Assistant Spectrum Editor
For most student artists, exhibiting work in a museum like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is still more of a dream than a goal. Eight VCU art students who volunteer as monitors for the collaborative Sponge HQ art space in the Anderson Gallery, were able to fulfill that dream a little sooner than other art students.
On Nov. 11, practicing artist and VCU professor Hope Ginsburg, along with eight Sponge HQ volunteers, participated in “Common Senses,” an ongoing exhibition through the education and research section of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Similar to Sponge HQ, “Common Senses” features community building with a crossover between science and art through workshops and projects for all age groups. The exhibition features a different artist or group each weekend, with an ongoing, installation-style archive to which each presenter contributes.
Sponge HQ-known simply as “The Sponge” or “HQ” by those who frequent it-serves as a collaborative workspace where the arts meet biology.
Established by Ginsburg in 2010, the workspace is housed on the third floor of the Anderson Gallery and plays host to a wide variety of cross-disciplinary resources. Among these supplies is a library with literature ranging from plant life to art practices, an aquarium and a colony of honeybees.
“Prototype for Preserving the Phylum Porifera,” Sponge HQ’s four-hour installation at the MoMA, included graphic information on different sponge types, photos by Ginsburg from a scuba diving trip, material on Ginsburg’s cross-disciplinary studio and biology course, Colablablab, a video prepared by a few of the volunteers and tastings of honey from the Sponge HQ honeybees.
“It was a really awesome opportunity that I didn’t necessarily expect to get when I became a Sponge monitor,” said Jojo Huff, a sophomore sculpture major. “(Ginsburg) made an effort… (to ensure) it was not only her project, but also very much an educational experience for us… (because) in a way, we are the project. People like us are the point of the space… we’re as much of a feature as the honey… or the sponges.”
The monitors intentionally brought bursts of bright colors into the normally stark, white spaces provided by the MoMA by using felt, sponge and supplementary graphics of the installation.
Throughout the afternoon, viewers were invited to participate by assisting the monitors in dry felting the foam sponge replicas. Dry felting, which is done with sheep wool, occurs by repeatedly puncturing the fibers with a specific type of needle, which in turn binds the fibers together. In this way, felting further symbolized the collaborative efforts of Sponge HQ.
Originally, the monitors planned on felting actual sponges. However, after finding out about sponge harvesting processes and the resulting death of the animal, they sought alternative solutions.
Foam proved the most successful felting material, although the group also experimented with casting honey bee wax from the HQ hive. From their experiments, the group contributed a cast bronze sponge, printed material and bee honey to the exhibition archive at the MoMA.
Though the group intended for the installation to appeal to all ages, sophomore craft and material studies major Colleen Brennan found she worked mostly with children throughout the course of the day.
“(The kids) were very open to talking to us. They wanted to learn how to do what we were doing, even if they didn’t question it the way a critical mind would,” said Brennan. “They were still interested enough to stay for half an hour and felt with us.”
The Sponge HQ is open from 12 – 2 p.m. weekdays and is located on the third floor of the Anderson Gallery. The space is free and open to the public.