of the Earth’s atmosphere as we know it today. When we cut down trees and destroy ecosystems we are literally digging holes in the atmosphere. What is happening down here affects what happens above us… without our planets unique atmosphere and electromagnetic field we would not even exist. ! could go on and on about this. »
Which tools, kind of paint, colors and supplies are you using? / What are your favorite’s supports or media?
Swarm: « I do a lot of drawings and paintings and papercut designs in my pastes. I also do printmaking to make pastes, like relief printing or screenprinting. For my paintings I just use any paint that I can get my hands on. I really love doing mixed media work and I plan on doing large elaborate gallery installations in the future. For my stickers I print them out on cartridge paper and get 2 inch rolls of double sided carpet tape and cut them all out by hand. It’s a lot of work and after a couple of years I’m finally ready to step up to just using normal sticker paper even though it’s more expensive. But I always have to have it close by for those moments when I am poor and need to sticker. »
Média: Stickers and wheatpastes.
Ο Stickers Ο
Swarm: « Street art is kind of like flowers. if you like them or admire them, let them live. you are only going to kill the flower by picking it and you are only going to rip the art apart by trying to take it down for yourself. i’ve had people take pieces that had already fallen down, that’s very different. »
*1 –Photos ©Copyright Swarm
Ο Wheatpaste Ο
Swarm: « When finding a spot there is nothing logical. I don’t find the spots. The spots find me. I have my own intuitive way of interacting with the streets just like every body else. »
Is your art should express a message or are you driven by artistic intent?
Swarm: « I try to spread the message of the beauty that our universe creates and also try to convey through my work that it’s important to defend that beauty and protect it. Colonial capitalism is a threat to our planet, which is our only place in the universe. A lot of the naturally occurring patterns I use occur on Earth as well as throughout other places in space. All of my pieces relate to each other in some way or another. I guess you could say I am driven by both the desire to express a message and artistic intent.»
What is your favorite own piece?
Swarm: « I don’t really pick favourites with my pieces, they are all individual and have their own qualities about them that I like. If for some reason I decide I don’t identify with a certain piece anymore (or even just have a good reason to stop putting it up, political reasons, personal reasons etc), I just stop putting it up and throw the rest in the recycling bin and let the ones up in the street just slowly disappear with time. »
What make you different from other street artists that you see around in town and how important is style and originality in your art & graffiti?
Swarm: «I don’t know if there is anything that makes me different from other street artists that I see around town. I’m definitely not the only artist who doesn’t always sign their work or stick to one character. I wouldn’t say style and originality are my first priority when creating my pieces because those are things that come naturally. I draw from my soul and experiences in my artI draw from where I’m standing. »
What do you prefer – painting alone or with other writers (in collaboration or just friends)? Could you explain your choice? / Who are your main partners?
Swarm: «« If I’m with people, I’m with people. If I’m not, I’m not. I prefer to go out with other people and dedicate my entire night to art adventures but I also catch myself alone sticker-ing or marking things when I am on my way somewhere and there aren’t many people around. I let things happen more naturally than I used to in the past. Everyone settles into their own rhythms. However I do prefer to go out with other artists for safety reasons and because it’s more fun this way. It’s an experience I like to share with others. »»
Swarm: « Red Bandit is my partner in crime and best friend. <3 »
*See also « Nuit Tribe » below.
« I have worked with Futur Lasor Now aka FLN (interview coming soon) on a number of occasions. We did our murals for the DSA together, we’ve pasted together a lot too. » – see “Decolonizing street art movement” below.
Swarm: « I do hit the streets with Stela aka “Starchild Stela” (interview coming soon) quite a bit! We also have a collaboration piece coming out soon, and we’re really excited about it! »
« Of course I work frequently with Zola and Cam also! Zola was my first contact with the MTL street art scene. I was always an admirer of her work and then she came to a zine fair in Toronto and found me! It was a lovely surprise. After that we exchanged pastes in the mail – onward from there you can probably gather that we worked together for the DSA, all of us (Cam, Zola, red bandit and myself) along with all the other artists that participated. We also did “Off-murales“ stuff together in june 2014. »
Collaboration with Decolonizing street art movement (DSA).
In August 2014, Swarm participated in the “Decolonizing Street Art project“. Organised by a group of Montreal based Anticolonial Street Artists, this convergence project is an artistic community that shares anticolonial values and offers a different type of street art in order to educate the montrealers of the city’s colonial history. The event bring together Cam and Zola (Montreal), the organizers and (in alpha order) Bandit (L.A.), Chris Bose (Kamloops), Futur Lasor Now (Montreal), Jessica Sabogal (San Francisco), lmnopi (Brooklyn), , Red bandit (Toronto) and others.
Swarm illustrated the cover of the zine for the first DSA – “Anticolonial Street Artists Convergence”.
Swarm: « My involvement with DSA was extreme! I did a wheatpaste project that in the end turned out to be problematic. I did 3 pastes of 3 Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women with the intent of raising awareness about the issue and how it is connected to colonial capitalism. However I did not ask the families of these women for permission to use these images, and it’s problematic to do art about Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women if you are not directly working on the ground on the issue and if you are not in contact with the families of those
women. I also did not put them up very high and they were disrespected by a few of the viewers. I’m not super proud of myself with that part of my project for DSA and I learned a very valuable lesson through this part of my project. I still think about it almost every day and I learn more and more about how problematic it was the more I think about it. »
Swarm‘s wheatpaste for DSA:
« My second part of the project was the “NO PIPELINES“ mural, something I will always hold dear to my heart as it took me a long time to do it (2 months) with no real resources. That piece is one of my highest accomplishments and I’m so happy that I was able to do it.»
« Something I should mention is that I was not originally supposed to do a mural. DSA ended up having more wall space than originally anticipated and I was supposed to collaborate with Bandit (LA) and Chris Bose (Kamloops, BC) on the wall. But they were tired from doing other works all week, so it fell through and I ended up having more space than I thought I would. So I was determined to cover the whole wall with something awesome and this is how the piece came to be. It was not planned at all, it was all improvised. »
« People constantly misunderstand my involvement with DSA and directly identify me as an artist with it as if DSA is some kind of group. DSA is not a group. Just the same as all the other artists who participated in DSA, I am an autonomous artist who has her own entity and that does need to be respected. As a mixed race person of colour who is confused about her identity, DSA taught me that it can be harmful and problematic to do art about certain political issues when I am not sure of my identity. Not just harmful to the cause, but harmful to myself. »
« This past year has taught me so much and without DSA I might never have learned these valuable lessons. It’s for reasons like this that DSA is so important. I recently came to the realization that as a mixed race person, the most anti-colonial art I could do is art about being just that – mixed. I am literally the physical result of colonization, not just of this land, but of other lands too. So in realizing that I have come to realize that the most anti-colonial art that I could do, personally, is art about mixed identity. In a sense this is the true decolonization of myself. So I look forward to exploring this type of anti-colonial art in the future. Without the DSA and a couple of important people in my life, I never would have come to this realization. It’s been a very meaningful and painful journey and it’s definitely not over. »
« Art, especially political art, should never be taken lightly. Art is not exempt from being criticized through a political lens “just because it is art”. »
Are you member of a crew? If yes, please specify the name(s) of the crews you are writing with and why are you choice it/them?
Swarm: «- »
6. Good/bad story
Have you ever been fined or have you ever been arrested for your graffiti?
Swarm: « – »
Any good/bad stories you would like to share with us?
Swarm: « – »
EXPO & LIVE PAINTING show
∗ Boundless ∗
Solo expo – Paintings by SWARM – Le Depanneur café, MTL, January 2015 .
*All Photos ©Copyright Swarm
Live perfomance with Red Bandit painting – Phi Centre for Nuit Blanche Montréal, February 2015
Swarm: « I was doing a painting to promote the upcoming Toxic Tour being organized by Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines coming up at the end of the summer. Aamjiwnaang is a reservation located outside of Sarnia, Ontario – in the MIDDLE of Chemical Valley – home to 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry – and this is where a large portion of the Tar Sands bitumen is refined. ASAP (Aamjiwnaang & Sarnia Against Pipelines) is a grassroots group dedicated to fighting the petrochemical industry as it has caused serious illnesses and uneven birth ratios in their community – it literally is industrial genocide. It is a prime example of colonial capitalism and the effects it has on Indigenous people’s sovereignty. ASAP organizes Toxic Tours every year to raise awareness and the goal of this piece was to promote the next toxic tour The piece shows the land and way of life before colonization on one side and the land after colonization on the other to emphasize the problem.»
Swarm: « The piece was done in collaboration and consultation with Aamjiwnaang & Sarnia Against Pipelines. For more information on the toxic tour and other related events please visit http://www.aamjiwnaangsolidarity.com and keep checking back for updates.»
- Swarm’s Tumblr page: http://sw-rm.tumblr.com/
- Swarm’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/swarmstreetart
- Instagram: @sw_rm
- Swarm Zine & sticker pack to buy on Etsy.com: https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/211332669/swarm-zine-sticker-pack?ref=shop_home_active_6&show_panel=true
- http://swrm.bigcartel.com/ if you want to buy her stickers.
Note 1: Article from Lisa Sproull in Mtl Cult, Jan. 14, 2015 http://cultmontreal.com/2015/01/art-this-week-16/