Working With Fire
Not on view
Graphite pencil on paper
Sheet: 23 1/8 × 30in. (58.7 × 76.2 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Drawing Committee
Rights and reproductions
© John Walmsley
Working With Fire depicts young students at the Summerhill School in England, an alternative boarding school founded in 1921 on the premise of children’s individual freedom. The school has been controversial since its beginning, raising questions about whether a school without rules would foster a democratic utopia or unsupervised chaos. Sworn’s drawing is part of a pseudo-archive she created about the school based on real historical documentation. This drawing is a precise hand copy of a black-and-white photograph by the British photojournalist John Walmsley (b. 1947), who in 1968 published a book of photographs of the Summerhill School. The work’s title riffs on the expression "playing with fire," prompting viewers to question their own perspectives on the actions of the unattended children pictured in the image. By translating the mechanically reproduced photograph into a hand-drawn image, Sworn calls attention to the distance between the official record and personal memory.