Can simply being present together be a form of learning, a way of transforming one another? There is something dubiously utopic — or perhaps merely banal — about this question. Yet, it has prodded my thinking as a writer and curator for some time now, even making it into a recent exhibition wall text (as one of several questions on forms of learning and unlearning in contemporary feminisms). In a real economy driven by shares, clicks, and likes, movements toward social justice have had their vision all but replaced by the politics of visibility, in which momentary and disembodied acknowledgment can too easily stand in for solidarity. In a time of escalating and far-reaching humanitarian crisis, what might be the potential for a practice in collectivity that is haptic, that we can touch and feel?
Artists have considered some of these questions for years, even decades. Caroline Woolard’s Study Center for Group Work is an online, iterative resource for listening and communication methods and protocols developed by artists and arts collective. When we collaborated on a physical iteration of the Study Center, which opened to the public as an exhibition and meeting space in the fall of 2016, individual persons and groups were able to develop and exercise what Woolard calls a “musculature of attention” through textual directives (printed on handheld panels), sculptures meant to be held and manipulated, and workshops ranging from restructuring group work practices to understanding phenomenologies of pain.
We included no lens-based media among the objects available, to emphasize forms of seeing, hearing, and touching that exceed our relationship to screens. After the 2016 election, the Study Center became a place to collectively process grief, a place to express and imagine past and impending violence through directed physical touch, a place to express and empathize with chronic pain, a place to speak and to learn to listen. Woolard’s vision of artistic practice as something that is continually made and remade through its participants, as an ethical force to penetrate our unconscious ways of being with one another, has since only become more urgent. Four years later, as meetings and gatherings are placed on hold by the COVID- 19 pandemic, our need to negotiate new ways of being together in aural and digital space is more urgent than ever, with our collective agency, creative practices, and activism at stake — along with our lives. Woolard's practice remains an ethical force to shift and redirect our unconscious ways of being.
Stamatina Gregory is the Director of Curatorial Programs at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art. She has organized exhibitions for institutions including The Cooper Union, FLAG Art Foundation, Austrian Cultural Forum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and was the Deputy Curator of the inaugural pavilion of The Bahamas at the 55th Venice Biennale.
These found and made objects were first used to choreograph wordless didactics for Resonating Bodies, an examination of the participatory in large-scale sculpture (curated by Shannon Stratton, Soap Factory, 2013) and have been activated as part of The Study Center since 2015.
IMAGINE A GROUP GATHERING