Meet Our Studio Artist: Caroline Woolard
Jul 24 2013
Get to know our first round of artists for the new Queens Museum Studio Program. We asked each artist or duo sharing a studio to answer the following three questions. Learn more about Caroline Woolard below.
1. Who is the artist that made you want to become an artist?
2. What do you listen to while you work?
3. Where are you from and how did you get here?
Caroline Woolard is an artist and organizer based in Brooklyn, New York. Making sculptures, furniture, events, and workshops, Woolard co-creates spaces for critical exchange, forgotten histories, and plausible futures. Her practice is research-based and collaborative. In 2009, Woolard cofounded three organizations to support collaborative cultural production: a studio space, a barter network, and Trade School. Woolard teaches at The New School, is a Fellow at Eyebeam, and spends time organizing candid lectures on failure and incommensurability. She is currently working on a project in the archives at the Museum of Modern Art.
I grew up in Rhode Island, but my Dad says all Woolards are from North Carolina. According to family lore, Woolard is a made-up last name. Woolard is Willard misspelled and mispronounced by settlers centuries ago, hoping for a new name and a new life as tobacco farmers on stolen land. My Dad, who claims to be the first Woolard to go to college, hid his tobacco-picking hands in books. Scholarships moved my Dad off the farm.
My Dad’s high school dress code wasn’t slack: “If the Principal can’t drop a golf ball down your pants, they’re too tight.” I loved that story growing up. By the time I was born–this was the 80s, and Dad was making money–it seemed to caption a thousand photographs. Here was Dad in skin-tight bell bottoms, rocking his big "€˜fro before he got drafted and left Philosophy class forever. A pacifist and objector to Vietnam, he agreed to be a medic and rode the GI Bill away from philosophy and into his MD status. It took the full force of myth to explain how he got here from there.
The Dad I knew was Dr. Woolard, with a mustache, chic glasses, and a collared shirt. Still, I think he was more comfortable with the primitive utilitarianism of the Emergency Room than the rules of what he called “middle class” adulthood; he balked at wearing deodorant, for instance, and washed his hair in the kitchen sink with hand soap.
This is all to say: I’m second generation weird. Yes, I always liked to draw and work with my hands, but mostly I wanted to be an artist because, as a kid, I saw Artists respected while rejecting norms. I needed that because I didn’t fit in.
Dad and Mom decided to put my brother and me in private school, a place to learn about upper class etiquette and get the education they struggled to create for themselves as autodidacts. The Wheeler School. A place where a test on Hammurabi’s Code read: “Ask yourself a hard question about the reading, and answer it.” Wheeler was also a place where kids got cars for presents. This mixture of critical thinking and class mobility continues to haunt me. I could’ve been a tobacco farmer.
If you want to know more, here’s a quick history from that point on:
My high school art teacher, Sue Carroll, told me about Oxbow, an art school for high school students. I decided to convince my parents that I would go to college for art. They said, “only if it’s free.” I got in to Cooper Union, a college that’s been tuition-free for 154 years. I learned about public and conceptual art from Doug Ashford, Jill Magid, Dennis Adams, Hans Haacke, Betsy Alwin, Richard Knox, Pam Lins, and Liselot Van Der Heiden. We had no assignments. I learned about self-discipline.
I graduated in 2007. I hated my job. I wanted more time for art. I tried to live rent-free so I wouldn’t have to work so much. I lived in a shed. I lived in a car. It wasn’t working. My friend Ivy Haldeman let me sleep in her bed. Her friend Christine Wang went to Skowhegan and came back and asked if I wanted to build out a studio space with her. Without enough thought, we started a 40-person, 8,000 square foot project that is just over 5 years old. During this time, I found an urban family. I learned to belong.
I wanted more ways to pool resources and work cooperatively. I read about Shakers and made projects about communitarianism. I cofounded a barter network with Louise Ma, Jen Abrams, Rich Watts, and Carl Tashian. Jennifer Wright Cook mentored me. I learned about Starhawk and group work from Jen Abrams. A year later, Louise and Rich and I started Trade School. It grew. We became a collective. It moved from NY to 50 chapters internationally. Christhian Diaz and Rachel Steinberg and Aimee Lutkin and Or Zubalsky and I meet every week. I love them.