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Vanessa Daws

Culture Night | Custom House Quay


My art practice explores place through swimming. Swimming as research, process and live event.

I have always swum, not competitively or for particularly long distances; but when passing a body of water, be it pond, fountain, lake, river or sea, it’s hard for me not to resist the urge to take a quick swim. My art practice investigates where this drive to swim, to immerse oneself comes from. Is this urge spiritual, escapism or social? Is it the sheer thrill of the unknown; to feel the water on our skin, the cold on our head, adapt our breathing and to feel we exist?

My work explores how swimming as part of art practice can allow us to develop new insights as to why we swim and questions ways in which we accept as normal our pursuits and chosen rituals and how through acclimatisation and adaption we can surprise ourselves and go beyond our expectations. Swimming is an activity that connects humans directly to water, my art practice investigates being ‘in’ this substance of immense power and unknown from a lived in, embodied experience. Can swimming alter our relationship with the water that surrounds us and allow for a deeper understanding of fluid spaces?

Through the search for swimmers and suitable places to swim, stories appear that lead my art projects; this process I describe as ‘Psychoswimography’. The word ‘swim’ added to Psychogeography shifts the meaning from a terrestrial drifting to a watery drifting and re-imagining of place. ‘Place’ being the watery spaces navigated and swam through, the surrounding littoral space and the social spaces created by this shared activity.

Swimming, journey, encounter, invitation, conversation, post swim shivering and drinking of tea all form part of the methodology I use to gather stories that inform my projects, as well as more conventional art forms such as film, sound recording, drawings, publications, made objects and performance.

In the past few years I have created art projects in watery spaces as diverse as the frozen Pirita River, Estonia; the Rideau Canal, Canada; The President’s Fountain, Bulgaria; the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara; UCD Lake, Dublin; the M50 Aqueduct, Dublin and the bogs of Ballycroy, Co Mayo.

Vanessa Daws Swimming
Vanessa Daws Swimming

port | river | city

Vanessa Daws’ art practice explores place through swimming and for port | river | city, she has created a new multi-screen Liffey-based work which will be back-projected onto the street-level windows of the Dublin Docklands Dublin City Council building on Custom House Quay. Daws’ work captures the experience of being in water, and what this does to our perception of land. From this vantage point, the camera has a tendency to distort – hefty structures and some Dublin monuments sit at implausible angles, precarious and unstable above the blurred water in great motion underneath.