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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Glass Delusions opens today

By Jack Ashby, on 1 October 2015

Photogram #2 by Eleanor Morgan

A photogram created by exposing photo-sensitive paper with the Grant Museum’s glass sponge specimens sat directly on it. (C) Eleanor Morgan

Glass Delusions is a new exhibition at the Grant Museum featuring works by the Museum’s Artist in Residence, Eleanor Morgan. Using prints, drawings, videos and objects Eleanor explores the slippery boundary between living and non-living materials.

Over the past year, Eleanor has been drawing inspiration from our collection of glass sponges. These are intricately formed deep-sea animals that naturally build themselves out of glass – the are 90% silica, which they draw out of the sand in their environment.

The exhibition centres on the use of glass as a material, its cultural significance and the strange psychological phenomenon of humans believing they are made of glass known as the Glass Delusion. Do read Eleanor’s blog about the strange history of this hysteria.

Venus flower basket glass sponge. LDUCZ-B29 Euplectella aspergillum

Venus flower basket glass sponge. LDUCZ-B29
Euplectella aspergillum

Building on conversations she has had with biologists, chemists, geologists and engineers Morgan’s work also looks at the challenge of re-animating a museum of dead creatures.

Included in the exhibition are ‘The mudlark diamonds’ – microscopic diamonds created from the dead creatures that Eleanor collected on the banks of the River Thames. Working with UCL chemists and geologists, she has transformed a collection of organisms and debris into the hardest, and most valuable, natural substance on Earth.

Also on display are Morgan’s photograms of the Museum’s sponge specimens within their museum cases – a work which explores the relationship between the natural glass animals and the glass jars in which they are stored.

Sponge Man (C) Eleanor Morgan

Sponge Man
(C) Eleanor Morgan

We are lucky to have been able to bring in some stunning objects from other museums to compliment the artworks and our own glass sponge specimens. From the Petrie Museum, we are showing 3,500 year old Egyptian glass rods. The Egyptians were the first to use man-made glass. Objects like these would have been used to make beads.

Sponge head Spicules of glass sponge interwoven with mud and debris. NHMUK Item on loan courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Sponge head
Spicules of glass sponge interwoven with mud and debris.
Item on loan courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum,

We also have some stunning and curious specimens on loan from the Natural History Museum, London. There is a spectacular vitrine of Venus flower basket sponges, which Eleanor has included in her work “The garden of spongy delight” along with a modified Victorian print of sponge divers. There is also a more unusual object that has been artificially manufactured out of glass sponge spicules. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Addams Family’s Cousin It, but its history is not known.

We have a really ambitious events programme linked to the exhibition, from drawing masterclasses and talks, to mudlarking walks and glass-blowing sessions.

Also part of the programme, Eleanor will be resurrecting the traditional Japanese art of fish-rubbing – covering whole (dead fish) in ink and printing directly from them. Before the invention of photography, this technique was used by fishermen to record the size of their catch. Prints made by participants will be added to the exhibition.

Having Eleanor Morgan work with the Museum over the past year has allowed us to think about the collection from a completely different perspective – as more than simply a scientific resource.

Glass sponge specimen Lophacalux philippinensis LDUCZ-B57

Glass sponge specimen Lophacalux philippinensis

It was our very own founder, Robert Grant, who proved that sponges were animals and not plants, so it’s particularly apt that we have returned to highlight these creatures in this exhibition. Typically, these intricate, beautiful specimens are not exactly superstars of museum displays today. It’s fantastic for us to be able to put them in the limelight. Dinosaurs will always get the headlines, but sponges are incredible too. Glass Delusions is giving people the chance to explore these wonderful animals in a really exciting way

You can read more, and see all of the events, on the exhibition website, and there is a gallery of images on Flickr.

The exhibition is a result of a yearlong residency at the Grant Museum, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum.

Glass Delusions runs from 1st October to 19th December 2015. The Grant Museum of Zoology is open from 1–5pm Monday to Saturday. Admission is free and there is no need to book.


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