Weather Permitting, 9th Mercosul Biennial

Things headed due south this summer with preparations for the 9th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The action started here in Richmond in the Dye Lab at VCU where the alchemy of natural dyeing 40 lbs of pure Romney wool was guided by former VCU student, Jessica Dodd and absorbed by Hope Ginsburg with graduating and current Sponge HQ monitors, Colleen Billing and Gavin Foster. The meticulous process of achieving color matches with four sponges found off the coast of Brazil and in freshwater settings respectively, was rooted in stop watches and boiling broths and the chemistry of combinations.  It was not an exact science but from cochineal, weld, indigo and cutch came a fabulous rainbow of yellow, green, brown and pink. It was sent back to the supplier to be carded and bundled ready for the making.

Lift-off happened in early September as Gavin Foster and Lindsay Clements accompanied Hope on the long flight to Brazil. They were loaned an outdoor studio and shed in which they prepared large areas of wet-felt for the expansive Oncosclera Jewelli installation. Tightly packed in, there was little warmth and pouring rain to contend with as well as the sheer scale of what they were to achieve in ten days. Heaters were sourced and a routine grew, between meeting with producers and architects and lighting engineers and the curators.

Across town in the former Thermo Electric Plant – the Usina do Gasometro -were the sunken spaces they were charged to fill. On first viewing both students were overwhelmed by the space and the task ahead. The sequencing of making, finishing the  exhibiting space and installing was challenging, physically as well as emotionally. Ultimately seen from above, the Gene for an Eye installation and the neighbouring, On Resisting the Separation of the Continents did come to glowing fruition and fed into the Biennial’s pedagogical program, Cloud Formations as well.

Back home in the Sponge HQ a new season has begun and new monitors have joined those remaining. For Gavin and Lindsay their relationship with the pedagogical and conceptual roots of the space have shifted and extended way beyond the university and gallery context and out into the realms of the international biennial…

– Text following an interview with student collaborators Lindsay Clements and Gavin Foster, November 2013

For complete image sets and documentation of the process click on the links below:

Natural Dyeing

August in Porto Alegre

September in Porto Alegre

Finished Work

Open Late – Spring Cleaning

The Sponge HQ has its first graduates. To mark the moment the space was thoroughly spring-cleaned, cake was baked and lemonade brewed with honey from the 2012 bees. A new hive, built by Eric Stepp, has been installed and awaits its next generation of occupants. In the stillness of transition we opened our doors as part of an Anderson Gallery Open Late and Richmond’s First Friday.

The past semester has been all about action beyond the space and these shores, with Hope heading to Sweden for the European Academy of Design Conference, for which Julia Hundley produced a fleet of cast foam sponges. Bundles of those forms returned felted, neatly labeled in distinctive cursive scripts and bringing home the energy and echo of these distant participants. Such exchange was also evidenced in Doha for the Tasmeem Middle East Art & Design Conference – ever more context to the evolving practice and pedagogy of the Sponge HQ, rooted so firmly back here at VCU.

Tonight there was a take-away thanks to sponge-on-sponge printing. Be it a tube, vase or antler sponge, folks went home ready to scrub with freshly emblazoned T-shirts too. On the floor Clare van Loenen’s hand-crocheted rug to gather on for the ongoing needle felting of the remaining sponge forms and plenty of continuing conversations. On screen the documentary, ‘Queen of the Sun’.

So to the bidding of farewell to the original sponge monitors 2011 to 2013 – Coleen, Julia and Riley. Whatever reef you attach to may it be part of an inspirational journey. We salute you!

Hope Ginsburg with graduating Sponge HQ monitors S. Riley Duncan, Coleen Billing and Julia Hundley and participants Colleen Brennan, Patrick Carter, JoJo Houff, Gavin Foster and Clare van Loenen. Photos by Joshua Quarles.

Relics and Tales from the Phylum Porifera

Back at the Sponge HQ this past Friday night we got to re-create the MoMA moment with relics and tales from Prototype for Preserving the Phylum Porifera. Performing live casting with polyurethane sponge molds, bouncy ’til cured and ready for more needle felting. Under debate – future experiments on environmental alternatives. While on the Adirondack chairs, focused felters jabbed deftly as lavender wool meshed with these fresh sponge forms.

At the heart of the space lay relics from our MoMA mission – a central plinth, filled with felted bee-boxes and assorted sponges and on our bright green walls, underwater shots of Captain Don’s reef. On screen the new video absorbed guests.

The HQ hive had ceased to buzz after multiple stresses – building work and a slight location shift for them. So Hope harvested and it was a fabulous sight – oozing, golden honey glowing in the evening lamplight and large chunks of striking geometric honey-comb heaped in buckets. Folks got to taste it all straight from the hive.

On the side, a joint potluck with Portrait as Community students and curators, Michael Lease and Yuki Hibben; their exhibition was right next door.

Tales were shared and the prototype evolved…

All thanks, as ever, to the team at Anderson Gallery for this inaugural Open Late. From the Sponge HQ – Colleen Billing, Colleen Brennan, Patrick Carter, Lindsay Clements, S. Riley Duncan, Gavin Foster, Hope Ginsburg, JoJo Houff, Julia Hundley, Joshua Quarles and Clare van Loenen.

Photos by: Gavin Foster (top) and Ameigh Schwarz (bottom)

Prototype for Preserving the Phylum Porifera @ MoMA

So the Sponge HQ got to relocate to New York this past week. Crammed in a van we absorbed passages of sponge biology, sounds of incisive needle felting from the back seat and much music. Momentum built as we neared the struggling, post-Sandy city. With tense focus we unpacked straight into MoMA and the vast open studio space of our host, Mildred’s Lane. Out came our distinctive pops of color, landing as Hope’s felt rug was unfurled and bright bee boxes found their place. Our materials were seriously mixed, from natural sea sponges – our conceptual starting blocks – to their lurid foam evolutions and glowing bronze and beeswax casts.  At hand – giant balls of burnt orange and deep lilac wool.

Children swarmed in, utterly intent on needle-punching sponge forms and, like the best fairy tales, someone’s thigh got pricked.  Our story continued on screen, looping with shots of the HQ’s beehive, neon tetras and gushing water – immaculately edited and scored, of course. Everything connected – not just the living, breathing turtles wallowing in the Mildred’s Lane interior and the Reggio Children’s reef scene – we had dive visuals too, which included Kalymnos, Greece – the sponge stores now bereft of native samples and forced to import from the Caribbean.

Interaction was plentiful – yes, some 98 folk stopped by to chat, potter and savor our HQ honey. We made friends, brewed tea on a braided rug (thanks Fritz Haeg) and lived the gestalt – trans-disciplinary and cross-generational, multi-sensory and impressively multiplied. It all happened and we gave gifts – a bronze sea sponge and our best ephemera  - all now safely archived.

We’re keeping going and are back in Richmond to proliferate more prototypes for the phylum porifera on Friday 30th November between 5pm and 8pm. Come and join us.

Bees: Year 1, Part 1

May 2, 2011: Kristin Kaskey calls; her hive has split and Eric Stepp and I are invited to retrieve the swarm. The bees are hanging from a low tree branch on the Caskey/Malinoski homestead. Eric and I arrive and the bees have ascended to a branch 40′ in the air, over a ravine. We race across Richmond for an extension ladder. Engineering, acrobatics, Eric climbs the tree, creates a pulley system slung over an above branch and scales the tree higher than the ladder will go. The branch that carries the swarm is severed and suspended. Kristin, Lulu and I steer the limb with a rope from the ground. Together, we land the swarm. I move the colony, still attached to a piece of the branch into Eric’s temporary top bar hive box. We breath. I go back into the hive box with a bee brush and gently extract the branch. We know we’ve captured the queen because the workers are marching into an unfamiliar house. It’s dark outside; I head home; Eric takes the bees to his house to acclimate to the temporary hive and we plan to bring them to the Sponge HQ the following weekend.

So, here’s the video. SP Weather Station, you are good.

HQ <3 SP

SPWS’ Natalie Campbell and Heidi Neilson seriously brought it at the HQ this morning. Well…serious in a manner of speaking.  Those two have timing that would cut it in comedy; all were riveted.  With a new lease on print/design/collaboration and the seduction of high nerd-dom, I…we…applaud SP and say, thank you, THANK YOU for coming to town.

More to come on P-PAL, People for Pancakes at Lectures. We are organizing


Irene @ the HQ

Hurricane Irene blew through the HQ yesterday, starting just off the coast of Florida.  Guided by SP Weather Station’s Heidi Neilson and Natalie Campbell, VCUarts Art Foundation students sent wool, sand and floral snow up the East Coast, moving the weather about 1/2 cm. every ten seconds. Energies held aloft by the meteorological tunes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Etta James, the group kept time to Heidi’s countdowns between shutter clicks (we love you Dick Clark). At about 8PM the storm blew over  and Dexy’s Midnight Runners brought the house down.  Eileen, Irene, whatever.

Tomorrow, over pancakes, we’ll show you what we did.  Come by at 11AM; the coffee’ll be hot.

SP Weather Station Comes to Town

Sponge HQ presents:

Public Screening and Lecture and Pancake Breakfast


SP Weather Station
Natalie Campbell & Heidi Neilson
in collaboration with VCUarts Art Foundation Students

Saturday April 21, 11AM
907 1/2 W. Franklin St.
Anderson Gallery, 3rd floor

During a workshop at VCUarts April 19-21, SP Weather Station (Natalie Campbell and Heidi Neilson) will collaborate with students in Hope Ginsburg’s Time Studio course to stage Weather Mass Movement, a collectively constructed time lapse animation of Hurricane Irene’s progress along the Atlantic Coast from August 20-29, 2011. This is the first in a planned series of stop-motion videos illustrating changes in the sky that take place over time. Following the student workshops on April 19th, SP Weather Station will present photos and video of this work-in-progress and discusses past works by SPWS and its collaborators that find new ways to represent or reflect upon weather data and unseen natural forces.

Poster design by Riley Duncan

October 20-21, 2010: Sponge HQ

Other Pedagogies & the Phylum Porifera
Sponge HQ
October 20-21, 2010
With presenters: Larissa Harris, Dr. April Hill, Christopher Lee Kennedy, Tse-Lynn Loh, J. Morgan Puett, Christo Sims, Caroline Woolard.
Morning anusara yoga with Catherine Brooks.
Lunch feast prepared by Joshua Quarles.
With photography by Andrew Brehm, videography by Nikolai Noel and assistance by Andrew Brehm and Theora Kvitka.
Sponsored by VCUarts for the Curiouser conference.

For a full set of images, click here.
Presenter and participant bios are here.
For the complete program, go here.