Last December, a plastic covered and patriotic "Diane The American Swimmer" portrayed by NYC based performance artist, Diane Dwyer, set the out to Miami Beach with a very specific message about climate change. Learn more about this great "American Swimmer" in our latest artist feature! - Quinn Dukes
Quinn Dukes: Who is Diane the American Swimmer?
Diane Dwyer: Diane The American Swimmer is an American Hero. SHE SWIMS FOR YOU. She can do anything, cause she is American… She has been described as stupid, ridiculous, ignorant, or single-minded.
QD: Why did you feel this project was essential for the location and time frame?
DD: Of course, the people of Miami, like all vulnerable waterfront communities, have experienced firsthand the growing environmental crisis resulting from Climate Change. The threats of storms and rising sea levels are hard to ignore... Maybe I think the effects of Climate Change are most obvious by the water, but really, maybe that is just what I know. I am not from Miami. However, I live on an island...I was born on an island… and most members of my family, like me, live near water. (High tide on the beach in Maine I have gone to my whole life, now regularly reaches the road that runs alongside it.) So many of us want to disregard the imminent threat of Climate Change, but the longer we wait, the harder it is to find solutions... I always hope that my work, however foolish the content may seem, makes a space for conversations about the subject matter I am exploring.
QD: Does the phrase that you repeated throughout your piece, “Don’t Worry” refer to anything specific?
DD: I often use the phrase ‘DON’T WORRY’ in my work. Any time I say ‘DON’T WORRY’, I hope it presupposes a concerning issue or topic… even when, in some cases, the concern is not articulated. I am interested in the phrases powerful connection to WORRY, to anxiety, to destabilization. Whether I hand it out on a bandage, or whisper it to everyone in a room, I hope it is at once comforting and disconcerting.
QD: What was your journey across the beach and streets of North Miami Beach like as Diane the American Swimmer?
DD: There is something about being in a costume that is very liberating and empowering for me. I forget myself, and really become Diane The American Swimmer. She exists. SHE SWIMS FOR YOU. I prefer works that engage an unexpecting public. Without the frame of an art event, I become more ridiculous, and I hope, less of an art piece. It was very satisfying to have something to give people; made the encounter seem like it had a purpose, even though I could not say anything that was understandable.
QD: Did you have any surprising moments?
DD: I am open to all possibilities when interacting with people. I did have one hostile verbal response from a man on the street, which was unnerving, yet not necessarily surprising.
QD: What were some preliminary goals for this performance?
DD: I handed out our Administration’s answer to Climate Change… a bandage that said, ‘DON’T WORRY’... I had a snorkel in my mouth so that it was almost impossible to understand what I was adamantly saying to people.
My primary goal was to use humor to open up a space for contemplation about the crisis we face due to Climate Change. I tried to make people laugh, but that was not my main goal. It was important to me to give people an artifact (the bandage that said ‘DON’T WORRY’ / ‘NO SE PREOCUPE’) of our encounter so that they might reflect on our exchange at a later time with more serious consideration.
QD: Your costume details seemed very specific. Can you discuss your decision making process for your ensemble?
DD: I’ve been embodying this persona, Diane The American Swimmer, for many years. Uniform decisions are based on some kind of ridiculous logic framed as much by her ignorance and inefficiency as it is by her nationalism… It was important that the costume have both a reference to official government imagery, as well as an ill-conceived notion of ‘protection’. I was thinking alot about the lack of federal support for Puerto Rico following the hurricane when I was making the uniform. And also, I love mission patches, and really wanted to make one for this performance.
QD: What were some of your most memorable experiences during the performance?
DD: While I envisioned this performance as an intervention on the streets and beaches, I must say that it was quite fun to engage with the participants and visitors at Satellite Art Show. I really appreciated the atmosphere of the fair. Starting in the fair also gave me a lot of energy before moving out into the community of North Beach.
QD: What comes next for you, Diane Dwyer or Diane the American Swimmer?
DD: I have a sabbatical this semester, and am focusing on research about the neighborhood Love Canal in Niagara, NY. I will develop a project about the historic environmental disaster that happened 40 years ago there; it is the first SuperFund site in the country. I will also think a lot about going over the falls in a barrel.
Diane Dwyer was born in Japan, and grew up in New England. She is an interdisciplinary artist focused on investigations of performance through public interventions and private actions. She lives in Brooklyn, where she hosts Diane’s Circus and cloyingPARLOR, two projects in her home addressing the negotiation of public and private space, as well as the labels ‘amateur’ and ‘professional.’
She received her BFA from The Museum School/Tufts University, and her MFA through a teaching fellowship at the University of Connecticut. She is currently a part-time Assistant Professor at Parsons School of Design.