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This week we meet with Hope Ginsburg, an artist who often works outside of a traditional studio. Her assignment asks you to conjure your own studio and imagine your ideal space for learning, thinking, and making.

Learn more about Hope's work: http://hopeginsburg.com/

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Sarah: We're in Richmond, Virginia, where we're meeting up with Hope Ginsburg. We're going to be talking with her inside of her Sponge HQ, which for the past five years has been her project space as well as interdisciplinary lab, workshop, and classroom here at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Hope is a self-proclaimed sea sponge obsessive. And her work and research have explored both sponge biology as well as its metaphoric potential. For a 2013 project in Porto Alegre, Brazil, she focused on four types of sponges, which she rendered out of handmade, hand-dyed wool felt and presented in tank-like spaces. These were made collaboratively through workshops in Virginia and in Brazil. And learning experientially and with others is really at the core of her practice.

It was her interest in sponges that initially led Hope to her recent series "Breathing on Land," for which she meditates in full scuba gear in a variety of locations all on land. She has done this alone but often with others, calling attention to the relationship between individual and environmental health.

Hope's way of working is driven by investigation, learning by doing, and is highly social. She works most often outside of a formal studio, per se, or in collaborative spaces. With Hope, we're going to talk about what a studio can be and how you might imagine your ideal space for learning, thinking, and making.

Hope: Hi, I'm Hope Ginsburg. And this is your art assignment.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You know, I guess my studio journey begins with like a tiny table and chairs under the basement steps in the house that I grew up in. I think that living in New York for so long and not having a studio outside of my house, I can certainly recall times of hosting studio visits with a very neatly made bed and a projector two feet from it and a slide screen in front of the couch. So I think that, as with my artwork, my studio and my living space were most often collapsed into one another. I think, however, there was always the thought of, OK, this desk or this surface or the fantasy of if I paint Homasote panels white and hang them in the living room, is that the studio? Is the studio in the kitchen, where the felt gets made? So there is this real overlap between living and working. And there are always has been.

The Sponge project started as a workshop model when I was in graduate school. And I was really interested in a kind of situated school within a school. And so I set up a four-day sponge workshop that was intended to scramble hierarchies between experts and learners and mix disciplines. And that workshop model got piloted a few times. And I started to dream of planting the Sponge somewhere, like a sea sponge would plant on a marine reef, and allow it to kind of scramble subject matters and experiences. And so the Sponge HQ, planted here at VCU and the School of the Arts in 2010.

Your assignment is to conjure a studio that can be a real space that you make, like the inside of a drawer or the surface of your desk, a closet or maybe a building. It can be a real space that you would love to make but for now will need to make with a drawing or a collage. It can also be an imaginary space. Is your perfect world studio underwater or on another planet? In that case, you'll most likely need to draw it or render it or mock it up as a model. But we want to see your ideal work space.

Sarah: John, I really like this assignment. And I think it's because we all have a very firm idea in our heads of what an artist studio is or should be.

John: Right. You think about canvases and paints and lots of light streaming in, The Artist in His Studio.

Sarag: Unfortunately titled. And there is only one female artist in this book. And it's quite lovely. And it's full of photographs of artists in their studios. And they're all very different. But it's mostly a person alone surrounded by stuff and canvases, painting, maybe with a supportive wife.

John: Of course, that book got its title from the famous Rembrandt self-portrait, where you see the artist alone, the genius working out how to use the canvas.

Sarah: And other artists have displayed themselves in their studios, like Courbet in a more populated space surrounded by people, but it's still a guy with a model painting a canvas.

John: But of course, these days artists don't necessarily work like that. Like I thought of Andy Warhol and the Factory in the 1960s, which really destroyed the idea of the solitary artist.

Sarah: That's a really great example because Warhol was working collaboratively on films. And so many artists are doing different things than making paintings or sculptures alone. They're working out in the community, building things in groups together with other people.

John: So, Sara, I'm really excited to design my own personal ideal work space. But I'm hoping you can give us a little more art historical context.

Sarah: Definitely. Today, I'm going to talk about Marcel Duchamp and what he did in his studio.

In 1913 in his studio in Paris, Duchamp mounted a bicycle wheel upside down on a stool and liked to watch it spin, saying it was simply letting things go by themselves and having a sort of creative atmosphere in a studio, probably to help your ideas come out of your head. When he set up a new studio in New York a few years later, he populated the room with everyday objects but displaced them from their usual positions and functions.

At the time he was thinking about modern spatial geometry, in particular, Henri Poincare's theory that an observer in a moving system cannot tell up from down and left from right. So Duchamp put a coat rack on the floor, a hat rack on the ceiling, a urinal in a doorway, and hung a snow shovel from the ceiling. These were not works of art in the traditional sense but instead experimental devices made to stimulate the senses, subvert expectation, and raise questions instead of answer them. It was exactly the type of creative atmosphere he sought, a laboratory to help ideas come out of your head and perhaps the first time a studio could be considered an artwork in itself.

Hope: So this Sponge Headquarters, which has been a great space for making work for five years, is winding down. And that leaves me with a kind of wide open slate for thinking about what the next studio will be. I am totally engaged in this breathing on land project. And part of me fantasizes about a dive shop for breathing on land, which is this standalone kind of dive shop and studio from which this project springs. And then there's always the question in the back of my mind about some proper studio, as if there is such a thing, but a studio that's not so driven by any one project but rather a space that multiple projects can flow through.

Since the assignment is to make something real or imagined and to imagine something imaginary, that people can project themselves somewhere that they would like to be. Would they like to be underwater? Would they like to be on another planet? Are they dying to get to a city or do they need a kind of more open landscape? I might start with site and imagine how one could subsist there or do what it is that they want to do in that place.

I think the studio can always be the imagined ideal. But I think the space is always really important. And that space can be a head space. That space can be the way you organize the desktop on your computer. That space can be the way you organize your physical desktop. That space can be a drawer, a chair, a corner. But I think that having some control over the conditions in which you're working is of fundamental importance to getting work done.

As an artist in 2016, there's an awful lot of running around. And work gets done in minivans on the way to Canada for a film shoot.

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