The Grammar of Sand

By Roberta Pucci with the contribution of Lucia Pec and Mascia Premoli

Cover image: Lucia Pec


Sand is an evocative and archaic material, formed over thousands of years by the erosion of rocks, therefore infinitely older than us. In some cultures it is associated with the desert, biblical events and ancient prophets. Sand is a symbol of the infinitely small and of the multitude.


We call it grain of sand,

But it calls itself neither grain nor sand.

Wrote Wisława Szymborska in her poem “View with a grain of sand”.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.

It doesn’t feel itself seen and touched.

And that it fell on the windowsill

is only our experience, not its.


Matter does not have a name before it is born in the consciousness of a human being; in a sense, it begins to exist through our awareness. Therefore, we have the responsibility of activating an interaction, giving meaning, shaping and creating, and – at the same time – of considering the identity of the material, respecting and enhancing its characteristics.


With what actions can we enable a “dialogue” with the sand? With what tools? How can this material be transformed? Or rather, what actions do its characteristics suggest to us?

Sand is made up of billions of uncemented grains, that is, without a cohesive force that holds them together. It is therefore a collection of many, tiny separate elements.

We can experience this quality by simply letting it slide between our fingers or dropping it, even using various containers. Depending on the tool and the movement, the sand will fall differently, creating different types of textures and “piles”.

Images and workshop by Mascia Premoli

As a result of its graininess and the tiny size of the grains, the sand can accommodate any shape, making space for it and retaining its imprint like a “negative” (reverse) mold. Thus, we could say that sand has a short-term memory and can tell impromptu stories.


In addition, like all granular materials, sand does not have a shape of its own, but assumes that of its container. The boundary is given by the container itself. This makes sand an interesting material for playing with decanting and an equally interesting metaphor on the content-container relationship.


Who has never overturned a bucket full of wet sand to make a castle on the beach? Water is a key element of the grammar of sand.

In wet sand, tiny droplets of water bind the grains together, thus forming a more compact and moldable mass (at least within certain limits).

The water also tends to darken the sand because the wet grains has less light reflection (light is absorbed rather than reflected).


An expanse of wet sand constitutes an optimal surface to accommodate the imprint of any object. It is an always open invitation to create a visual composition, even with things picked up on the beach.


Art works by Lucia Pec

Wet sand can also be shaped with your hands. I really like observing the sculptures created on the beach, and over time I have noticed some recurring themes: reptiles, fish, turtles, mermaids, chairs and cushions, dinosaurs, castles, city plants seen from above.


Sculptures by Riccardo and Enea (father and son) from Florence, Italy

Nevertheless, a figurative theme is not necessary to begin or legitimize a creative process, on the contrary: the absence of a recognizable image can relieve us of performance anxiety and aesthetic judgments.

Why not interacting with the material just by relating to the surrounding environment, looking for connections through the shapes that the context suggests us?


Art works by Lucia Pec

In a smaller space, we can instead explore the traces of the movement of various objects and tools: how does the sand react? What kind of signs and textures are formed “by subtraction”?


Images and workshop by Mascia Premoli

Of course, sand also invites us to intentionally draw marks, to represent something or to write. A light table or overhead projector can amplify this process even more.


“Le Betulle” preschool atelier, Cavriago, Italy

All these transformations are always reversible. The sand, in fact, is strongly characterized by the sense of the ephemeral. Outside, the wind carries it away, models it, reminding us of the impermanence of everything. The beach is vulnerable to the elementary forces of the sea.


Art work by Lucia Pec

What is your experience with sand, how do you like to interact with this material? What feelings and associations does it evoke?


It exists in this world

colorless, sharpless,

soundless, odorless, and painless.


As for the poet Wisława Szymborska, also for each of us matter can become a tool for helping our thought to express itself and “take shape” through meaningful metaphors.


“My” summer beach on the Adriatic coast, Pesaro (Italy)

Many thanks to Lucia Pec and Mascia Premoli for their precious contribution.

It you are interested in the exploration of materials, you are welcome to join the Facebook group “The grammar of matter”.

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