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Caroline Bagenal’s Swimming Sculptures Explore the Healing Power of Water

Caroline Bagenal, "Swimming Sculpture: Fell Foot," 2023. Photograph, 7" x 5" of sculpture composed of fabric, paint, bubblewrap, polystyrene, 8′ x 6′ x 4". Photo courtesy of the artist and Scott Geron.

In Boston Sculptors Gallery’s LaunchPad space, Caroline Bagenal brings her captivating Swimming Sculptures onto dry land. The works on view emerged after the artist, who splits her time between Massachusetts and the United Kingdom, suffered injuries from a bike accident in 2021 and took to swimming outdoors as part of her recovery process. Buoyant and untethered from gravity, Bagenal investigates how connecting with a river’s ecosystem can be therapeutic, even transformational. Like some of Bagenal’s previous works, which play with pattern and scale through commonplace materials, the tentacles are made from recycled plastic, bubble wrap, and other floating textiles. But in this incredibly personal series, the artist embraces her physical vulnerability and finds solace and support in water as she explores movement in a different plane.

Installation view of Caroline Bagenal, “Swimming Sculptures,” on view at Boston Sculptors Gallery through December 10, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lining the wall is a series of seven-by-five and fourteen-by-eleven inch photographs of the artist swimming in rivers and lakes, which Bagenal has punctured with colorful thread in geometric patterns. Through this simple gesture, the artist evolves from a swimmer to a creature connected to the water, visualizing her body extending in space, expanding, flowing, engaging with the water. Though these photographs are described as part of her process of creating the tentacle sculptures and enhance the intimacy evoked throughout the series, they dazzle in their own right. Because process is a critical part of this body of work, I found myself wishing for a way to be more immersed in these studies.

Connecting with bodies of water can be such a gentle and profound way to heal that Bagenal’s meditations on being one with the river instantly resonated. On her Instagram, she writes, “Swimming in cold water is exhilarating and is healing mentally and physically for me. As I enter the river, the cold water creates a strong prickling sensation. After swimming for a few minutes I return to land. My skin is bright red and I’m filled with amazement.” I walked away sharing in this amazement, hoping that perhaps in the future we can experience it again on a grander scale, so the profoundness of the practice for the artist can be fully embraced by the viewer.

Caroline Bagenal, Swale, 2023. Photograph, embroidery,  14″ x 11″. Photo courtesy of the artist and Scott Geron.

“Caroline Bagenal: Swimming Sculptures” is on view at Boston Sculptors Gallery through December 10.

Karolina Hać is a writer and creative professional working at the intersection of art, culture, and the built environment. She has been a contributing writer at Boston Art Review since 2018, and her writing has appeared in Landscape Architecture MagazineAmadeus Magazine, and Big Red & Shiny. She currently runs development operations at the Boston Society for Architecture as its advancement manager.