Chapter 4: Exchange Café

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Exchange Café was an immersive installation and social space created in 2013 by Caroline Woolard at MoMA that was dedicated to exchange-based practices. The café encouraged visitors to question notions of reciprocity, value, and property through shared experiences. Tea from the anarchist Feral Trade Network, milk from prison abolitionists at Milk Not Jails, and honey from BeeSpace — products sourced by Woolard that directly engage the solidarity economy — were available by exchange. Instead of paying with legal tender, Exchange Café patrons were invited to use a currency with fill-in-the-blank sections which prompted visitors to write down their demands and desires. Exchange Café also featured an interactive participatory archive, a matrix of exchange projects, and a library of books and ephemera.

At Exchange Café, visitors were greeted by waitstaff with direct experience working in, with, and for solidarity economies. With the Café as a learning format, education happened in relation to lived experience. Waitstaff included Tychist Baker and Lauren Melodia, organizers for Milk Not Jails; Kenneth Edusei, an organizer for participatory budgeting in Brooklyn; and Carla Aspenberg, Forest Purnell, and Amelia Winger-Bearskin, artists engaged in practices of reciprocity.

What if the café products were as radical in practice as the formal ideas in the artworks themselves?

Exchange Café was a social space dedicated to the power of one-to-one agreement. An emergent archive about one-on-one engagement invited contributions on the wall and the website Woolard created with Amelia Winger-Bearskin, TheExchangeArchive.com, demonstrating that artworks emerge in dialogue between people, not in isolation.

Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things—the world upside-down — the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities. He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.

—Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844