While I loved being able to work with expert craftspeople and artists to fabricate my designs for Capitoline Wolves, see chapter 7, I did not like being so distant from the process of making and thinking. While I made rough prototypes with cardboard to scale, and spent hundreds of hours doing small material tests, I missed the making, as the process itself often influences the final project; thinking happens while making. This brings up a real issue with conceptual art that is not based in one material practice. If conceptual, project-based, and research-based artists believe that form and material follow concept, but do not know enough about a given material to understand what forms it might make, how can these artists determine that the material is truly appropriate for any given concept without spending months learning about that material? I wanted to return to a thinking-making practice, and Carried on Both Sides allowed this to happen.
If conceptual, project-based, and research-based artists believe that form and material follow concept, but do not know enough about a given material to under- stand what forms it might make, how can these artists determine that the material is truly appropriate for any given concept without spending months learning about that material?
I made the following rules for myself, when thinking about the form and process in 2015:
Where does form come from?
- I go through the following process: I define the qualities of the work I want to make. I figure out what steps I need to get there, and then list which things are supporting me and what is blocking me. I then make a list of things to do, a schedule, and get started.
Right now the work I want to make:
- is tactile and can be appreciated for its craft
- is well researched / conceptualized
- is the lovechild of Tenorobu Fujimori, Peter Ivy, Etienne Boulanger, Bas Jan Ader, and Serverine Hubbard
- is something I would want to live with in our house (if possible, my partner Leigh Claire La Berge likes it)
- is something I could imagine my friends wanting as a gift
To get to that place it would be good if I could:
- spend time in the hot shop blowing glass, if that is somehow possible
- apprentice with a yakisugi teacher and woodworker
- continue to read about amphorae, reach out to amphorae scholars
- look at more work that I love
The things supporting me in the above are:
- a residency in Santa Ana with a storefront at Grand Center Arts Center
- time away from work, a new job that supports work from afar at CoLab.coop
- relaxation and support from Leigh Claire
The things blocking me from doing the above are:
- my impatience and self-judgement
- finding a method to “just go” or “just start”
- fear of sitting with myself and needing recognition/immediate feedback from collaborators
“When we were students, Caroline and Alexandra Ben-Abba and I were working together in the hot shop. The two of them kept imagining geometries of glass, and I would respond by offering a variety of ways one might approach those geometries on the glassblower’s bench. I remember Caroline calling me "a walking Rolodex of glass techniques." It was a dialog between imagination, material, and embodied knowledge that I think still resonates with Caroline's practice. For me, it's very gratifying to see material add value to a given practice, and to play the glass-whisperer role in connecting people's thoughts to glass. Glass occupies a very dominant role in my practice. But in Caroline's practice, it's fulfilling for me to see glass situated within a range of materials that structure spaces and objects—and by extension, the people within those spaces, the people who use those objects, and the systems of exchange that are so pivotal to Caroline's practice."
– Helen Lee, 2019
In early 2015, I was invited to be a Visiting Artist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison by Helen Lee, an artist whom I met when I was taking classes at Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 as an exchange student from Cooper Union during my BFA. Helen was now the head of the Glass Lab at UW-Madison, and had been following my work since then. I loved the collaborative, physical, and alchemical properties of glass in 2004, and fell right back in love with the material. I asked Helen Lee, if I apply for a residency to work together, and we get it, will you come? She said yes. Helen is an incredible artist, both conceptually and technically, a generous host, and a clear project manager, so I knew she would be amazing to work with. I also asked Alex Rosenberg, another artist who I met in Glass at RISD in 2004, the same question, and he said yes. I was ready to go.
I wrote the following application in 2015:
October 28, 2015
At Pilchuck, Helen Lee, Alexander Rosenberg, and Caroline Woolard will work together to develop a project tentatively called “@ : Carried on Both Sides.” This collaborative group will cast replicas of Roman amphorae and etch a lecture about language and glass on oversized glass slides, to be presented at the Met (where a large collection of amphorae are housed) in New York City, in 2017.
I 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. I want to work with them because they are interdisciplinary artists who use the medium of glass with conceptual agility and material poetry. Although I have only worked in glass once, and only for six months (at Pilchuck and RISD with Lee and Rosenberg), I know that my socially engaged, performance-based work will benefit from an exploration of language and display in in the Mold and Kiln shop and Cold Shop.
We will be using the Mold and Kiln shop and Cold Shop primarily, but would like to access the Print Shop and Wood and Metals Shop as well. Both Lee and Rosenberg are faculty members in Glass Departments (University of Madison at Wisconsin and University of the Arts) who teach students to work with glass on a daily basis. Helen Lee has been blowing class consistently since 1998, is experienced with the Pilchuck printing press, as well as photosensitive sandblast resists. She has basic cold working, mold, kiln, and casting skills. Alexander Rosenberg is an experienced flame worker and mold maker for glass casting. Caroline Woolard has limited experience with flame working and cold working, but will be writing and documenting the process as the collaboration develops.
I would love a space to work on a project tentatively called “Carried on Both Sides.” This year marks the 45th anniversary of the use of the @ symbol online, but at least the 480th anniversary of its use in mercantile accounting, and the 3000th anniversary of the standardization of the shape to which merchants initially referred. I will make an installation and performance that engages this history of transmutation, from shape to accounting to preposition. The installation space will be made with yakisugi wood, optical lenses, and blown glass, using staining and burning techniques that I am developing now. The performance will be done using oversized glass slides while wearing kevlar costumes that I am developing with Lika Volkova. Amphorae has been translated to mean “carried on both sides.” This two-handled shape connected producers to consumers throughout the Roman Empire; the @ which shares the amphora's philology links correspondents today. Carried on Both Sides is both a series of objects and a performance lecture on handmade, oversized glass slides that follows this legacy of exchange at intimate distance.
Before the @ symbol was used for the first email in 1971, the @ found its way to keyboards in the 20th century for accounting purposes. Before that, the @ sign was shorthand, in mercantile script, for “amphora.” An amphora was a common, two handled vessel used to trans- port grain and liquid, both a shape and a measure of mass in the ancient Mediterranean world. Transport amphorae were ubiquitous and thrown away after a single use. As Michael Ezban has written, “at the height of the Empire, an impressive 18,000 metric tons of olive oil, along with 8,000 metric tons of clay amphorae, were imported annually from Hispania to Rome ... each year over 280,000 amphorae were smashed and deposited in a series of raised terraces that became Monte Testaccio.” This amphorae-only landfill, this hollow hill of terracotta records known as Monte Testaccio, is 115 feet tall today.
We may etch words related to: odometers for email, digital shipwrecks, resting places for @s, repurposed data centers, email auto-responders for digital rest, images visible exclusively at dawn and dusk, or the history of the word talent.