Hold Still, WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery


This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with red and then
with orange: the world burns


- Margaret Atwood, You Begin 


“In her latest body of work, Swinney places ecological concerns at the forefront of her focus, bringing the viewer’s awareness to our increasing alienation from natural worlds. Swinney depicts scenes where obscured, maladroit-postured figures occupy ‘protected’ natural environments such as parks and reserves, in an attempt to open a conversation around the consequences of the implied distance between humankind and nature. This insistence on distinction, and the human need to assert control over nature for fear of being subjected to its forces, has led us to our precarious present and predicted future. 

[...] By recreating surreal landscapes, Swinney forces us to truly recognise the strangeness of our geopolitical moment.

[... ]Swinney obliterates the identities of the figures as a way of allowing the audience to mirror themselves in these subjects. This anonymity speaks, simultaneously, to humanity as one homogenous mass of consumption [...] Swinney manifests this moment of attentiveness through the frozen quality of her works, evoking stillness and silence as devices for contemplation. The hazy sfumato technique of her cool blues obscures vision, giving an implied uncertainty or resignation: an aspect of watching and waiting. Conservatory’s monumental classicism slows the viewer down further, with its deliberate presence. This religious symbolism may also be Swinney’s nod to our evolving social order, and to the evolution of power from gods, to humans, to machines.

Swinney’s work responds to the physical, virtual, and spiritual worlds around her. If art is to imitate life, then art, as Swinney’s paintings are, is a copy of a copy — leading us, again, towards illusion, rather than reality. Swinney engages with Plato’s philosophy of art, which describes the physical world as an imperfect and decaying copy of a perfect, eternal changeless original. This reverts back to the tensions made tangible by Swinney between unreal and hyper-real natural environments, such as aquariums, greenhouses, and botanical gardens. She depicts nature through illustrating the hyper-natural in a dream-like fog, defamiliarising it almost in an attempt to familiarise us with it: to make us feel what nature has been or could be [...] ”

Text by Lindsey Raymond 

Read the full text here



Photography: Matthew Bradley
Solo show
11 December 2019 -  01 February 2020 
WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery

Cape Town 


Black Pool, 2019. Oil on silk, 252 x 400 cm








Conservatory, 2019. Oil on silk, 300 x 305 cm











Installation view 



Photography: Hayden Phipps