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About LEDAS

LEDAS is a software development company. The company offers CAD, research, development, CAM, PDM, engineering software, digital dentistry, BIM, geometric kernels, geometric solver, 3D web applications, Cloud CAD, services, and outsourcing solutions. It is based in Novosibirsk, Russia.

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Nikolayeva str. 11/5 Second Floor

Novosibirsk, 630 090,

Russian Federation

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‘If I am wounded, I will wound’: Artist reframes an ancient tale of rape

Nov 26, 2021

Very large text size Heather B. Swann’s studio in West Hobart is the kind of space artists dream of, vast enough to accommodate big ideas. A former mechanics institute, built in 1891, its ceilings are 5.5 metres high. Swann bought the place 26 years ago, when properties in Hobart were going for a song. The studio, which links to her house in the renovated supper hall, is one of the reasons she has returned to live on the island where she was born almost 60 years ago. “In Melbourne there’d be 12 artists in a space like this, and they’d be paying $100 a week each,” she says. Heather B Swann inside her studio, with one of her Ledas. “They’re not afraid and they’re not embarrassed,” she says. Credit:Matthew Newton Swann has the studio all to herself and the immense sculptures she is making for her upcoming exhibition at the TarraWarra Museum of Art. The Tasmanian spring has been unrelentingly wet and cold and on the day we meet in late October, the gloom intensifies the force of her mysterious creatures. In one corner, an enormous black swan with a long sinewy neck reaches almost three metres high. The bird sidles menacingly next to a sculpture of a naked girl who stands rod-straight and is nearly as tall. The girl’s arm is studded with eyes, amulets shielding her from the hovering swan. At another end of the room a large swan with a red leather beak and a back of seductively ruffled silk peers at another naked girl who has her back to a rock. This girl is Janus-faced: she has eyes in the back of her head keeping watch against harm. Two years ago, when TarraWarra curator Anthony Fitzpatrick called Swann and asked her whether she would be interested in making an exhibition responding to the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, she instantly said yes. Fitzpatrick wanted to show Swann’s work alongside that of Sidney Nolan, in a major exhibition of Nolan’s works from 1955 to 1966. Swann had been part of a group exhibition at TarraWarra in 2014 called Solitaire, and her sculptures had made an impression, particularly one that evoked Nolan’s haunting 1954 painting Mrs Fraser. Advertisement Nolan was a keen explorer of myths, of both the classical type and the sort that a nation tells about itself. He is best known for his Ned Kelly paintings, but he also made a powerful series about Leda and the Swan. Nolan was hardly alone in his fascination with the myth. Leda and the Swan has been the subject of artists, poets and writers through the ages, famously depicted by Renaissance greats such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Correggio, and Tintoretto. Heather B Swann, The Staggering Girl, 2019. Credit:Courtesy of the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney The myth has various tellings, but in essence it’s the story of the Greek god Zeus who, disguised as a swan, seduces Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta, and impregnates her, resulting in the birth of Helen, who grows up to be the most beautiful woman in Greece and unwittingly sparks the Trojan War. Artists’ depictions of the myth have tended towards the sexually charged; in da Vinci’s portrayal, Leda coyly smiles as she strokes the swan’s neck, the bird pressed against her shapely naked flank. Michelangelo’s rendition is highly eroticised, with a statuesque Leda, naked again, swooning as a swan slides between her legs, a composition that Rubens borrowed for his version of the myth. In these portrayals, Leda is complicit or hesitant, she submits to the swan, overcome by desire rather than aggression. Feminist critics have argued that in beautifying the myth, male artists have excused that at its core the story is about rape. Nolan, for his part, did not beautify the myth. His paintings are ambiguous and disturbing; in some Leda is bloodied, the swan vicious. There’s little erotic about them and in his catalogue essay Fitzpatrick draws a continuum between the series and Nolan’s Gallipoli paintings. Heather B Swann, Nemesis, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney. Credit:Peter Whyte But for a contemporary artist, the challenge remains – what, if anything, does the myth have to say to our times? Swann approached the challenge in her typically meticulous way, drawing, reading and thinking. She returned to her favourite scholars, foremost Robert Calasso and his book The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (1988), which reinterprets Greek myths, retelling the stories over and over, unravelling their many potential meanings. Advertisement Influential too was Mary Beard’s Women & Power: A Manifesto (2017), in which the famed English historian explores how hostility towards women’s voices in the public sphere has its roots in the classical world. Drawing on these and other literary and historical references, Swann formulated her response. “I suddenly realised, it’s just a myth … and I don’t need to change it. I have to deal with the myth as it is, but I can look at it in a different way, so instead of making the sculpture of the supposedly seductive moment or the violent moment, I can make a sculpture of another part of the myth which is intangible, who knows when it is, before or after. I don’t have to focus in on the same thing that all of the mostly men have been concentrating on … and, by doing that, I can honour girls. ” Swann’s three standing Leda figures are poised and guarded. Like animals that freeze to evade predators, their immobile stance is a form of defence. It is also a reference to the art of ancient Greece. A menacing swan sidles up to Leda in Swann’s Hobart studio. Credit:Matthew Newton During a research trip to Athens in October 2019, Swann spent days looking at sculptures at the National Archeological Museum. She was profoundly inspired by Greek sculpture from the Archaic period, which predominantly features “kouroi”, large-scale standing figures of young male nudes, and “korai”, female figures who are less tall than their male counterparts and who are always clothed. Swann has borrowed the pillar-like posture of the korai for her Ledas, but has intentionally presented them naked. “They’re not afraid and they’re not embarrassed,” Swann says. “In the Archaic figures, all the men are naked and all the women are dressed, so I wanted to turn that on its head.” Originally trained as a printmaker, Swann has, during almost 30 years as an artist, worked in a variety of media and delights in experimenting with new material and forms. She sews, sculpts, carves, casts, draws, paints and builds. Live performance is also often part of her work. Swann’s Ledas are made from laminated and shaped plywood. More intricate elements, such as a belly button, or the intimate folds of skin, are created with modelling clay or papier-mache. The sculptures are then coated with layers of binder infused with marble dust, until they take on the sheen of marble. Finally, they are varnished. Advertisement Swann is also a maker of worlds: her drawings and sculptures are placed in such a way as to create an immersive experience. At TarraWarra, she has planned a “nature scene”, with sculptures and drawings suggestive of a threatening landscape, featuring a rock, a waterfall, and an infestation of prickly pear. On a table in her studio, she begins to unfold a huge 12-panel ink drawing, more than four metres wide and almost five metres high, that she has made for one of the gallery walls. It’s a monstrously large image of a prickly pear that has echoes of a prowling man. Heather B. Swann, Nail, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney. Credit:Peter Whyte While Swann was in Athens, an idea for another small sculpture arose by chance. One night, taking the combs from her long silver hair, she put two together and the convex shape they formed reminded her of the mythical vagina dentata. “And I thought, I’m going to make one in glass,” Swann says. In the finished piece, two glass combs tied together hang from a steel hook. A white wooden hand that glitters with a circle of brass beads hangs from the end of another hook. On closer inspection, the beads are the heads of nails that have been hammered into the hand. Titled Tooth and Nail, the sculpture is a reference to the expression “to fight tooth and nail”. Swann holds her small sculpture Tooth and Nail. “Tooth and nail is the thing that has been my guiding principle all the way through,” Swann says. “If am wounded, I will wound, it’s a generational thing, a big picture, a small picture, a relationship thing.” Advertisement Loading The idea has currency in an age where a new generation of women are saying, enough. Enough to being silenced, enough to politicians who blame the silly little girl who got drunk, enough to not being able to walk freely without the fear of being raped or killed. “We need to change the story and not accept this story of rape as being something that’s natural or eroticised,” Swann says. “I can’t change the Leda and the Swan myth, it’s not going to go away. But we can change the way we look at it.” Heather B Swann: Leda and the Swan, and Sidney Nolan: Myth Rider, TarraWarra Museum of Art, December 4 to March 6. Save

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