Season 2 – Episode 04

What If We Could Explode
With Curiosity Every Day?

with Julianne Swartz & Denise Markonish

Artwork by Ionut Caras

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In a cultural moment characterized by divisiveness, we ache for community.

We go through our days surrounded by people, but we have forgotten how to connect.

Does art have the capacity to foster the kind of openness and connection we need right now? Is it possible that a provocative experience of unfamiliarity or disorientation might help us engage with each other? What if we could learn to follow the artist’s example and explode every day with wonder?

Today, Jeffrey studies art as a conduit of wonder with Denise Markonish, curator of MASS MoCA and author of Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America, and award-winning artist Julianne Swartz, whose work has appeared at premier museums including MASS MoCA and The Whitney. Julianne and Denise trace the origins of their wonder and curiosity, exploring how their childhood investigations inform the work they do now. Julianne describes the intent of her work to provoke an experience of unfamiliarity and facilitate the exchange of wonder, and Denise shares her role as an experience architect, working with artists to generate deeply personal exhibitions. Listen in for insight around the promise of art to create an openness between communities—and learn how to think like an artist, fostering wonder in your own life and work.

Our Guests

Julianne Swartz

Jerry Saltz once described Julianne Swartz as “the anti-Serra,” articulating the “ebb and flow of life” through her ephemeral installations. Light is Swartz’s material of choice because, despite being easily taken for granted, “when contemplated, it becomes a sense-provoking opportunity for thought,” she explains. She often relies on technology, both existing and self-made; many of her works comprise “participatory scopes” that alter viewers’ perceptions by reflecting and refracting the surrounding space; other series of photographs address light, reflection, and ephemerality. Swartz also works with sound, which, like light, “instills presence without physicality,” she says. Her installation on the High Line Park in New York, Digital Empathy (2011-12), filled visitor’s longings for interpersonal connections and the semblance of friendship. At elevators, drinking fountains, and restrooms throughout the park, computer-generated voices recited poetry, sang love songs, and reminded visitors not to lick the fountains.

» Julianne Swartz

Denise Markonish

Denise Markonish is the curator at MASS MoCA, where her exhibitions include Nick Cave: Until (catalogue: DelMonico/prestel); Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder (catalogue: DelMonico/Prestel); Jim Shaw: Entertaining Doubts; Teresita Fernández: As Above So Below (catalogue); Oh, Canada, the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art (catalogue: MIT Press); Nari Ward: Sub Mirage Lignum (catalogue); Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With (catalogue: D.A.P); These Days: Elegies for Modern Times; and Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape (catalogue: MIT Press). Markonish edited the books Teresita Fernández: Wayfinding (DelMonico/Prestel) and 50 Years of RISD Glass: Wonder, and with Susan Cross co-edited Sol LeWitt: 100 Views (Yale University Press). She has taught at Williams College and the Rhode Island School of Design and was the fall 2016 curator for Artpace’s International Artist-in-Residence Program in San Antonio, Texas.


Key Takeaways

[4:34] Young Julianne and Denise at their best

  • Julianne conducting material investigations in the desert
  • Denise organizing and building systems for rock collection

[8:28] How Denise & Julianne’s young genius inform their work now

  • Lifelong pursuit of wonder and curiosity
  • Fueled by desire to ‘materialize the invisible’
  • Beyond inquiry to prodding of things

[13:45] Julianne’s reputation for ‘soft explosions of love’

  • Example in 2006 work Affirmation
  • Asked people what most deeply wanted to hear
  • Recorded affirmations in building fixtures

[18:25] Denise’s role as an architect of experiences

  • Work with artists to create new work
  • Create new experiences for audience AND artists

[21:06] MASS MoCA’s Explode Everyday exhibition

  • Explore difference between wonder and curiosity
  • Ask artists how activate wonder in lives, studio practice

[27:23] The emotional quality of Julianne’s work

  • Provoke experience of unfamiliarity/disorientation
  • Opens us up emotionally, brings into not knowing

[30:08] How Julianne fosters wonder in her life and work

  • Magic of materials/sounds/situations translate to art experience
  • Find in conversation and connection with another person

[35:00] The exchange of wonder in Julianne’s work

  • Pour depth of emotion into object, becomes transmitter
  • Art object = conduit to transmit energy to audience

[42:04] Denise’s insight on fostering wonder for yourself

  • Provoke own pause, be alive to world around you
  • Pursue what interests you to keep brain inquiring

[45:11] The capacity of art to create openness between communities

  • Can You Hear Me? as conduit between social groups
  • We Complete requires physical connection to activate sound

[53:08] The promise of art in our current cultural moment

  • Shift in conversation from anger to tenderness
  • Love has become political term

[55:57] What Julianne is pursuing in the coming year

  • Joy, still. at Grace Farms
  • Link between joy and sorrow, suffering

[58:42] What Denise is pursuing in the coming year

  • Suffering from Realness opens in April
  • Mind of the Mound opens in March

Caras Ionut

Caras Ionut was born in Romania in the late 70s and is currently devoted to photography. Ionut loves the things that happen around so he always has a camera to capture moments, and then turn them into dreams and positive images of what he wants. We leave you to judge for yourself and be surprised with this wonderful work.

Are you a Wonder Designer?

We’re inviting you to share with our community of listeners how you are a wonder designer this season.

​​​​​​​It’s easy and takes just 3 minutes of your time:

In 15-30 seconds or less, state your name, where you live, and your url if you wish, and state in 1-3 sentences one way you are a Wonder Designer.
Make it personal and personable. Not a pitch. Not a teaching.

For example, “Hi, Jeffrey and Tracking Wonder. My name is Abigail Madley. I live in Towanka, Washington, and you can find me online at One way I am a wonder designer is by shaping educational experiences for elders that bring them more joy and happiness in assisted living.”
“I am a wonder designer because everyday I am fostering more connection with strangers in the city where I live.”
“I am a wonder designer because I am encouraging more open listening at the startup where I work.”
“One way I am a wonder designer these days is by having my three children sing for their breakfast. It makes a hectic morning pretty funny.”​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​Listen back to your submission, and when you are happy with it, click send!

​​​​​​​Your response could end up on the Tracking Wonder Podcast this season.

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Each week brings you in-depth conversations with leaders, stories from change-makers, and provocative ideas from artists and scientists – all designed to inspire you to shape your best work with more possibility, impact, and – yes – wonder.