Slide courtesy of the artist
Photo: Darlene Hlidek

Swimmin’ the River (1987–1997)

In Swimmin’ the River (1987–1997), Billy X. Curmano swims the length of the Mississippi River as a political gesture to advocate for freedom from toxicity. Spanning from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, Curmano uses the river as an artistic medium and political landscape to discuss environmental issues. He wades in the Mississippi River as the sunlight glistens and the wind shapes the tide. Each stroke that Curmano takes is an attempt to reclaim the river under the banner of art and to work toward a more progressive agenda for climate justice. The ecology of Curmano’s swim becomes an extended metaphor of pollution—one in which the effects of eco-capitalism contaminate our existence.

BILLY X. CURMANO’S art practice examines issues of consequence with absurdist flair. Formally trained as a painter and a sculptor, Curmano fuses the performative with traditional objects. He became the first person to swim the Mississippi River spanning from the source at Lake Itasca, through the continental United States, to the Gulf of Mexico. This performance resulted in the Hampton Award-Winning Documentary Swimming the River (1987–1997), which brought the artist critical acclaim. Curmano extended the swim by performing excerpts of the piece in the traveling exhibition Objects Collected and Created in the Course of a Swim (1995–1997). His artwork has been exhibited and collected extensively from Austria’s III Vienna Graphik Biennale to New York’s Museum of Modern Art Library. Mark Pezinger Verlag published Billy X. Curmano Futurism’s Bastard Son (2012), an artist book that features a compilation of Curmano’s performance artworks. Amused journalists have dubbed Curmano as “The Court Jester of Southeastern Minnesota” with comparisons to P.T. Barnum, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, and even… a happy otter.