Walk under a bridge in Austin, Texas, past a temple in India, or down a street in Thailand, and you'll find a charming red swing (assuming it hasn't been taken down by city officials). Each is one of more than 200 swings that volunteers have hung around the world as part of the Red Swing Project.
The project started in 2007 when an architecture student in Austin was asked to design an urban intervention for a class. "My idea was just to put out swings—like graffiti, just go out at night and see what would happen," says Andrew Danziger, who now co-owns a furniture studio called Hatch Workshop. He started with five swings in different parts of the city.
Right away, it was clear that each swing would lead a different life. While trying to hang one by the university campus, Danziger was stopped by police, who reluctantly let him continue. The next day, the swing was cut down. But across town, in a vacant lot next to a bus stop in a lower income neighborhood, a swing that he hung the same night stayed up for five years.
Since it turned out that people loved the swings, Danziger decided to keep going beyond the initial experiment. A month later, he headed to New Orleans in response to a call for artists to work on projects after Hurricane Katrina, and started installing swings there.
"We were hanging them up in derelict buildings in these ruinous parts of the city," he says. "Some of them were subversive art actions, but others were more like community service—we went to parks and were hanging up swings. We got great responses, people seeing the swings as symbols of hope among great destruction. This bright red bit of life."
Soon, he was taking them farther afield. The response was different everywhere. "In India, I wasn't considered a criminal, and people were inviting me to hang swings at a temple," Danziger says. "It was a very different response: 'Of course we want a swing, why wouldn’t we want a swing?'" (The challenge, he says, was actually building them there—finding the one person in a village who had a drill, or finding wood the right size without a hardware store in sight).
People started asking how to make the swings themselves, so the Red Swing Project website added DIY instructions, along with a video and a printable guide to knots. Now, Danziger says, it’s more likely that a swing is hung up by an anonymous stranger than by himself. But he still continues to hang swings around the world; last week, he added one in Puerto Rico while traveling there.
"When I go places, my luggage is mostly a couple of swings and a spool of rope," he says.
He's even been invited to hang the swings officially. "It was a funny thing—five years after almost being arrested for hanging a swing, I was being paid by the City of Austin to hang up swings [for] City Hall," he says. But even though the swings went up in interesting places, Danzinger says he doesn't want to repeat the experience—both because of the maze of bureaucratic paperwork and because it didn't match the intentions of the project.
"It was always meant to be this grassroots, anonymous initiative," he explains. "Magically discovering the swing and not knowing who put it there is part of the experience."