The significance of sponges…

I have always worked with domestic materials, either throw away or overlooked, or even both, however the sponge holds a specific significance. Not only can it be considered a symbol for domestic work, but it has current cultural references with its links to a certain yellow character who lives under the sea! A Sponges primary function is to absorb liquid, it gets twisted into all sorts of shapes but always springs back. Consider a sponges as memory with a relation to time. This is the reason I wanted to cast a sponge into bronze to inhibit this absorbent malleable feature. The first ones I cast were simple sponges in their resting state. I wondered if they would work being cast in their temporal state. squished as if gripped by a hand. Depicting a paused moment, an action frozen in time. A Sponge with the inability to spring back.

When researching the sponge I came across Haim Steinbach’s Untitled Sponge (2013) from the exhibition ‘Travel’ at the White Cube:

sponge hs

‘Untitled (sponge)’ (2013), as previously stated, the title alludes to the significance of the sponge in the piece, allowing us to look beyond the shelf and consider the sponge itself. With the object listed in the title, you begin to wonder about the importance of the sponge, allowing us to consider the object past our own associations and knowledge. Maybe you would even go home and research the sponge after leaving the exhibition. It is this type of key that I believe is the most powerful. A key that stays with you for years, hidden in a draw somewhere until one day you read something, or hear something and it reminds you of its existence and unlocking meaning for years to come. Most of the significance of the sponge is not known by the initial viewer, Steinbach careful selected the sponge due to it strong link to travel and is interested in its evolution and associations;

“580 million years down the line, its fibrous body reappears dried out on the beach, bleached in the sun’s heat and harvested by its distant human ancestors. Over time, sponges became valued for how well they sloughed off dirt in a bath, handily cleaned unmentionable orifices, or aided contraception. The Romans used them as soft padding for amour, and in the Renaissance, they travelled to artist’s studios, because they were there perfect texture for applying paints and glazes. In the late twentieth century an American cartoon gave a sponge (named Bob) square pants, making it the stuff of legend.” (Luard, 2013:85)

This long list of association proves the many and various connections that objects have and how through presenting them in such a way Steinbach is creating singular keys that open up multiple possible connections. His work allows us to view his objects as dynamic recordings of time and travel. By highlighting the object of the sponge through presenting it to us on a shelf, Steinbach is alerting us to the strangeness of the sponge, how it has travelled though time, starting life in the sea, entering our homes and bathrooms and finally laying to rest (for the time being) on a shelf at the White Cube.


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