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WYSO's Studio Visit is about Miami Valley contemporary artists and the ideas that inspire their work. The series is produced by Susan Byrnes from the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices

Studio Visit: Mark de Jong’s Swing House

Mark de Jong standing in Swing House interior.
Susan Byrnes

Swing House is a unique living art installation located in Cincinnati that was created by artist Mark de Jong. The 1880s brick residence has been transformed into a space that showcases Mark's creative vision.

A lot of people have art in their homes — they might hang a painting on the wall or place a sculpture in their garden. But what is it like when the house itself IS the art? Producer Susan Byrnes finds out from Cincinnati artist Mark de Jong, creator of “Swing House”.

The building called Swing House is a narrow, freestanding brick residence built in the 1880’s. From the outside, there’s nothing particularly unusual about it. And that’s exactly how artist Mark de Jong likes it.

“People when they walk in the door, their mind thinks they know what they’re walking into, they think they’re going to walk into the first room, the front room of a house, and essentially they walk into one cavernous space.“

A unique living art installation

The house has been gutted from the first floor to the rafters three stories up. Tall steel I-beams support exposed brick walls. Rectangles of original blue and green plaster cover sections of brick like abstract paintings. In the center of the space is a swing, a wooden plank suspended about a foot off the floor by two thick ropes that attach all the way up to the ceiling.

“Back in art school 35 plus years ago, I had the idea of putting a swing in an emptied-out house, essentially as a vehicle for contemplation, the story, the life of a house, the story, the lives of the tenants.”

Mark de Jong demonstrates the swing accompanied by ambient music that floods the space with sound. The arc of the swing is so long that in theory you could touch the front and back of the house.

“The swing itself is a pendulum. Fun fact, my uncle from the 1600’s invented the pendulum swinging clock, in the Netherlands, so it’s just a fun little connection to my past. But the hourglass shape, the motif that’s painted on the ceiling, that references, or reinforces the idea of the pendulum as a swing and as a timepiece”

The 1880s brick residence has been completely gutted, exposing steel I-beams and original blue and green plaster.
Susan Byrnes
The 1880s brick residence has been completely gutted, exposing steel I-beams and original blue and green plaster.

A creative vision for repurposing materials

It took him 3 years to complete the interior, crafting every detail himself. Down a spiral stairway we see more of the house’s evolution.

“So this basement is a service basement and acts a little bit like a gallery.”

Spotlights illuminate de Jong’s sculptures set against white walls and a polished concrete floor. Among his sculptures I see another hourglass shape made of a reclaimed wood strip.

“My big pride point in making the Swing House was that I pretty much repurposed everything, only had one dumpster leave from the inside, which was pretty much filled with plaster. So with all the materials I sourced, I made a bunch of art or furniture. Or like, with the stairs, which are saved, they’ll ultimately go into the Stair House.”

Looking to the future

The Stair House is Mark de Jong’s current project, just next door, and he has yet another house in the planning stage. After art school, de Jong made a living rehabbing houses and developed considerable skill.

But with Swing House he brings a creative vision that completely redefines what a house means and what a house can be.

“It can really surprise the senses, coming in here, and it working as an Airbnb is kind of the perfect model for how this work is supposed to be experienced, because my audience and I consider my guests my audience, they’re here for just one night and I would say the experience enters their body and they can kind of have the time for the piece to open up, one of the comments I hear very often is how people start seeing all the details and that’s really important for me.”

So often it’s not possible to really take time with art. At Swing House you get to inhabit the art. You can see it and touch it and let it propel your imagination.

Susan works as visual artist, arts writer, teaching artist, and audio producer. She lives in Cincinnati now but loves, misses, and often visits the Miami Valley. You can find her visual and audio works on her website www.susanbstudio.com.