Chapter 8: Carried on Both Sides

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Presented at four locations — The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lesley Heller, LMAK, and the Knockdown Center in New York City — in 2018, Carried on Both Sides aimed to uncover the history of the @ symbol. Featuring carved wooden columns, hand blown glass amphorae, glass murrine, a single-channel video, and soft sculptures made of kevlar, this project questioned how present logics of freedom and exchange carry with them resonances of past imperial lives. This project was the result of three years of collaborative work between Helen Lee, Alexander Rosenberg, Lika Volkova, and Caroline Woolard, and was supported by residencies and fellowships at Pilchuck Glass School and UrbanGlass.

In 2015, Woolard invited Lee and Rosenberg to join her in an application to work together for the Hauberg Fellowship at Pilchuck Glass School. Woolard wrote that she “approached Helen Lee, who ‘uses glass to think about language’ and Alexander Rosenberg, who concerns himself with systems of display and all things on the edge of breaking, about a collaboration at Pilchuck.” When the group received the Fellowship, a three-year research project began that included multiple self-organized residencies and research trips. The resulting work was individually authored in relationship to shared research about the @ symbol, an approach to collaboration that enables deep engagement with shared topics alongside individual expression.

The @ symbol derives from a graphic representation of the amphora, a vessel used in ancient Rome to transport goods like olive oil or grains.

Founded in research and expressed across media, the project explored the visual, political, and material lineage of the @ symbol. The @ symbol derives from a graphic representation of the amphora, a vessel used in ancient Rome to transport goods like olive oil or grains. The project’s title references the amphora’s original meaning — to “carry on both sides” — referring to the vessel’s two carrying handles. The works on view aim to evoke questions about what connections we may find between this ancient mode of transportation and commerce, and today’s digital communication. All materials here are reproduced with the consent of the artists. More information is at: http://carriedonbothsides.com.

A material-specific approach to this research endeavor enabled an expansive way of thinking about the past, present, and future of a symbol and its ability to change meaning over time and across cultures.

—Helen Lee, 2019