March 8: 03F-4

There are some elements in this sculpture that presage coming events. They wouldn't show themselves clearly for another year but they're there.

A report follows the image assembly.

About Time

He stacks rocks in a ring, up and out. Balance fails and rocks hit the sand; I can see on his face the effects of failure. He builds again, and again, and again. Each time he gets the pile taller but Nova Scotia's wide tidal range is covering the beach behind him.

In the late afternoon he tosses the last few small rocks on the top of his egg-shaped cairn. Salt water laps at its tucked-in base. It comes higher, slowly engulfing the elegant porous shape, making small eddies downstream. Higher, higher and then it's gone. Rippled water covers the spot. It's there, he knows it's there; he can feel it.

Near sunset the cairn's tip comes clear, then is covered again by a small wave. Revealed, covered, revealed to stay. Water pulls away and the cone stands. Andy Goldsworthy's camera stands with its feet in the washing waves as the sun spears in through a narrow gap between cloud and island to reflect in a long golden line on the receding water. A gift, he says. Design, ability, idea, brought here on film.

The movie adds to the beauty of his books the magic of movement. Time. I can see the effort on his face, the disappointment, the joy as an illuminated serendipity gleams in his looping icicle.

The last time he inspired me I really needed it. I wondered what the point was in making sculptures that washed away or failed so easily. Tomorrow I'll make another and I have more ideas than I know what to do with. This time the inspiration is more subtle.

Rock cairns. A simple idea, a simple shape. Everyone adds to them on the tops of mountains and in high passes. Goldsworthy builds them of rocks, of ice, of branches. In fields, along highways, beside frozen rivers, in the foyers of high-rise buildings. Some of them only cows know about. Others stand in plain view. All of them share the same shape. Repetition. How about that. Pay some attention here, Mr. Nelson. Maybe you don't need to wield that whip quite so vigorously to get where you want to go. Maybe you should allow ideas to work themselves out over time. Maybe you should even try someone else's idea.

Build number: 03F-4 (lifetime start #271) screened low-tide sand (upper quarter filtered), on large domed base at center of circular borrow pit
Title: none
Date: March 8
Location: Venice Breakwater, on the flat
Start: 0615; construction time approx 9.5 hours
Height: 3.4 feet (Latchform); riser height about 10 inches
Base: 1.75 feet nominal diameter
Assistant: none
Photo digital: 27 images, Canon Powershot G2
Photo 35mm: none
Photo 6X7: none
Photo volunteer: Rich, w/Canon Z115, complete; Larry, w/ Jazz, complete
Video motion: none (camcorder not brought)
Video still: none
Video volunteer: Larry, w/ Elura, completion
New Equipment: none

1. Roots

My first experiment with a tucked-in sculpture base was in 1996. The sculpture, "Faraway," not only stood but is still one of my favorites. The tucked-in base gives it a very neat look, sitting primly and lightly upon its sokkel. It became one of my standard design tricks but I never centered a whole sculpture around it again. Repetition means stagnation, right?

Seeing the cairns in Andy Goldsworthy's books later on that year showed me just how nice the shape can be all by itself. Simple. Powerful. Seemingly impossible. It also belonged to someone else.

There are always ideas, more than I can build. I started making multiple sculptures partly as a way to express more ideas in one day but the experience was increasingly frustrating. I couldn't get the things to look like anything other than a neighborhood with lousy zoning. I tried all kinds of tricks for tying the sculptures together. Most of them didn't work.

One day I had three piles built, ready to carve. One was tall and distant. The other two were similar in height but one of them was planted in a depression. The higher sculpture in this duo was somewhat blocky, with a spreading top. The other one needed contrast, I thought, so I made it egg-shaped. By this time I'd forgotten all about Goldsworthy's patent. Having an egg, well, just isn't enough. This is sand. it has, in addition to the outside that a stone cairn has, an inside. I carved three openings in the egg and then carved symmetric detail in there. I was having so much fun carving and enjoying the fruit of improved packing of coarse sand that I neglected basic engineering. The egg's top has to be supported, either from outside or inside. I denied it both and it exploded. It hadn't worked as a unifying factor anyway, but the shape rang like a bell.

I tried more multiples. More ideas, more tricks, more frustration. Seemed like the tighter I tried to plan them the worse they got.

So, I just chucked it. Went down with a few tools and just started making piles. The result, 03M-4, was one of the better multiples and I'd consciously not planned anything. Just make sculptures and let the sand speak. I did it again the next day with an even more severe test: the first unit was a demonstration, the second built purely to test a design component for a formed sculpture. The harmony was strained, but the two still sang together. The next weekend's formed sculpture took these ideas and went farther and I suddenly realized that a multiple is simply a sculpture. The only difference is it covers more space, but it will respond to the same design sensitivity that a monolith will.

Quit worrying. I went down and made 03M-6 and this piece really sang. Trust that design sense and stay out of the way.

2. Copy

Well, look at that. Andy Goldsworthy isn't afraid to copy his own ideas. Maybe it's just fatigue, but I leave the theatre feeling as if he wouldn't be too upset if I borrowed the idea.

Ideas pass through civilization like one of his long green threads, stitching leafy societies together through time. I've always believed that copying was for the incompetent. Real creators do it themselves. Except that they're using societal ideas anyway, things they've taken in without noticing. Otherwise, why would so many people respond so positively to the work? Communication comes from shared ideas.

I arrive on the beach at a fog-shrouded sunrise. Grey light suffuses the world but it's brightening rapidly. I dig the circular borrow pit and build the center up, packing it with my cold feet. The form goes on top. Two hours go by in hauling and packing sand. The form comes off and there it is.

The shape is in my mind. I pick up the older Sand Knife and try to make it real.

Inside and outside. The cairn is symmetric. I can live with that, but can I make the interior asymmetric yet balanced?

3. Departures

I end up with three curving surfaces polished onto the pile. They spread outward and upward from the sculpture's bottom, reach a wide point, and then curve inward again. Between each panel is a boat-shaped area of unworked sand; these will become the windows into the interior. The sculpture's top is a smoothed triangle in which I intend to cut a vertical hole. I also intend to cut small openings through the wider top parts of the three verticals.

Inside. Outside. Shadows and light, lines, surfaces moving around, going inside from the outside and catching until they disappear down a hole. This is what sand is for. A hand, a simple tool, carve.

The sculpture is too symmetric. Symmetry is easy to visualize but hard to carve. If I'm off by just a little it looks bad. I bend one edge of the triangular top around and soften the edge with a subtle curve.

Time. The days are lengthening noticeably as we round the orbit toward equinox. I can step back, look, and feel the luxury of consideration. Winter sculptures are fast. Spring sculptures are more thought out if I manage to shake the winter imperative.

The plan is for the whole interior top to be hollow. Other structures will fill in toward the bottom. And then I'll cut the panels into narrow braided spaces. The assymetric rounding departs from symmetry and also makes the upper corners more complicated. The top now curves downward and the vertical elements won't be defined separately up there.

Dig. Into the pile, first with the heavy-duty Powerloop and then with the more delicate Steel Finger. This tool has finally found its place. Light and maneuverable, and very versatile. It's the only thing I have that will dig well when used upside down. I have to hollow the top somehow.

With the north space well defined, at least at the top, I go around to the southeast and dig there also. When I cut through to the north space the remnant sand suggests a more complicated internal structure. Forget the hollow.

How should it be done? I carefully cut away sand and shape a thick spiral inside the three leaves, and then cut through from the west to free this new idea from the solid sand. The west space goes nearly the sculpture's full height, and will serve as a window revealing the rest of the structure. How to make everything fit becomes the problem, and I submerge myself in it.

The sun comes in on a sea breeze. The begging gull is still here, wheeping away at any adult bird it sees. It even tries a crow. People come and go.

4. Ollie

A man walks up and watches. I barely notice him, concerned as I am with the design of a part in the northern space.
"So, you haven't been out on the motorcycle very much?"
:How does he know? I look at him, questions on my face as I sit there in the sculpture's shadow.
He smiles. "I'm Ollie."
"Wow. You've changed."

I last saw him three or four years ago at a barbecue a friend of ours gave for the Iron Butt riders. These people spend 10 days riding motorcycles and if they don't do more than 1000 miles per day they have no chance of winning. Ollie rides like this all the time. He just takes off from his house, riding until he feels like turning around. 500 miles is a very long day for me, but that would just be a warm-up for him. Here he is, having ridden down from near Stockton just to see a sand sculpture. Typical. An excuse to ride. He's the real thing.

"Are you going to visit Russ while you're here?"
"He's in Long Beach, right?"
"Yes. Not too far."
"I thought about it but probably not."
We keep talking, about motorcycles and riding.

5. The Fruits of Distraction

While all that goes on there's still a sculpture to make. I'm working in the northern space, trying to fit some sort of design in there.

Distraction is part of a sand sculptor's life. It used to be hard to handle; I'd have to shift back and forth from sculpture mode to question-answering mode and that cost time and effort. Eventually I learned to automate the answers. Most people don't care that much anyway, and that rare person who does show more interest gets more personal attention. When Rich is here he gives more detailed answers and thereby helps me keep track of what I'm doing.

Ollie is different. He rode all that distance, and I want to find out what he's been up to. My mind wanders and the carving hands go on autopilot. After a while I realize I have a strong default shape carved, and there's nothing to do with it. Sand can't be replaced. The inverted elbow will just have to stand. I cut into it to make a thin sheet coming out from the sculpture and this helps.

It's not ugly. It's just not as good as I'd hoped for. As trades go, however, this one was pretty good. My choice. Talking face to face with the man behind the stories and Email messages and photos.
"I have this APS camera now. No more disposables. I love it. Easy to carry and use."
It is tiny, disappearing into his pocket between photos.

"What else should I do here?"
"All I know is there's too much sand." A man after Rich's idealogy; I can tell he has been reading the reports. I agree with him. As the afternoon lengthens I work hard at removing excess sand, and some of the results are surprising.

"I just wish I could rotate it about 24 degrees clockwise. When I started I wasn't thinking about sun; I just started cutting."
"It's still catching some light."
"Yah. I'm trying to open it up a bit more."

6. Two Sculptures, and then One

"Now I just have to clean it up. This could be trouble."
"I think you're right. There are enough holes."
"This is getting scary, Rich. That's the second or third time in the last few months you've told me that!"

I had enough difficulty carving up into the top's hollows. Now I have to reach in there and delicately trim edges to give the holes better shape. Forget about brushing. I just can't get the brush in there.

Larry Dudock, about 150 feet east, is still racing the sun to get his sculpture finished. He got here about 0730 but, what with one thing and another, didn't have a pile ready until noon. Now he's nearing completion.

The sun is a couple of hours from setting on this long spring day. I carefully brush and trim, level by level, trying to remember all the places where waste sand collects. Still, I have to go back again and again as I find heaps of sand that have been forgotten on little bridges between holes.

Long shadows cross the beach. It's getting colder; the light may act like spring, but the air still holds winter's touch. I help the shadows by digging out the borrow pit, shaping the sculpture's sokkel into a rounded mound, and then working my way around the periphery to shape the crater's edge.

"There. That's it. There's something I don't like about that sokkel, but I can't figure out what it is." The last time I did this the piece sat better. This one is too dramatic. Too high? Too abrupt? I'm too tired to figure it out.

Rich, Ollie and I stand there in the late light, cool sea wind wrapping around us, talking about Ollie's crash. A year and a half of healing, along with much effort, and he's walking and riding.
I turn and look at Larry. He's waving me over. I give him a brush-off because Ollie's not finished yet, and there'll be time for him later. A few minutes later he's more emphatic.
"If you want to see this thing, you'd better come now."
Rich and I walk over.
"See the crack?"
I don't, until I walk around to the south. There, at the top, is a crack that's wider at the bottom.
"I just noticed it."
"Has it gotten bigger?"
"I'm not sure."
"Probably nothing to worry about then."
He goes on taking pictures. I turn away to look at something else, then turn back. Is the crack bigger? Suddenly it doesn't matter; the sculpture goes on the ground with a series of solid thumps.
"I wish you'd been a little clearer the first time. I didn't know what you wanted, and Ollie was telling a story."
"I was in a hurry to get photos."
"A good idea."

"What do you think happened?"
"You had that east side panel very undercut, and it was heavy. I think it peeled off and the rest followed it over the side." Something about this explanation bothers me but in my post-sculptural state, I can't figure it out.
Larry points. "This place?"
"Yes." I hold my hands out. "You had it undercut very deeply." The next day I review my memories and realize I'm wrong, as we discuss the failure. "I missed the boat yesterday. There were chunks of sand all around the sculpture, and the crack was wider on the bottom. That indicates that the top was becoming flatter. So, all three uprights were bowing outward, which surprises me. I thought you had them turning in enough. Maybe the top was just too heavy, or it was too dry."
"Not enough spraying? What makes you think that?"
"Just a feeling. I've had a couple of sculptures fall over and I thought they were too dry. No proof, no way to prove it. The margin between horizontal and vertical is very slight."

7. Light and Cold

We walk back to my sculpture.
"Well, folks, I'm going to get going while there's still some light. I'd like to get to Castaic before dark."
"45 miles." I measure the sun. "You should make it." But Ollie stays put for a few more minutes as Rich and I photograph the sculpture.

It's quite a piece. I'd be proud of this one anywhere. It looks nice and is interesting. Its interior changes as the sun slowly moves around, illuminating the spaces and little windows inside. It's hard to see.

"Take a look at this, Rich. You'll need to stand inside the crater. Watch your step."
Down through the sculpture are four levels of spaces and hard parts, some of them rimmed in gold.

When I put my pile jacket on over the windbreaker I realize that, not only is the day rapidly getting cold, but my brain is gone. Its task finished, it's warmly satisfied and leaves the day-to-day operation to a haphazard process that I hope is good enough to get me home. Hunger is a problem. Mirjam wasn't here to take care of that need with her good sandwiches.

"I think that's about it. I'm cold."
"I agree," says Rich.
I pack up and we start across the sand. Larry is still getting his kit together for that long, post-failure walk. Failure or success, you're still tired, but success bouys the sculptor making the trek easier. Nothing is harder than dragging all the clutter of high-performance sand sculpture across a wide dry beach after the day's work falls over.

"Good night, Rich. Thanks for your help."
"You're welcome. Fare you well."
The ride home is slow, the subsequent meal forgotten. The only memory is of the sculpture standing in the sunlight, its blend of planning and spontaneity particularly attractive.

Written 2003 March 9, 11, 14

 Modified to replace Photobucket links 2017-11-17

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