Swimming Cities, From Spy’s Perspective,” Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine, December 21, 2009.

“Pankabestia!” is what the Italian villagers called us when we floated into town on our junk rafts. It translates to "punk beasts,” and by all accounts we were -- magical, grubby, unruly creatures carrying out an enchanted mythical scene, looking every bit like disintegrated drifting dreams.

When we floated into the rural canals on the outskirts of Venice the townspeople were apprehensive. They locked their doors and windows when we stopped and they watched. The beauty of the rafts was captivating however -- the poetic pilings and forced perspectives, stairs spiraling upward into the sky, the tiny pagodas with twinkling corrugated reflections. First the brave came to look… then the curious, and before long all the locals were welcoming us with gifts and food. In a remote fishing village a woman told me in broken English that we "kissed a breath of life" into her old home and that we will not soon be forgotten.

The Swimming Cities of Serenissima was Living Art, designed by SWOON, and executed by 30 individual artists known for their abilities to make unreal things happen. Constructed was a reality without right angles, standard rules did not apply there. The rafts --Alice, Maria, and Old Hickory-- were the protagonists of our story, and our traveling homes. Living on the rafts, the crew became a visual part of the large moving sculptures and participants in the mad drama flourishing in turbulence, primal urges, euphoria and fear.

In retrospect, I see that we were punk beasts. We raided dumpsters, slept on the ground, shat in the woods and laughed in the rain. We let loose our social restraints and were free to create and experience something profound, to drag our fingertips along the undersides of bridges and jump the fences of the Venice Biennale.

Spy Emerson

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Photos by JoAnna Black

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Photos by Adam Alexander