68: On putting meaningful work into the world with art historian Caitlin Woolsey

Today’s episode marks a first for Artist/Mother: our first artist/mother/art historian/poet! Caitlin Woolsey is all of those things and more, holding a PhD in art history from Yale and currently serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the Clark Art Institute. While Caitlin’s scholarly research focuses on the intersections of sound, poetry, and performance in postwar art, storytelling and all of its facets ─ memory, sensation, the body, and more ─ has driven her creativity since her youth. 

Though Caitlin’s professional career is not organized around children, she makes the transformative impact they’ve had on her ─ as both the child of a children’s literature scholar and as a mother herself ─ clear. Balancing work and life as an academic with a partner and two young kids is admittedly a challenge, but a creative one: Caitlin describes the way having children has changed her roles as a teacher, thinker, and creative for the better. As she tells us, she is “learning to be a little more comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing.” 

We talk trying to tell the stories that have not yet been told, the exclusion of women from art and art history, and the importance of following your own path ─ even if it means approaching unforeseen junctures and pursuing opportunities with unknown outcomes. 

Read more about Caitlin’s work on her website
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn

In front of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which holds the artists’ archives at the heart of Caitlin’s in-progress book manuscript, The Acoustic Image: Experimental Sound, Film, and Expanded Collage in Postwar France––and where her daughter Ariadne was nearly (accidentally) born!
At the Yale University Art Gallery, preparing to teach a contemporary art undergraduate seminar in summer 2017, with daughter Ariadne tagging along.
Caitlin curated the sound works and co-curated selections of the exhibition Beyond Words: Experimental Poetry and the Avant-garde at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in fall 2019.This vitrine displays the various elements included in a single issue of the audiovisual magazine revue OU (1964–1974), including a “sound hat” (seen at left) by Annea Lockwood. (More information on the show as well as a pdf of the exhibition catalogue here: https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/beyondwords).
 Caitlin collaborated on the staging of a new “Public Poem” performance by the artist Alain Arias-Misson as part of the exhibition Beyond Words. The “embodied” letters that make up TRANSCULTURALISM migrate, move, and rearrange to create different words and phrases, by turns satiric, political, or reflective, roving around the streets of New Haven. (A short film of the performance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTYHY3XctkE – you can spot Caitlin as the letter “C”).
Special family outings typical revolve around nature, art, or food; here, Caitlin, Ariadne, and Dimitri explore a participatory installation by Genevieve Gaignard at MASS MoCA.
Becoming Mother, Becoming Other, a book of poems by Caitlin and paintings by Kaylan Buteyn from 2018.
First outing as a family of four to introduce Dimitri at five days old to the Yale Art Gallery.
“Assistants” helping check color-proofs for an exhibition catalogue.
Caitlin, husband Niko, and daughter Ariadne celebrating after her successful dissertation defense at Yale last spring––jubilant, relieved, and exhausted in the wake of an intense season of completing the PhD, working on an exhibition, organizing conferences, riding the waves of the academic job market, as well as caring for one child and growing another (nearly 7 months along here). A period of time that in hindsight looks improbably difficult, but in the moment felt like just what had to be done.

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