The Hinterlands – Article by James Trainor

By James Trainor


Can artists and dealers change the creative and economic landscape of Upstate New York?

The artist Swoon got something right in capturing a cultural sea change, when she sailed a flotilla down the Hudson River in 2008. Commanding a small fleet of radically aestheticized junkcraft and theatrically unseaworthy flotsam, she embarked on a monthlong voyage from the rusty post-industrial town of Troy to New York City, 150 miles south. The freak flag armada paid calls at numerous rivertowns and sagging mill cities along the way—Hudson, Kingston, Beacon—depressed communities then experiencing one degree or another of cultural and economic revival. Intentionally or not, the Huck Finn-meets-hippie-steampunk art action tapped into (and in some sense symbolically upended) a complex, unequal, and long-standing symbiotic cultural relationship between New York City and its upstate hinterlands, a push-pull codependency that has centered, both geographically and psychologically, on the axial artery of the Hudson River Valley. By delivering art from the boondocks to the metropolis, as it were, Swoon’s Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea, however inadvertently, questioned the abiding model of the cultural dominance of the city center to the periphery, the established powerhouse of the urban art world to the far-flung artistic communities, economies, and creative endeavors existing in its backyard orbit. MORE