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Life in a bathing suit

10 May 2017 Wieke Teselink
Leanne Shapton, Fourteen Odors
Cover Swimming Studies
Leanne Shapton, Size
Leanne Shapton, Size

Swimming Studies is a book that tells the story of a big fascination. The butterfly stroke, waving water, bathing suits and swimming laps: Leanne Shapton can't let go of it. She describes her childhood as an intense period that was all about swimming; sleeping and eating took place in between her swimming sessions. She trained five hours a day, six days a week. ‘I wasn’t the best: I was relatively fast. I trained, ate, travelled and showered with the best in the country, but wasn’t the best; I was pretty good.’ After selections for the Olympics she decides to stop swimming. Her focus moves to art school and playing the piano.

However, the way the water glides off of your body, the trends in swimwear and the mindless laps keep on playing a part in her life, also as an artist. The reason for her retirement remains unclear to her and her coach. In her new life her trainer still seems to yell at her in thoughts. Shapton makes a series of more or less the same images as if she mimics the repetition of swimming fourteen laps. The grey blue aquarelle painting with billowing runs shows Shapton knows what to do with water on paper as well. Her images are very simple, without any intricate details. They all focus on what Shapton has been so involved with: water.  

The images add to the stories in her book Swimming Studies: she describes her experience in the pool water as if they happened only yesterday. She mentions how meditative swimming is. During a training of a hundred laps a lot of different memories float to the surface; an extended trip to Berlin in lap 43, her ideas on sweaters and reality in lap 45. They are illustrative examples of how your mind can easily jump and creates strange connections.

I myself learned the front crawl in a small pool in the mountains of France. Nikki, a holiday friend was a little bit older than me and she could swim like a fish. I kept her picture in my wallet for ages. During the day we spend hours in the pool together. She taught me how to swim under water and the butterfly stroke and also showed me how to breathe. Despite her advice litres of pool water entered via my nose and mouth. Nikki had a real bathing suit, one that immediately turns you into a better swimmer. My little bikini was nothing compared to that. The coming summer I of course wore a bathing suit, even though my talent did not exponentially grow. A bathing suit isn't made for everyone.

Shapton's is not concerned with the abilities of other swimmers. That would maybe be too confronting, those others probably are the bests. Leanne Shapton instead observes an appealing overbite, hands that have been moisturized too often or the smell of a U2 fan T-Shirt. Shapton obviously doesn't love every swimming fanatic: she avoids a skimpy swimmer who thinks Leanne's butt smiles and is annoyed with the way some people shower. She describes moments in the pool and effortlessly translates them to more universal elements in life. This book is not an ode to swimming, but more of a reverie on the everyday.

Leanne Shapton probably is one of those women who look great in a bathing suit. She is very selective when it comes to choosing it. She seems to have an eye for bathing suit trends. She describes where she bought a bathing suit and when she wore it in such a dry and precise way it becomes funny. ‘Worn for lap swimming in the Piscine de Pontoise, where I forget to bring a towel, so après swim, I cycle-dry on my Vélib’ city bike to the hotel.’ We are made out of water and we can't go without it. You could easily drown when there's a lot of water around but that does not seem to happen to Shapton. She manages to always rise just above the surface.