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”.

The Grammar of Snow

By Roberta Pucci with the contribution of Suzanne Axelsson

Art works by Ceca Georgieva and Lucia Pec

Macrophotographs by Alexey Kljatov

Cover image: Lucia Pec


How choosing materials for creative explorations and where look for them? In a shop, at home or in the whole environment around you? I think the art studio – the atelier, or the art classroom – is a metaphor of a meaningful, creative encounter with the world and not necessarily a room.
It is a potential approach to all matter. For example, what about snow?

 

Snow exploration in the forest by Suzanne Axelsson

The very first approach I always suggest with any material is possibly fresh and new as it was the first time you see it: not already know what it is, but trying to have an encounter through the senses, the body, the movement, devoid of goals and thinking. We ARE matter, after all: no needed to always understand or create something. Can we just truly live a respectful encounter? Like a curious but discreet and gentle guest, observing and “listening” to the other side, instead of only take and use.

Snow, what or who are you?


How does it sound? How does your skin perceive it? How many ways you can handle it and with how many tools, in addition to your hands? How many kind of snow does exist – kind of consistencies, textures, whites?
I was so surprised and amazed when Suzanne told me there are about 50 Swedish words for define the snow, some used by most people all over Sweden, some used in certain areas only or just for work, in order to recognize when there is a risk for avalanche.

 

  • Drivsnö – drifting snow
  • Djupsnö – when it is very deep
  • Fimmern eller fimmeln – very fine/small snowflakes at very low temperature, like glitter in the air
  • Firn – small, grainy snow
  • Fjunsnö – very light fluffy snow
  • Flaksnö – there is a layer of ice on top like a lid
  • Flister – fine grained snow that you barely notice but somehow gets stuck in your face
  • Knarrsnö – makes a squeaky sound when you walk on it
  • Nysnö -new snow
  • Slask – slush (melting)
  • Snöhagel – mix of hail and snow
  • – snow piles that are left as its all melting
  • Upplega – snow that collects on the branches of trees
  • Yrsnö – snow blowing in all directions at once
  • Kramsnö – the kind you can make snowballs with (it means hug-snow or squeeze-snow)
Art work by Lucia Pec

Snow hides, plays hide and seek, but can also be terrifying in a storm and make getting lost. It can be both soft and hard, silent and noisy. It makes us wonder and wonder again… often connected to some special childhood memories. Can you recall one? I have some too… my personal experience is from the distance of very thick clothes, hat, scarf and gloves, like a little astronaut. So it was something irresistibly attractive but in the meantime difficult to reach and play with.
Maybe this first encounters are connected to my contemplative approach I developed later. What is yours? Can you recognize and support different ways of experiencing?


One of my first encounter with snow – 4 years old

Everything becomes softer, silent and blunt, or hard and creacky if frozen. Snow as a white, uncontaminated sheet of paper over the whole landscape, where signs, paths and maps of prints may appear.

Many authors were inspired by this magic, for example Aoi Huber-Kono with “Winter” or Bruno Munari with his famous “Cappuccetto bianco”, the white version of Little red Riding Hood, where the reader has got to imagine what is happening in the white pages.
The personality of white can express itself to its fullest potential through the snow. How many shades of white can we “see” and name? Are we sure it is only white and there are no other color shades?

 

Picture from the book “Winter” by Aoi Huber-Kono

Snow is part of the wider environment, of course, and we should keep this connection in mind. There are endless possible ways, as we can see throughout the pictures of the post.

 

Art works by Ceca Georgieva

How can we create a dialogue between the snow and the natural elements of the environment? How many ways can the snow encounters a tree, considering its specific shape, size, “personality” and place where it stands?
With snowballs, for example: and everytime the composition is different, related to that tree, group of tree or bush…


Art works by Ceca Georgieva

…or using some natural materials of the environment for making a composition over the snow, that serves as a welcoming support.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

Snow can also become a material for drawing, by adding it on a surface…

 

Art works by Lucia Pec (on the left) and Suzanne Axelsson (on the right)

…or removing it. How many kind of tools, signs and prints can we explore?

 

Art works by Lucia Pec (on the left) and Suzanne Axelsson (on the right)

It is also a material to be modelled, for creating sculptures. Yes, snowmen of course, but why not a chair, a rhinoceros, the hand of the frozen giant, which emerges from the earth, or just a shape inspired by the material and the context itself?


Art works by Lucia Pec

Each transformation affects all the environment: it is like a dialogue though matter, shapes and colors; through nature and the creator.


Art work by Lucia Pec

Who leads, who follows? Where does the inspiration come from? Here below we can see different kind of examples: a pattern probably inspired by the snowflake structure but mainly processed by the artist (on the left) and a dialogue between a stone, snow and lades of grass that seems coming out from the shapes of the stone and the grass, from that specific encounter highlighted by the snow , through the artist as a link between them.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

Now let’s shift from the whole landscape to a single snowflake. It is a so fascinating mistery, a world within a world. Each one is unique, there are not two identical snowflakes in the world. How is it possible and how does a snowflake form?

 

Macrophotos by Alexey Kljatov

As Ian Stewart explains in his beautiful book “What Shape is a Snowflake?”, it is a tiny ice crystal that develops its first nucleus according to its molecular, inner rules. But then, while it is travelling from up to earth, through the atmosphere, it encounters specific conditions (of pressure, umidity, temperature, wind) so that every journey will be a little different and will provoke a different final shape.

 

Macrophotos by Alexey Kljatov

What interesting questions, wondering and learnings within these micro-universes… how preserving this wonder in a educational context? How can we support children to develop their own investigation, without giving ready answers?

As educators and parents, these are important questions to keep in mind.

If you are interested to continue the exploration of the grammar of snow, I invite you to have a deeper look at the amazing work of the land artists Ceca Georgieva and Lucia Pec, of the educator, teacher trainer and author Suzanne Axelsson and the photographer Alexey Kljatov – that I deeply thank for letting me share their inspiring works.

But above all, if you are lucky enough to live in a snowy place, I suggest you to just welcome the snow as a friendly guest and to enjoy your encounter, without knowing where it will take you.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

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