A Way of Working

by Gabrielle Lavin Suzenski, Rochelle F. Levy Director of The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design. Title adapted from the exhibition wall text at The Galleries at Moore, September 2019.

This book presents a selection of imagery, critical essays, commentary, and ephemera from socially engaged and collective projects by New York-based artist Caroline Woolard (b. 1984, Rhode Island) produced over the past decade. While Woolard’s multi-year, immersive installations are meant to be experienced in person and in site-sensitive contexts, the artist wanted to share her working process here so readers could get a sense of the skills that are required to make socially engaged projects. The photographs in this book act as visual reference points for an artistic practice that resists a single image or encounter. The documentation, correspondence, technical drawings, budgets, and writing included here reveal the ways in which Woolard balances making, managing, and mediating her projects. For Woolard, the process—a way of working—is as important as the result.

In running the online barter networks OurGoods.org and TradeSchool.coop, see chapter 3, creating a café at MoMA that circulated the desires of visitors as currency, see chapter 4, and studying collective practices in the visual arts in The Study Center for Group Work, see chapter 2, Woolard asks viewers and participants alike to reconsider daily activities of exchange.The Community Economies Collective, which informs Woolard’s practice, writes, “How we imagine, frame and talk about our economy influences how we act. Contemporary economic politics confronts the economy as a bounded object separated from other social processes. In order to remake the economy we need different representations and framings that enable new modes of calculation and materialization.” If the economy is not a “bounded object,” what role do artists play in representing and remaking economies? Woolard’s practice encourages open-ended conversation around that question.

Woolard writes that she “employs sculpture, installation, and online networks to imagine and enact the solidarity economy in the arts.” The term “solidarity economy” emerged in the Global South (as “economia solidária”) in the 1990s and spread globally as an interdependent movement after the first annual World Social Forum in Brazil in 2001, which popularized the slogan “another world is possible.” (see here). The solidarity economy is recognized as a way to value people and the planet over profits and to unite grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, and community land trusts to form a base of political power.

What is unusual about Woolard’s approach to art and design is that she makes objects as well as multi-year, public initiatives using both online networks and sculptural environments. Woolard co-creates open-source Web 2.0 technology while hand-building objects that compose larger, immersive installations. From a real estate investment cooperative to tables shaped like a pack of she-wolves, Woolard offers unconventional spaces for reflection about exchange and collective agency. Woolard’s aesthetic infrastructure—textual, digital, and physical—asks art audiences to consider that “the economy” is not separate from their daily actions.

Woolard’s daily actions are made visible in this book, as heated email negotiations and mundane budgets are presented alongside documentation of finished gallery installations. Readers are invited to follow the behind-the-scenes work that is required to produce interdisciplinary art projects, from a commission at MoMA to a self-organized, international barter network with over 20,000 participants. The book in your hands proposes a politics of transparent production in the arts. It suggests that artists can bring studio-based sculptural techniques to interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue.

The first two chapters of this book present Woolard’s most recent endeavors: a short-term project called The Meeting, see chapter 1, and a multi-year initiative called The Study Center for Group Work, see chapter 2. From there, the chapters are organized chronologically and demonstrate Woolard’s persistence as she develops multi-year, collectively initiated platforms alongside short-term projects produced at the invitation of institutions like Moore College of Art & Design. Readers will notice that Woolard’s research and practice centers upon the following practices within the solidarity economy: barter and mutual aid, see chapter 3, community currencies, see chapter 4, collectives, see chapter 5, worker cooperatives, see chapter 6 and chapter 2, and a deepened emphasis on group communication and collective governance see chapters 1, 2, 7, 8.

The solidarity economy framework is explained at length by Woolard in the next section. On those pages, and the pages that follow, readers will notice words on the edges of each page of the book. This is a navigation system that Woolard has created with designer Angela Lorenzo that aims to take readers through her working process (on the right and left edges of the book’s pages) and to note whether the endeavor is collectively-initiated or is an institutional invitation (on the bottom of the page).

The correspondence, grants, applications, budgets, and ephemera shown in this book have been reproduced with the consent of Woolard’s collaborators and the partner organizations and institutions she has worked with. The photographs in this book have been carefully chosen by Woolard in order to emphasize the sculptures, objects, and installations that she has created that invite collective dialogue. Woolard insisted that the book would not document and circulate images of people that she does not know personally. The pages in each chapter that read simply “imagine a group gathering” were placed there by Woolard to remind readers of the limitations of photographic documentation of socially engaged and collective practices, as these images are often indistinct from gallery openings or images of everyday life. The ephemera presented in this book will continue to be annotated and adapted in future exhibitions, as they were in the exhibition from which this book emerged.

Gabrielle Lavin Suzenski began her career in the Fabric Workshop and Museum's post-college apprenticeship program, which led to a full-time position working with the founder/artistic director in coordinating the museums's relocation in 2006. She has an MBA in Entrepreneur- ship & Innovation and a BFA in Sculpture and Printmaking, both from Penn State University.