by Caitlin Julia Rubin, Assistant Curator, Rose Art Museum, 2020.
In the Fall of 2019, the Rose Art Museum debuted a new initiative, INDEX at the Lee Gallery. INDEX seeks to experiment with new formats for engagement in the museum’s galleries; within its ongoing program, two artists per year are invited to create site-responsive and participatory projects. Though centered in the museum’s Lee gallery, the influence of these projects radiates across the whole of the Rose Art Museum’s spaces and processes. Each artist engagement is, at its base, an invitation to disrupt and make room to rethink what the museum does, and by what means it might build community and space for collective action. It was very early in our brainstorming about INDEX that I realized I knew the perfect person to lead the charge of its first installment: Caroline Woolard.
As the Rose Art Musuem’s inaugural INDEX artist and the museum’s 2019–20 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence, Woolard chose the meeting as a site for artistic and social intervention. Her INDEX entry, The Meeting, invited participants to explore more open, aware, and intentional exchanges, designating the Lee Gallery as a space for generative dialogue. Combining the formal language of her sculptural practice with tools and techniques used for group facilitation, her central work The Meeting Game (2019–ongoing) built off of the conventional meeting format to open an investigation into different systems for collaboration and cooperation.
Spurred by Woolard’s proposition, museum visitors, organized groups, and university classes collectively contributed to The Meeting Game’s evolving platform, using it to think through ideas and to foster discussion. Members of the Brandeis University community hosted open conversations centered on specific, challenging topics: how to talk about politics at the dinner table, cultures of bullying on campus, and even the occasionally intimidating nature of contemporary art itself. Over the course of Woolard’s residency, The Meeting Game continued to be refined in workshops, public programs, and the addition of sculptural facilitation tools constructed in collaboration with students, faculty, and staff at Brandeis.
These tools—new balls, nets, experimental mats for game organization, and sculptural busts for directed conversation—were shown in various stages of development, displayed on and adjacent to The Meeting Game’s playing surface. Their inclusion allowed visitors to engage not only with the means and methods for collaboration, but also the fabrication of objects that structure these engagements.
Woolard began to create sculptures using mycelium, the vegetative root structure of fungi. Activated and tended over time, this living material can expand into shaped form. At the Rose Art Museum, partnership with the Brandeis MakerLab and the support of their Impact Maker Program enabled Woolard to expand the processes of her studio within the gallery. In a mold rendered from the digital scan of a carved bust of Zeus — an object found by Woolard in the museum’s permanent collection — Brandeis sculpture and biology undergraduates packed and then cultivated a mycelium mixture. In the Rose Art Museum’s Lee Gallery, they grew a sculpture. The use of this mycelium might be read as a material metaphor for Woolard’s approach to a socially engaged artistic practice — a practice in which she seeks, through meaningful collaboration, to activate and ally latent and often disparate energies into generative form. In her work, and through her INDEX project, Woolard asks: what potential exists within our own community, and how can we connect through conversations that will allow us to work, in better ways, together?
fig. 1-1 Research image of ceiling tile taken by Caroline Woolard in 2017.
Caitlin Julia Rubin is a curator at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. Since joining the Rose, she has organized exhibitions and projects by Mark Dion, Rosalyn Drexler, Jennie C. Jones, and Tuesday Smillie, among others, and collaborated with visiting artists to foster new, site-responsive initiatives, including Caroline Woolard’s INDEX: The Meeting (2019—20).