Katayoun Chamany


With a 17-year history at The New School, we thought Katayoun Chamany, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences, would be perfect to answer some questions regarding New School facilities, specifically the 66 West Twelfth Street building. Join us as Chamany dishes on everything from her classroom to the murals!

Q: You’ve been with New School for about 17 years according to your previous interview. Where have you spent most of your time?

A: 4th Floor of the 65 West 11th Street building.

Q: Would something critical to the school’s relevance in NYC/the world today be lost if New School was to demolish, renovate, or sell off the West 12th St. building? Why or why not?

A: Yes, the history that you mention in [the following questions] would be lost. As it is, we covered and hid these murals for some time, and to have these very rare works of art on the premises – this is important as it tells the narrative of values for our institution.

Q: Are you familiar of Orozco’s New School Murals located in the 66 W. 12th Street building? What history do you know?

A: I have a 60-minute audio tour that Sylvia Rocciolo, the art curator, gives to my students each year. It is a rich history and the ways in which that mural was shown in a public space for eating (the cafeteria) and the ways in which it was itself a dinner of universality and inclusion is telling about how public art can be used to imagine a different future.

Q: Some students have criticized TNS for providing limited access to the murals, arguably a pivotal piece of TNS history. How do you feel about this? Should the students be granted more access? Why or why not?

A: I have heard this many times, but the murals are accessible to anyone who organizes a tour with Sylvia. It is rather straight-forward and, given the nature of events with food, etc, I can understand the desire to keep it reserved to reduce wear and tear and damage. However, I think the moving of the Egas mural to the 12th Street lobby was a good move, and perhaps the Orozco mural could also be moved…

Q: Do you find these murals relevant to TNS today? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I think the notion of social justice and public art to provoke social reflection and change are important aspects of both our TNS curriculum and these living pieces do some of the hard work of situating us in that time and place as well as asking you to reimagine a new future and how we can create art today for the same purpose like Lang Civic Engagement…

Q: Based on your answer above, what do you think might be an interesting new project that might help establish TNS, or provide meaning for the institution in the minds of students? (e.g., modernization of the murals from current student perspectives, etc.)

A: That exhibit happened in 2010 “Reimagining Orozco” and you can access the entire thing on the New School website. It was an elaborate exhibit with much faculty and student input, including a queering exhibit and lots of events surrounding this show.

Q: Unrelated to the murals, how do you feel about the facilities the New School offers? If possible, mention the 66 W. 12th Street building specifically, but feel free to talk about the school’s dorms, educational facilities, auditoriums, etc.)? What suggestions might you have moving forward for New School and both future building acquisitions/renovations?

Sadly, I have never been in a dorm room, or even the buildings that house these. I can speak about our facilities at Lang in the 12th street and 11th street buildings. I very much like the renovations that took place for the 4th floor of Lang, we have dry erase boards for student expression, LCD projection for artworks, and we have wide hallways that allow for congregation in front of artworks that I helped to curate in that space (save the large mural on the red wall). These choices were intentional based on the science of visualization, identity, and the intersections of the humanities, social science, and natural sciences. The Caulder piece “Anxiety” outside the science lab is a choice I made because my goal is to make science more playful, fun, exploratory, and exciting rather than anxiety provoking. Also I think that science is revealing that behaviors like anxiety are the result of social and biological interactions.