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April 29, 2014

A New Take on Sand Castles…..

Who hasn’t idled away long summer hours building sand castles on the beach? Most of us have, at some time or other, run those wet buckets of sand back to our castle that rises sometimes lopsidedly, sometimes majestically from the beach. But who ever heard of someone reversing the process and etching castles on a single grain of sand?

Well, artist Vik Muniz and artist/researcher Marcelo Coelho for starters! Muniz  is known for creating art that alters perspectives based on context. He creates massive 500 meter long etchings in the earth’s surface. On the ground, they look like trenches. From the air, like drawings in the earth. Now he has reversed the process, creating castles on a single grain of sand.

The process took four years. Muniz would draw a castle and then project it through a special prism. Coehlo, who is also an MIT graduate, would use a Focused Ion Beam to trace each drawing on to each grain of sand. An FIB is more typically used for fixing integrated circuits on microchips. In this instance, Coehlo etched lines a fraction of the width of human hair on to the particle of sand, managing to create crisp images of the castles. That is about 50 nanometers wide or close to the the diffraction limit of visible light, which is why an optical microscope would not work.

Each image requires at least nine scans before it can be printed, following which Muniz turns the concept on its head once again…….by enlarging the final image into four feet,large format photographs.

Muniz picked castles because, “I rely on images that are simple, that you’ve seen a million times… You think you know it but then you have to know it again.”  “When someone tells you it’s a grain of sand, there’s a moment where your reality falls apart and you have to reconstruct it. You have to step back and ask what the image is and what it means”, rather like the French when they first looked down from the Eiffel Tower.


“It’s really strange,” said Coelho, “because you’re drawing on to a canvas and you don’t really know what it is and you can’t hold it.”

“I think photography is just re-starting,” said Coelho. “There’s a whole new kind of photography emerging now. A lot of it is happening because of this combination between computers and cameras, and story telling and narratives can emerge as a result.”

I think I’ll stick to the beach, for now.