Sponge HQ (2010–2016), was invited to take up residence at the Anderson Gallery in 2009 by Director Ashley Kistler. “The HQ” was an interdisciplinary workshop, classroom and project space, organized around student collaboration. Having evolved from the participatory and pedagogical art project Sponge (2006–2016), the Sponge HQ “attached itself” to the university much the way a sea sponge (which has the distinction of being the only adult animal that doesn’t move) attaches itself to a marine reef. Sponge HQ had a ninety-gallon aquarium with a community of freshwater fish, a felting and dye studio and a library. The space housed a functioning top-bar beehive with bees flying in and out of the third story window. Student monitors, who also worked cooperatively on projects on-site and in a range of other contexts, opened the space to the public during scheduled times.
In the Spring 2010 and Fall 2011 semesters, Sponge HQ hosted Colablablab, an experimental curriculum in which art and biology students enrolled with their instructor in a biology lecture and lab section and simultaneously took a course in the context of the School of the Arts to interpret what they were learning in the Department of Biology. Participants presented work at Flux Factory in Long Island City, NY and at CUE Art Foundation in New York, NY, among other venues. The Colablablabook, available on Lulu.com, also emerged from the experiment. Colablablab is included in the anthology, “Pedagogy in the Expanded Field”, published by the Mercosul Biennial Foundation.
“Prototype for Preserving the Phylum Porifera” was a fall 2012 event for the exhibition MoMA Studio: Common Senses. Invited by kindred project Mildred’s Lane in Beach Lake, PA, the day included a honey tasting from the “HQ” bee yard as well as the production of a new video and a public project that replicated sea sponges in a variety of materials.
For, “Weather Permitting”, the 2013 exhibition of the 9th Mercosul Biennial, Sponge HQ participants and “biennial mediators” in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil worked cooperatively on an installation comprising four species of Brazilian freshwater and marine sponges rendered in hand-felted wool, dyed by hand with plant and insect pigments.
In the spring of 2014, the Sponge HQ was invited to design an installation for the exhibition “Thirst” at Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. The student participants drove the ideation process and produced a collection of hand felted water adventure gear.
In addition to the highlights above, Sponge HQ has hosted workshops and talks by numerous visitors and collectives such as SP Weather Station, Larissa Harris, Caroline Woolard, Christo Sims, and Christopher Lee Kennedy. The space has offered weekly yoga classes as well as weekly guided meditation. It has been a site for use by students and faculty from across the School of the Arts to host performances, film screenings and guest presenters. Its remarkably good acoustics have been appreciated by touring musicians and local bands alike, such as Mirah, Jonathan Vassar and Chris Kasper.
Sponge HQ was a project by artist and VCUarts Associate Professor, Hope Ginsburg. It was sustained by contributing students, community members and a network of artists and thinkers. Ginsburg presented the project nationally and internationally at two Creative Time Summits, “The Curriculum at La Biennale di Venezia”, “The Curriculum: NYC”, at the Open Engagement Conference in Pittsburgh, and in the context of the exhibition “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1939–1957” at the Wexner Center for the Arts. In the spirit of art and pedagogy, The Art Assignment, a project of PBS Digital Studios, taped an episode and an assignment with Ginsburg there in May 2016; it was a fitting last event for the space.
Support for Sponge HQ was generously provided by the Anderson Gallery and Anderson Gallery staff and by the VCUarts Dean’s Office.