“Lil SWIM” at Luggage Store Gallery

by Rachel Davis on 06/04/2017

On view at Luggage Store Gallery, the group exhibition Lil SWIM continues the legacy of implementing diversity with inclusion, and creating community. The space, which launched the careers of many noteworthy artists such as Barry McGee and Clare Rojas of the Mission School movement, continues to create a strong sense of active creative social engagement. This exhibition, curated by Yarrow Slaps and Auguste Somers, features the collective aesthetic and mission of the local art collective, SWIM. Founded in 2013,the group is dynamic and broad in its mission, featuring individuals who make a diverse range of art, clothing, music etc. Additionally, over the past four years the group has gained curatorial experience as well as releasing limited edition clothing, dropping mixtapes and running a blog. It’s no small feat. And neither is this exhibition, showcasing 68 participating artists, which is the largest show they’ve put on. Although there are a wide variety of mediums in the show, each artist has similar stylistic attributes to the collective’s aesthetic as well as their own social voice.

Slaps and Somers formally began planning the show in January when discussing and planning SWIM’s first publication “SWIM book.” The ideas for the book evolved into the basis for a dynamic group exhibition. Their first book was for sale at the show: a magazine dedicated to the collective’s exciting start and promising future endeavors. “ SWIM will be more than just a clothing brand, it will be an outlet. We will release our seasonal lines with art/music shows, albums, zines, stickers, interviews and music videos. The intention of SWIM is to inspire consumers and its customers to be creative, to be open, and to ask questions. We therefore hope to encourage and motivate people to use their creative potential to its peak. SWIM seeks to reach people of all ages and will have a program for discovering new talent. SWIM isn’t just a brand, it’s a lifestyle.”

The show was split between the two floors and despite that gargantuan amount of participants; the walls were not visually overwhelming. There was a great deal of care paid to the curating and placement of the works, it was cohesive and balanced. It was a melody of varying visuals. Wherein it was an acute look at a particular narrative, a particular time and a particular aesthetic. From pop culture references to the meme asethetic seeping onto the gallery walls to strong empowering social critique, it was an arrangement of un-paralleled dynamism. The show brought together a remarkable group of creative minded people at a time of chaotic reality in our country. It was a moment that felt like reconnecting with what our own individual truths are and how we are communicating and relating that to a greater narrative. This dialogue is integral to survival and growth within our artistic communities here in the Bay Area, nationwide and globally. “Having something to say in your work should be a top priority,” says Yarrow Slaps. “Many people get lost in sauce trying to be cool. I feel Instagram sways artists to be more trendy, thus many loose their voice attempting to keep relevant with others successful grams. I say just do you.”

The exhibition features a diverse range of emerging and established artists of many different ages and races. What do we mean when we talk about diversity: is it about the type of art being shown, whose work is being shown or the conversations the work creates? Maybe it is all of those things, and Lil SWIM encapsulates all of that. It creates and holds space for a range of perspectives and voices. Muzae Sesay says, “ … The artwork showcased at the Lil SWIM exhibition all have one important thing in common; they celebrate the playfulness of life through creativity. Whether loose or tight, serious or light, these works all demonstrated each artists exploration of creative freedom; an individual exploration into the collective experience of humanity. Art as the infinite ‘new frontier.'” These artists remind us of the power that resides in community, how that functions and allows people to grow from one another. “It is ultimately about facilitating relationships between the works, the artists and creating new connections between emerging and established artists in a legendary artist space in San Francisco,” Marcel Pardo Ariza noted.

In creating community among a wide diversity, these artists are also releasing the notion of exclusivity within the art scene. Bagger says, “Living in S.F. for over 7 years and from my experience visiting shows at The Luggage Store in the past, their shows consistently showcased prominent local artists alongside new, local artists work. I’m honored to have my work showcased in this setting for the first time since I was once a viewer of these shows.” All the artists and works in the show are contributing to a greater dialogue that has many different parts. A general history and lineage each is a part of by being an artist in SF right now, social justice, pure expression, accessibility, diversity. “Youth culture is not typically considered seriously as legitimate subject matter for fine art but at Luggage Store and Lil SWIM the piece fits perfectly. Luggage Store to me is more than a gallery; it has the appearance of a high end venue except without a single hint of elitism..It’s like a family,” said KRPSY.

SWIM, as a collective, is oriented in a direction of being a creative outlet for unity and inspiration. Quality over quantity allows them to fully actualize detailed and successful exhibitions that don’t oversaturate the market. With a goal of 1-3 shows a year, they have the flexibility to be multi-versatile in respect to what directions they take. Because they experiment with several modes of expression, they are continually representing fresh perspectives, ideas and voices: this work is vital. The Luggage Store’s importance in the local history of art, as well as its continued commitment to the local arts community and inclusion of diversity meant the collective’s first show being on view there was important.  “Luggage Store Gallery is a rock in a changing city that provides continuous support for the S.F. Bay Area art community. The Lil SWIM exhibition opening was a testimony to that truth,” says artist Robin Birdd.

Says Yarrow Slaps: “I feel our community exists in our network of like minded people who want to be a part of something real and support one another’s goals.” Upcoming is SWIM mixtape 2, which will be the second musical project curated by Slaps and Somers, which is expected for a late August or early September release. As always, they will continue to plan shows and embolden the trajectory of piecing together meaning within a collective time and space of creating.

Lil SWIM will be on view at Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street San Francisco through June 17th.

images courtesy SWIM collective and Luggage Store Gallery.