INDEX: The Meeting
Think of the last meeting you were in. What did it feel like?
For the Rose Art Museum’s inaugural INDEX project, Caroline Woolard (American, b. 1984) takes the meeting as a site for artistic and social intervention. Combining the formal language of her sculptural practice with tools and techniques used for group facilitation, Woolard’s The Meeting Game (2019–ongoing) rewrites the conventional meeting format to investigate new systems for collaboration and cooperation. Woolard’s INDEX proposition designates the Lee Gallery as a space for generative dialogue and invites participants to explore more open, aware, and intentional exchanges by using and collectively contributing to The Meeting Game’s evolving platform.
Accrued over years, the hours that make up an individual’s work life can amount to a sizable percentage of their life overall. Office workers and members of self-organized groups devote a large portion of this time to meetings: gathered around conference tables, in designated rooms, or through the quick assembly of a circle of chairs. The architectural spaces in which meetings are held have the power to affect their tone and content, and often reflect power dynamics embedded within verbal exchange, where true equity is both rare and difficult to achieve. Ceiling tiles—nearly invisible in their ubiquity—point to the systems of hierarchy that structure these interactions. Uniform in shape and size, the tiles make up what we think of and refer to as a “false” ceiling: an opaque surface that has been dropped below (and conceals) the true upper limit of a room. False ceilings deny access, hide the working mechanisms of the infrastructure installed above them, and, by definition, smack of deception. In metaphorical terms, too, the ceiling is an oppositional force and, as in the case of a glass ceiling, an artificial limit that cannot be trusted.
Aware of and fascinated by these associations, Woolard ruptures the ceiling’s repetitive tiling, breaking its uniformity to draw attention to and access the space denied by this bland barrier. Beyond the Lee Gallery, in the museum’s Lois Foster Wing, a long net drapes from the square of space where a tile has been removed, a sculpted bust cradled in its catch. In her intervention, Woolard participates in a softening and elongation of this framework: an action linked as much to a disruption of regimented institutional order as to a history of art, in which artists (among them Eva Hesse and Jiro Takamatsu) have repeatedly turned to the net as malleable alternative and conceptual counter to the modernist, structuring grid.
The net is present in the gallery, as well, where each round of The Meeting Game is played out across its wavering lines. As with the suspended bust, the game’s pieces are caught within the net’s structure, simultaneously supported with their movement impeded. This contradiction sits at the crux of Woolard’s use of the net as a tool that traps, causing things to get stuck even as it makes and holds new space for contemplation and conversation. Working together can be difficult—as Woolard notes, there are both pleasures and pains to interdependence. The Meeting Game is an evolving experiment that asks the question: How can we bring our curiosity and concerns about collaboration to the table to generate new ways of working together?
Developed through partnerships with practiced facilitators—including Esteban Kelly, Co-Executive Director of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and members of the Brandeis University community—The Meeting Game incorporates elements of Threeing (a collaborative practice developed by artist Paul Ryan) and time-tested teambuilding and roleplaying exercises. Woolard’s sculptural objects are based on models for facilitation tools: balls thrown or passed to pace and reinvigorate conversations, sculptural busts as stand-ins used when acting through different modes of dialogue. The game itself has a short list of ground rules:
- Only one person can speak at a time.
- In order to speak, you must roll a ball to someone else at the table.
- The person receiving a rolling ball does not need to respond.
- You may redistribute balls at any time.
- The game is over when the group says it is.
The nature of each turn, however, is dictated by the type of ball rolled. Different balls correspond to certain modes of engagement—introducing a new topic or big question, responding to or clarifying an existing thread of conversation, or noting connections between comments. Balls can be selected in any number and combination, meaning that certain conversations can be weighted for different types of dialogue: encouraging, for example, an exchange focused on discovering commonalities in ideas and points of view. Woolard has designated these associated actions but expects that they, and even the balls themselves, may change. Over the course of Woolard’s residency at the Rose, The Meeting Game will continue to be refined in workshops, public programs, and the addition of sculptural facilitation tools constructed in collaboration with students, faculty, and staff at Brandeis.
Shown at various stages of development, these tools are made in an area adjacent to the table around which The Meeting Game is played: a work station that allows visitors to engage not only with the means and methods for collaboration, but also the fabrication of objects that structure these engagements. Partnership with the Brandeis MakerLab has enabled Woolard to expand the processes of her studio within the Rose. A 3-D-printed machine knits additional nets and, in a mold rendered from the digital scan of a carved bust on campus, a new sculptural head takes shape. Woolard has recently started to create her busts using mycelium, the vegetative root structure of fungi. Activated and tended over time, this living material will expand into the shape of its divided mold before the two halves are joined to grow intertwined. Woolard’s use of mycelium might be read as a material metaphor for her 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. What potential exists within our own community, and how can we connect through conversations that will allow us to work, in better ways, together?
—Caitlin Julia Rubin, Assistant Curator
INDEX: The Meeting is organized by Caitlin Julia Rubin, Assistant Curator.
The project is made possible and supported by the Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award Fund and contributions from the Brandeis MakerLab Impact Maker Program.
About the Artist
Caroline Woolard employs speculative objects, immersive installation, and online networks to imagine and enact systems of mutual aid and collaboration, exploring what she terms “the pleasures and pains of interdependence.” Her work has been commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, as well as exhibited in solo presentations at Cornell University Gallery, Ithaca; Dekalb Gallery, Pratt Institute, New York; and Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, among others. She is the recipient of awards, fellowships, and residencies from numerous organizations, including the Pilchuck Glass School (2018), the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (2017), the Queens Museum (2014), Eyebeam (2013), the Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Fund (2013 and 2011), The Watermill Center (2011), and the MacDowell Colony (2009). Woolard is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Hartford, Connecticut and a mentor at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Making and Being, her forthcoming book about interdisciplinary collaboration, coauthored with Susan Jahoda, will be released in November 2019.
The Meeting launches the first iteration of INDEX, a new initiative at the museum. INDEX acts as a discursive and evolving inquiry across disciplines, linking the museum’s role as an exhibition space with a diversity of academic, educational, and public programs. Site-responsive, artist-driven projects guide INDEX’s path, acting both as event and exhibition to create a dynamic and constantly changing program. Like a book’s index, the project is composed of individual entries—presentations that rotate on a biannual basis—yet serves also to reorganize, cross-reference, and establish new relationships to content. Bringing together multiple interests and perspectives, INDEX at the Lee Gallery generates new structures to explore working methodologies, collectivity, and community within the museum.
INDEX is an initiative organized by Ruth Estévez, Senior Curator-at-Large, and Caitlin Julia Rubin, Assistant Curator.