If there is a boulder in the way, we will move around it.
We will soften it, we will shape it.”
- Artist Roger Montoya
As we enter the fifth month of uprisings in the United States, and the seventh month of life in the pandemic, many people are wondering: Where can groups gather to reflect upon their collective work? Where can individuals go to deepen the ongoing work of critical introspection and political education?
In A Stone Holds Water, Miriam Gallery presents new work by Caroline Woolard that offers a practice space for people to engage in collective somatic work, critical introspection, and an investigation of the role of air and water in political organizing now, as our most basic relationships to these elements are threatened by the political and ecological developments of 2020. Woolard has transformed materials long associated with solidity and permanence – brick and stone – into hollow vessels that can hold and release water. These sculptural objects are inspired by a medieval watering can, the chantepleure: an object with a single hole on top that can be submerged in water, capped with a thumb, and then released at will – the literal translation from French is “to sing and to weep.”
The works encourage tactile engagement, and Woolard invites visitors to touch the objects submerged in water within a sculptural table. She asks the viewer to consider what they are holding, and what they can release. To that end, Woolard has collaborated with somatic educator, musician, and political theorist Anita Chari to create a spatial audio soundtrack of “politicized somatic healing.” Chari guides visitors through sound and sensory practices, guided by the question: “How can we create conditions of embodied safety during this time so that we can unfold what is unknown in us, what needs and wants to emerge collectively?” Visitors canlisten while immersing themselves in an installation where bricks have been turned into medieval watering cans, where river stones weep, where pillows are hardened, made of rough rock and concrete. The combination of the affective and the infrastructural within this installation suggests that subtle therapeutic sound and movement practices may engage the fluid systems in the body and offer emotional, relational, and energetic transformation: a vision of group work for which Woolard has long been known.
A Stone Holds Water continues Woolard’s exploration of the meeting itself – the gathering of people for a formal purpose – as a site for artistic and social intervention. Themes of collectivity and political economy recur in Woolard’s work, and after more than a decade of working in arts collectives and creating socially engaged projects, she recognized that she had spent at least half of her artistic life in meetings and began to make objects for groups in gatherings. Objects that Woolard has created are available for purchase at a sliding scale, and each object comes with a commitment to practice as a collective, under the guidance of Anita Chari. Finally, Woolard asks the viewer to consider the English language idiom “to hold water,” which refers to statements that remain true even when examined closely.
This exhibition is made possible with support from Miriam Gallery, as well as Moore College of Art & Design’s inaugural Walentas Endowed Fellowship, a commission from The Free Library of Philadelphia, and Swarthmore College’s Cooper Foundation Promise Award. Audio recording at Studio Unready, Portland, and sound engineering byJoshua Quarles. Fabrication support from artists Penelope Van Grinsven, Noah Loesberg, and Ian McMahon. The water feature was created in consultation with Martin Schapira of Okeanos Aquascaping New York City. The exhibition will be featured in a short documentary by Sean Hanley / Meerkat Media Co-op.