⟨ I Know I'll Often Stop and Think About Them ⟩

19-Bodily Memory

SEA SPONGE

Words & Photography / Holun Tang
Translation / Nicole Go

海綿,中文名字有「海」,不單富有詩意,也如實道出了它的來歷。

我在美術用品店尋找作畫用的海綿時,偶然發現了海綿的真身。店裡地上的紙箱長期放著泛人問津的雜貨,我在那裡找到一些每包有七八顆海綿的網袋。每顆栗子般大的海綿,凹凸不均的外表惹起了我的注意,只猜想是故意撕成不平整的一小塊,像橡皮那樣方便使用。可看價錢,小小一袋近一百元,海綿來說出奇昂貴。

The word that describes “sponge” in Chinese consists of the word “sea”. It’s poetic, but also true to the material’s origin.

In search of paint sponges in an art supply store, I discovered, in a pile of unsolicited debris, packs of seven or eight sponges the size of chestnuts, all irregularly shaped and presumably torn into convenient pieces – like erasers. You’d never guess, but each pack cost almost a hundred dollars.

後來我在天然用品店又碰上這些海綿,才驚覺它們根本是自然之物。公元前,古希臘人已用它們和橄欖油來潔淨自己的身體。

躺在海底的海綿是地球最古老的原始物種,沒有消化系統,也沒有神經系統,只透過身上細孔從海水過濾氧氣和食物來維生,從遠古繁衍到現在。古希臘人會以負重的方式快速下潛,在海底深處採集海綿,然後放進繫在身上的袋子。如此花費人力,全因海綿有獨特的吸水構造和無可取代的潔淨能力。採集海綿後來在地中海國家發展成相當可觀的產業,直到四十年代聚酯纖維被發明及廣泛應用,人們所認知的海綿才變成我們現在輕易買到的工業仿製品。

Then I came across sea sponges in a natural products store, and that’s when I realised that sponges were, in fact, natural products. First attested in the 8th century B.C., the Greeks have been using sea sponges and olive oil for their personal hygiene since the antiquity.

Sponges were first to branch off the evolutionary tree from the common ancestor of all animals. They do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems. Instead, they rely on maintaining a constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen. Ancient Greeks hand harvested sponges using the freediving method, which involved a diver carrying a rounded stone tied on a rope to the boat – to take him down to the bottom of the sea quickly. The diver then cut the sponge loose from the bottom and put a special net around it; all this trouble for the organism’s incredible water holding capacity and fibrous surface, which gives it superior cleaning and exfoliation power. Sea sponges had been mainly harvested and traded in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea – until synthetic sponges were popularised for commercial use in the 40’s.

略為生硬的天然海綿遇水後,細孔會打開,整顆會脹大一倍且極具彈性,回復海洋生物的模樣。我開始把它跟肥皂一起使用,替代過往的潔面產品。用的時候我沒有特別想「這是在地球存在了六億年的古老生物」,只是每次都期待著接觸它。用它按壓、輕掃臉上各個部位,不平整的棱角剛好走進眼窩、耳朵那些角落,跟皮膚自然貼緊,清洗後感覺是一股暖流緩緩經過五官,留下一種簇新的潔淨感。

Natural sea sponges are porous solid masses that soften and expand upon contact with water. I have since been using a sea sponge with soap as a staple of my facial care. It never really occurrs to me that I am, in fact, using a 600 million-year-old organism. Instead I look forward to my cleaning ritual, reaching into every nook, cranny and crevice using the tufts and ridges of the sponge, as a flush of warmth courses through me, cleansing my skin afresh.

海綿細緻的樣子告訴我,我必須小心對待它,也必須以相同的心情對待自己的身體。洗擦時,也可以單純享受洗擦,暫時讓身體放下那些無法負荷的思緒。相比起存在了六億年的海綿,我這副不過暫借一用的肉身,姑且在它變成石頭般堅硬前,再次記起柔軟是甚麼一回事。

The sponge’s delicate, mnemonic quality suggests care with use, but it also transposes to a reminder of self-care, of kindness. The act of bathing, as such, takes on a new meaning: no longer a stretch of time for the release of emotional baggage, it has become a ritual of exfoliation and polish. In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, my body is but a temporary vessel relative to a 600 million-year-old sea sponge. One day it will turn into stone. Until then, I want to remember what it’s like to be soft.