All posts by Pranav Joneja

Miles of Movies: The Edge of Seventeen

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

The Edge of Seventeen is about Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school junior who suffered a huge loss in the family a few years ago. She’s bitter and annoyed at how life has turned out and resents her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) who just seems unfairly perfect. and now feels betrayed by her only friend Krista who seems to be prioritizing other people. Throw in a hilarious teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and some real emotion and you have a stellar coming-of-age story that is pleasantly surprising.

I wouldn’t call this film a comedy, but there is a lot of humor, especially from Woody Harrelson. The situational awkwardness of so many of the scenes is also funny. Nadine is a pretty awkward person, but one of the characters in this film, Erwin, is hundreds of times more awkward. Usually I don’t like awkward humor but it works in this film because Nadine’s self-loathing is driven by her awkwardness.

The performances are really good too. Hailee Steinfeld has only really had smaller roles since her fantastic performance in True Grit, playing smaller characters in often mediocre movies. I’m so glad this film lets her really shine. Blake Jenner is really good as her brother too, giving a layered character some really powerful scenes towards the end. Even Woody Harrelson’s character works on multiple levels.

What I’m really getting at here is that the writing in this film is pretty stellar. Not a single line of dialogue felt like it was fake or written for a movie. All of the characters had depth beyond what you might expect in a comedy or even your standard coming-of-age film.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t without some flaws. Though I love the writing of the dialogue, the story is just a little messy in the middle of the film. There are just a few too many stories and characters set in motion for everybody to get enough time to shine. A lot of time is given to Erwin while less time was given to Krista, who should have been a little more central to the story. Still, it’s impressive enough as it is that all of these characters have real depth.

Overall, The Edge of Seventeen delivers a solid coming-of-age story with layered characters, clever dialogue, and some real emotion towards the end. When characters feel something, you feel it too. Even though Nadine is such a bitter person, you feel for her pain and the seeming hopelessness of her situation and ultimately relate to her. ◊

Grade: A-

Museum Review: The Museum of the American Gangster

by Gabriela Godlewski (CE ’19)

Front entrance of The Museum of the American Gangster, open everyday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. except Saturday. Photo from Manhattan Sideways.

We know the East Village to be a culturally rich area of Manhattan, full of historically significant spots special to New York City. When I reviewed the Merchant House Museum, I spoke of a place that remained unaffected by the changes happening around the building. This museum, The Museum of the American Gangster, has had its interior changed dramatically, but no renovation would change what happened in the house in the 20th century. What makes the museum unique is that the real exhibit is not the objects on display in glass cases, but rather in the stories of the building relayed to us during the tour. Within the walls of 80 St. Mark’s Place are the stories of the most dangerous and infamous gangsters in America along with the memorabilia of the culture they created.

In the early 20th century, the Hoffman Gang
ran the building as a brothel and a speakeasy

The Museum of the American Gangster is easy to miss. Located on St. Mark’s Place between 1st and 2nd Avenues, its only indicator is a street sign pointing to an unusually high set of front stairs to the museum. My student ID again came in handy as I secured a ticket—normally priced $20—for $12. At first, I wasn’t impressed. The walls of the museum were strewn with photos printed from Google Images with their descriptions all organized by time period in gangster history.

It wasn’t until the tour began that I saw what this museum had to offer. The tour guide, an eloquent speaker and animated storyteller, started the tour with stories from the Prohibition Era and how criminalizing alcohol lead to organized crime. Throughout the tour, we were introduced to well-known gangsters that worked in New York. A personal favorite of mine was Meyer Lansky, a Polish-Jewish mob boss who, during World War II, took time out of his busy day of racketeering to successfully chase down several hundred Nazi sympathizers with only a dozen of his men. The museum also featured stories of more well-known gangsters, most notably Henry Hill, Jr., whose own stories lead to the production of Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed crime film Goodfellas.

The best part about the museum was that fact that the building itself was a part of the exhibit. In the early 20th century, the Hoffman Gang ran the building as a brothel and a speakeasy, which explained the high set of stairs in the front. Underneath the building was a booby-trapped basement that once held the entrances to tunnels that lead to different places through New York. When my tour concluded, I left the museum thoroughly impressed by what the museum had to offer, fascinated by the stories I had heard.

Like the Merchant House, the Museum of the American Gangster is yet another museum that is only a short walk from Cooper yet very much unknown to the students. Although it initially did not seem interesting and rather bland, I found myself deeply enthralled by what I learned during my hour-long tour. The museum should especially be fascinating to students new to New York, as it strongly features a very interesting if not grisly side of New York history.

Cooper is a demanding environment, but taking a step back from the work load for at least an hour and exploring East Village is never a bad idea. Who knows—you might even learn something you never thought you’d want to learn. The next chance you get, check out the Museum of the American Gangster. You’ll enjoy it as much as I did. ◊

Miles of Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard with a particular fondness for the magical creatures, some of which he keeps in an enchanted suitcase. Newt arrives in 1926 New York City in the midst of turmoil; strange occurrences are threatening to reveal the wizarding world to the non-magical community as it seems there are dark forces at work. Could the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald be involved? Newt gets his magical case mixed up with a very similar non-magical suitcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), which results in some of the creatures getting loose and the exposure of the wizarding world to Jacob. Tina Goldstein, a former auror (like wizard police), also gets involved through Newt’s unregistered arrival to New York. Meanwhile, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-level auror, is trying to recruit Credence (Ezra Miller) to help him find out what is causing these strange occurrences; Credence thinks it might be an orphan child under the care of Mary Lou, a magic-hater.

There is quite a lot going on in this film and quite a few characters to keep track of. Surprisingly, the film does a good job of balancing everything. I’m not sure if it will be more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books or films, but it was easy to follow most of the time. That doesn’t stop there from being some pacing and tonal issues in the middle of this film. There is a scene in this film involving a floating chair that just seemed out of nowhere and rushed. On top of that, the mixture of the different stories isn’t always that smooth. For example, the main story of Newt and finding all of his magical creatures that were let loose is pretty light and fun in tone. But the “behind-the-scenes” story involving Graves and Credence is very dark and sometimes confusing. It shows the brutality wizards face at the hands of people who want to burn them in creating a “New Salem.” Mary Lou, along with a few other characters in the film, is incredibly cruel to anyone sympathizing with magic. There is some dark content implied in this story that just doesn’t mix very well with the lighthearted fun of Newt searching for his creatures.

Still, there are a lot of great things to talk about. For one, the acting is great in this film. Eddie Redmayne seems perfectly cast in the role of Newt Scamander, an awkward wizard whose eyes light up when he’s interacting with his creatures. The music adds a few layers to this feeling as well. Composer James Newton Howard has always been good at producing scores that feel wondrous. The main theme for this film is no different. The film also does a great job at showing everyone what it’s like to live in this world. There are so many cool things that I wish were real in the wizarding world like clocks that tell you where certain people are and trunks with enough space inside to fit an entire zoo. Jacob Kowalski is like us; he gets exposed to all of this magic and reacts to it with a mixture of fear, bewilderment, and then excitement. This provides quite a lot of situational humor that added some more levity to Newt’s story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It has some great acting, a good score, likable characters, and tells an entertaining story. There are a few tonal and pacing issues in the film, particularly in the middle, and the story may not be easy to follow for someone not familiar with at least the Harry Potter films. But I still had a great time with it and would recommend checking it out. ◊

Grade: B

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Sascha Mombartz: Office for Visual Affairs

by Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

Meet Sascha Mombartz. Photo by Catalina Kulczar.
Meet Sascha Mombartz. Photos by Catalina Kulczar.

How did you find out about Cooper?

Well, I’m originally from Germany, but this story should start when I first moved to America after finishing high school in Egypt. My father was a diplomat for the German government and his job had us moving around a lot. I was born in Malta, I grew up in Ethiopia, Thailand, Germany, and then Egypt. So, it begins when I was around 18 and we were posted to Texas. 

I showed up in Denton, Texas and it was a completely different world—bit of a culture shock you could say. I had started attending the University of North Texas, which was a big college in a pretty small town. The graphic design program I was in had a very commercial focus—lots of advertising and things like that, which is what I thought at the time I wanted to do.

While I was there, I attended a photography show and the curator was from New York. He told me about this school in New York called “Cooper’s Union—or something like that. It’s free!” Of course, I didn’t believe him right away so when I got home, I looked it up and it was a real what-the-fuck moment. It was real! But I had just missed the application deadline!

So, I called the school and through those calls I got all the way to Dean Vidler, the dean of the art school at the time. I don’t even know why they let me talk to him! Anyways, despite all my explaining and pleading, he said that I would have to wait another year to apply.

Six months later, I went to a portfolio review and Day Gleeson (Professor in the School of Art) was there. You know you hear all those stories about people who go to portfolio reviews and are crying, so I was pretty nervous. I was also the only guy wearing a shirt, tie and a jacket—I don’t even know why. But somehow she took a liking to me.

Do you remember what you showed to Day Gleeson at your portfolio review?

That was another sort of weird thing. I had only brought my laptop and was showing her these websites and videos I had made. And I think some logos I had designed, too. This was before it was easy to make websites, so it was kind of weird and sorta new. Everyone else was lugging around these huge portfolios—like physical bags and boxes—while I just had my laptop only.

I was also the only guy wearing a
shirt, tie and a jacket—I don’t even know why.
But somehow she took a liking to me.

"See Something, Say Something." Concept by Sascha Mombartz.
“See Something, Say Something.” Concept by Sascha Mombartz.

What did you feel when you first got to Cooper?

Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It’s difficult to judge from afar all these things without actually being there. I was very… confused? I had come from a place that was very structured, and even though Cooper had classes like Graphic Design, it wasn’t like Graphic Design at UNT. The whole studio idea was very open. You have to almost come up with your own assignments.

I took an advanced drawing class. The guy next to me was doing a sculpture, another person was doing a dance performance and I was sitting there like “I don’t understand, I’m in a drawing class!” It was such a contrast from where I had come from.

Cooper is also very heavily focused on the concept. Yes, there’s a component of technique involved, but I feel at Cooper it’s all about the idea or concept behind your project.

You might say that about any high-brow art school.

Sort of, yeah. But sometimes people value the craft of the work, or they look at the technique. I didn’t go to other schools, but at Cooper, more than anything else, it was about the concept. At least that’s what I think. I feel that your craft was treated like your own business and you got better at it on your own.

Stamp on money concept by Sascha Mombartz.
Fund Trust stamp series by Sascha Mombartz.

I found some work you made while you were at Cooper; you submitted it to The Pioneer. Do you remember this?

"Pull Yourself Together," Illustration by Sascha Mombartz. Originally printed in Volume 86, Issue 5.
“Pull Yourself Together” by Sascha Mombartz. Originally printed in Volume 86, Issue 5.

This one is called “Pull yourself together.”

It was part of a series of little word games I made for a screen printing class with Lorenzo [Clayton]. His big thing is to teach us to iterate. He doesn’t use the word ‘iterate’, but that’s what he teaches. He explains how you come up with an idea and then try it in lots of different ways and keep experimenting until you find a solution.

When you graduated, what was your path out of Cooper?

Well, I graduated in December 2008 because I was a transfer student. My father was very eager to have me supporting myself financially, but he agreed to help me out for one month after graduation. Basically, he would pay for January rent; after that I was on my own.

Now it was early 2009, you know, financial crisis and everything and here I was trying to find a job. My friend Louise—she had graduated just a little before me—was working at The New York Times. She told me they were looking for a graphic designer and she managed to arrange a job interview for me with Khoi Vinh, their design director. The interview went really well and I was looking forward to hearing from them soon.

At the same time, I was also interviewing at Pentagram. I felt really good after that interview and I thought that was going to turn out well for me. They offered me an internship that paid quite well and I was so happy! I mean it’s Pentagram!!

[Editor’s Note: Pentagram is a multidisciplinary design studio. J. Abbot Miller, a partner at Pentagram and also a Cooper alumnus, designed the signage and is behind the decision to use that typeface you see everywhere in the NAB—the one with the chamfered edges. It’s called Foundry Gridnik.]

“It’s all downhill from here.” Williamsburg Bridge, New York, 2012. By Sascha Mombartz.

Then I heard back from The Times—they wanted to do a second interview. I was like, “Holy shit, this is huge!” I was very excited. But then I felt kinda bad because I was supposed to start at Pentagram the next week. I felt like I should let them know that I’m doing other interviews because… well it’s gonna suck for them! So, I called them up—see I thought this was a good idea when I did it—and I said:

“Hey, I’m doing an interview with The New York Times. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I thought you should know.”
And the lady was like: “—Oh cool, thanks. Uhh, I’ll call you back later.” *click*
And I thought to myself, “Oh shit, call me back later? Uhh.” But this was just before my interview at the Times, so I just refocused on that. When I got out of the interview, I had a voicemail. It was from Pentagram:

“Hey Sascha, thanks for letting us know! We found someone else to take your spot. Good luck with The Times. Bye.” *click* And I thought, “Hooooly shit, I went and fucked that up. I just lost that job.”

After that, I started getting anxious. I hadn’t heard from The Times in a while, so I called them. They said, “Hey, thanks for calling, you were second on our list, but we decided to go with someone else. Thanks so much.”

 I should have started at Pentagram, and then if I got the job at The Times, I should quit and go there instead. That’s okay to do. I’m not going to hurt Pentagram by doing that; they’re too big.

And then I just crumbled. I was such a moron; I should have just shut up and I would still have the Pentagram internship. Of course, now with hindsight, I would say my advice is you definitely need to look out for yourself because other people are not going to look out for you. I should have started at Pentagram, and then if I got the job at The Times, I should quit and go there instead. That’s okay to do. I’m not going to hurt Pentagram by doing that; they’re too big.

Anyways, I had ended up with nothing. Mega-bummer.

Two weeks later, I got a call from Khoi at The Times again. He said:

“Hey Sascha, are you still looking for a job? Would you be interested in working for us?”

I was excited all over again! I got the job! What had happened was the person they originally hired—she had her own design studio and had more experience than me—just did not fit in with the team. After an incident, she was let go and so I got the job!

That was my first job right out of Cooper. I was on the digital design team at The New York Times. We made all the minute details and features of the website and sidebar and translated that experience to all their mobile apps and stuff. It was such an amazing experience and I guess I did realize it at the time. You only realize how great the first job was when you’re at the fifth job and it’s not so amazing anymore.

Sounds a bit like dating.

Oh, yeah, 100%, everything is like dating.

What were the not-so-amazing places you ended at?

I don’t think I could tell you that on the record. 


“Black Hole.” 2008. Installation by Sascha Mombartz in his senior show.

Where has your career taken you after that?

Well, I tried a bunch of things. First I started a company with two of my friends. We made a lot of mistakes and things didn’t end so well between me and friends-turned-co-founders. After learning a lot from that I experience, I tried something else in the form of a new company I started on my own.

The idea came to me when I visited Walter De Maria’s The Broken Kilometer and The New York Earth Room. These are two mind-blowing installations in SoHo that I wanted to share with my friends. So, I started taking my friends there and that morphed into me looking up more about the history of SoHo. I already knew the history of Cooper Union, I knew things about McSorley’s story—I was so fascinated by the little bits of information that change the way you look at something.

Soon after that, I had a job giving walking tours of neighborhoods to random people. Yeah, like tourists and even local people who were curious. It was a lot of work to read up and learn enough about New York to answer any questions, but I was already interested in all of that and now I had a good reason. I charged $50 per person. And I had to do the tours whether it was raining or it was sunny, so it was pretty hard.

It made sense to me that this could be an app, so that’s what I started working on.

It was initially called ArtwalkNYC and now it’s called Float. It’s a guidebook-as-an-app that tells reveals the little bits of information that exists all around you. It helps you make your own tour of these neighborhoods.

Looking back at that now, I think I realize I picked something really difficult. Creating high quality, original content is super hard. And the travel business is also very crowded. There are literally 50 other guide apps—from like Lonely Planet and other guidebook companies going digital. I put in a lot of work and I felt it wasn’t really going anywhere, so it’s shelved for now.

[Editor’s Note: The app is still available as Float and features over 300 stories about places all over the five boroughs. One story about Cooper Union: “The statue of Peter Cooper in the park used to be cleaned by Jackson Pollock when he worked as a stone cutter at the Emergency Relief Bureau.”]

Urtak, one of Mombartz's first startups, was an online discussion platform. The concept was that each comment must be a question—and "Yes", "No", and "Don't Care" responses are collected from other readers. Mombartz produced the graphic above using data from an Urtak discussion on Cooper's decision to end free tuition in 2012.
Urtak, one of Mombartz’s first startups together with Aaron Gibraltar and Marc Lizoain, was an online discussion platform. The concept was that each comment must be a question—and “Yes”, “No”, and “Don’t Care” responses are collected from other readers. Mombartz produced the graphic above using data from an Urtak discussion on Cooper’s decision to end free tuition in 2012 (click to enlarge).

What do you do now?

I’m a freelance designer, so I pretty much work for myself. My studio is called the Office for Visual Affairs. It’s a little joke I have with my dad—he used to work for the Office for Foreign Affairs as a diplomat for the German government. I think he kinda gets it, but he’s never mentioned it since… I think it was the most hilarious thing. ◊

Screenshot 2016-11-13 23.03.42

Caroline Woolard on Wound Study Center

“WOUND is a study center for practices of listening, attention, and collaboration. The study center is pronounced /waʊnd/, as in: the clock has been wound. WOUND aims to mend time and attention by providing (1) practice spaces for groups, (2) a study center for sculptural tools, and (3) trainings in practices of listening, attention, and collaboration.” -

by Emma Faith Hill (Art ’17)

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.

Your title in conjunction with the show is Director. Can you speak about what the role means for you? How it differs from the title of Artist or Curator?

At this time, a Curator or an Artist is often understood to be a person whose individual expressions, labor, and critical thought enable a project to exist. But I want to create projects that exist beyond my initial vision; that can be modified and renewed with the energy of the people who are working on them, over years. So I am the interim Director of the Study Center because I am currently the primary person who is responsible for the long term mission of the space. The Study Center aims to mend time and attention by providing (1) practice spaces for groups, (2) a study center for sculptural tools, and (3) trainings in practices of listening, attention, and collaboration. The Director must change for the project to live on, over time, in adaptation to local contexts, so I look forward to transitioning out of this role.

By naming my role within the Study Center, I am articulating the tasks that I carry out at this time, while also opening up these tasks to people in the future. I am interested in naming titles and roles that comprise the systems that I create because this allows for visible accountability and training for people who wish to move into these roles. When someone hears the title of Director, they imagine that it stands for a series of responsibilities and tasks in service to a broader mission, while an Artist or Curator is likely imagined to be responsible to their own vision, a vision that can change from every season. While I hope that the ways we understand the titles of Artist and Curator transforms in time, at this moment, the term Director conjures up associations that align more closely with my goals for longevity and strategic action.

If most New Yorkers have no
experiences of democracy at work,
at home, in school, or online,
how will we learn to work together?

I aim to co-create both discrete works of art and also institutions for the solidarity economy. My method is to enjoin objects to their contexts of circulation. For example, I build sculptures for barter only as I also co-create international barter networks that continue to grow; I fabricate model Shaker housing and I also convene organizers of community land trusts. I am currently working with Susan Jahoda and Emilio Martinez Poppe on a book and a card game about the commons, which could eventually live in the Study Center. But at the moment, we lack nuanced dialog and critical reflection about group work in the visual arts. This Study Center provides a space for reflection among peers, which lays the groundwork for additional feedback and deep thought about the card game and book. I find that many emergent projects make sense within collective work or institutions that must be established.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.


As well as directing Wound, you also contributed many Ladder Chairs to the show. Could you expand on where the design of these chairs came from?

I want to furnish gathering spaces with objects that are as inspired as the conversations that occur in those spaces. Ladders, like the sculptural tools in the Study Center, have functioned historically in artworks as both designed objects and also as cultural symbols. I made the ladder furniture to connect the spatial dividers of the Study Center to this long lineage of ladders from Dada, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Fluxus, and Conceptual Art. I am thinking of one of the last sculptures that Joseph Beuys made before his death (Scala Napoletana, 1985), Mel Bochner’s measurement of a ladder’s shadow (Measurement: Shadow, 1969), Man Ray’s photograph of a miniature ladder engulfed by a human foot, Alexander Rodchenko’s photographs of ladders, Yoko Ono’s ladders (Ceiling Painting, 1966, Golden Ladders, 2015), and Alma Buscher’s ladder chair (Ladder Chair for Children’s Room, 1923). Ladders have been used to stand in for aspiration, for getting ahead, and also for temporary stability, for construction of the new.

The image I created for the show, which circulated months before on a postcard, is of a ladder, tipped on its side, being used as a compass. The rungs become available for the compass point as well as the tip of a mark making material. The ladder chairs I made also have a small piece of graphite, making the careful observer imagine the furniture on its side, drawing a six-foot circle. The inability of the two points—the point that creates the center of the circle and the point which draws the circle—to connect is often my experience of communication in groups. People circle around one another, unable to hear what they do not already know or think. As the Study Center is dedicated to group work in the visual arts, this concept of division through aspiration and verbal disconnect seemed important.

The columns are made of turned poplar, and can be used for meetings, or they can stack to form a 10-foot column. This sculptural furniture is meant to point toward the classical forms that structure social life and social space in academic settings and to the smugglers of antiquities who broke ancient columns into sections. I hope that visitors will practice assembling and disassembling these forms while thinking about the design of spaces for learning.

In an arts ecology that privileges
individual success, and that rarely flies collaborators
around the world for public talks,
conversations about political economy become primary.

In addition to the turned poplar edition of the furniture, I have made a version that is an open source file for people with Computer Numerical Control machines to adapt. The CNC version is an example of what I call an Open Source Systems and Art project. I made the designs, files, and assembly process for this and (also for my Queer Rocker) available for use and modification because I learn by doing and by uniting research with action. I hope to add spaces of reflection and healing to social movements, so many of which are, at present, focused on protest and progress. Many students, activists, and grassroots organizations cannot afford to purchase furniture, but they may have time to create things with the materials around them. My aim with open source projects is that through communal production and alteration, an embodied politics will emerge.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.
Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.


The tools in the show are labelled as either On View or In Use. What classifies a tool under one of these two terms? And how does the label of ‘tool’ rather than ‘sculpture’, ‘piece’, or ‘artwork’ transform the objects?

A tool “In Use” is an object that will be touched, activated, and used during the time it is at Cooper Union. For example, Adelheid Mers’ The Braid is “In Use” both during her training in notation and communication methods and also throughout the duration of the Study Center’s hours at Cooper Union. Conversely, Paul Ryan’s Rose Window is “On View” because it is a delicate model that cannot be remade, so it cannot be used at this time. By referring to the objects in the Study Center as tools, I hope to trouble the autonomy we often associate with sculptures. What would it mean to see all objects in exhibitions as both formal experiments in material and scale and also objects that need to be understood within a community of practice? Stamatina Gregory and I made a decision not to show any documentation (photography, video, interactive websites) of the tools in use, because we wanted to emphasize the importance of demonstration, of experience as a criterion of knowledge. In this way, all objects have the potential for use, but may be resting at this time.

Photo provided by Caroline Woolard.

Collaborative time is a part of the study center’s vocabulary (used in wall text and online), and is “a time which is specifically marked by our engagement with one another.” This definition felt related to the goal of solidarity economies, where the gains made are produced from non-for-profit exchanges. For you, are these two models (collaborative time and solidarity economies) integral to one another?

The term “solidarity economy” emerged in the global South (economia solidária) and is known internationally by different names: the workers’ economy, the social economy, the new economy, the circular economy, the regenerative economy, the local economy, and the cooperative economy. It is recognized globally as a way to unite grassroots practices like lending circles, credit unions, worker cooperatives, and community land trusts to form a powerful base of political power. The solidarity economy is a system that places people before profit, aiming to distribute power and resources equitably. In this way, collaboration is always already a component part of the solidarity economy.

Caroline Woolard notes: As Marco Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004: “A solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective… innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-finance-distribution-consumption-education-communication.”

When an issue is your focus, group work becomes obvious, because the group will keep the issue alive. When we collaborate, we have to articulate our process to others, and therefore to ourselves, as well. This allows us to understand our own work and to refine our thought in debate and in encounters with difference—difference of experience, of perspective, of values. When we collaborate, we also have to accept different approaches to allocating time and money to projects, as collaborators attempt to agree upon which resources to share. In an arts ecology that privileges individual success, and that rarely flies collaborators around the world for public talks, conversations about political economy become primary. By articulating a collaborative economy of shared time and resources, students of collaboration also become students of solidarity economies, looking at shared livelihoods as always already part of shared production.

The Wound Study Center is made to be on-going, (which seems inherent to the study center, since the facilitators chosen to participate engage in long-term practices). Where do you see the Study Center next, and how malleable is its format as it transitions locations and institutions? How important is it that the study center operate in an art-related environment?

It is not important that the Study Center operate in an arts environment, but it is important to recognize that no new models for economic justice will be created without the arts. I see the arts as the center of all interdisciplinary work. To my mind, institutions like community land trusts, cooperative finance, and other brilliant, beautiful, systems-thinking models require the arts to envision, implement, and celebrate the unknown. The practices that the Study Center honors enable people from law, policy, finance, health, and planning to come together to create innovative models. While we see these models of credit unions, worker cooperatives, and community healing spaces, we might not realize that what brings interdisciplinary teams together are arts practices. Lastly, the arts are often the best place to test ideas for long term institutions. I have done much of the research and development of long term institutions within arts spaces.

The Study Center could take a variety of forms, ranging from (1) a small display case of tools  in a community center or public library to (2) a week-long study seminar for groups with daily trainings using sculptural tools. In the best case scenario, the Study Center will (3) become a permanent space for group work in the visual arts. Just as dancers take classes throughout their lives, the Study Center would be a place to take classes or use meeting spaces on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I would run into other members of collectives, groups, and cooperatives in class, knowing that the musculature of dialog, attention, and listening has to be practiced to become strong. For this to function, I will need to move the collection to a permanent space. I am currently in dialog with the New York Public Library and also the Brooklyn Commons about this possibility.

As (4) a group of practitioners, the Study Center can exist as a consortium that offers meeting-facilitation and collaboration trainings to corporate clients as well as community based organizations using sculptural tools in unconventional environments. For example, Project 404 could teach members of a worker-owned business how to focus on a single image on their smart phone in a gallery. The Extrapolation Factory could provide futurist scenarios for activists in the basement of a museum.

If most New Yorkers have no experiences of democracy at work, at home, in school, or online, how will we learn to work together? This Study Center provides a practice space for joint work and joint decision making. Whether the Study Center becomes a small display case, a week-long institute, a permanent space, or a consortium of practitioners, I know that this is the work that is necessary for the cooperative culture and the solidarity economy that I want to see. ◊

Wound Study Center is open by appointment until Friday, November 18 (email