Competitive Swinging by Paolo Salvagione


photo by Andria Lo

A delicate dance between spectator and athlete, a mediation on the properties of the pendulum, and unabashed grin-making installation art piece, Competitive Swinging by Paolo Salvagione, is now up at the Headlands Center for the Arts Gymnasium in Sausalito, CA.

Paolo Salvagione is the principal clock prototype engineer for The Long Now Foundation‘s Clock Of The Long Now, and was also an artist-in-residence at The Headlands Center last year. This year, when he was asked to create a piece for the old gym, he jumped at the chance:

“I had no idea what I would do, I just knew I loved the space. The piece reveled itself slowly. All the ingredients were there in my mind, dreams, childhood playground memories, pendulums. The challenge of a space that big is how to activate it, it was built in 1907. I spent the evening there with bottle of wine and watched the space as the sun set. I noticed period hardware on the ceiling that once held climbing ropes, a common military exercise. From that observation the piece came together. The old basketball court ask for 5 people a side and the building has 5 window on each side. The nature of athletics asked for competition, my sense of humor loved the idea of competitive swinging.

The next challenge was finding the right swings. In 1992 the rules, concerning playground equipment, were changed. The base of a swing had to be light enough not to break skin if a child was hit in the head with it. Hence the super light plastic swings in contemporary playgrounds. I was determined to reference the swings of my youth and decided to recreate the classic wooden swing with a rope instead of a chain. It was also my intent to make the swings perfectly quiet. I wanted to swing in the space in complete silence. There were a few moments where I thought my efforts to get to this swing-of-the-past seemed absurd but when the installation was complete I knew I had made the right decisions. An installation like this only comes to life when populated, with people, with smiles.”

With his work on the Long Now 10k Clock, and also as a former racing bicycle designer, Paolo rides the line between engineering and art. When asked if he is an artist moonlighting as an engineer, or an engineer in artist clothing, he responds:

“The engineering I do with the Long Now Foundation is monument scale art. My discipline informs my art, my art informs my discipline. The two are so tightly wound in my mind that I have a hard time thinking of one without the other. I feel compelled to show people the dimension that they live in but have forgotten about.”

The closing reception for Competitive Swinging will be at the Headlands Center on May 8th, form 12-5pm.

In the meantime, call ahead to the Headlands Center to see the piece yourself.

Simone Davalos
Simone Davalos