Comfort In Counting Sand

comfort in counting sand
A shot before I started recounting my sand. This is less than a 30th of the original sand I counted over the course of 15 months in 2013 and 2014 (for my 8th solo biennial MATTER), using the same tools.

Climbing the stairs to my studio (after completing my 18-year project, 9 solo-biennial exhibits of interactive installation in Maine’s mills), I was reminded of a scene from the movie “Pushing Tin.” 

An air traffic controller, recovering from a disturbing near miss, is attempting to go back to work. Each of his fellow controllers has taken bets on whether or not he’ll leave his car, walk to the front door, open the door, enter the lobby… 

After reaching our top step, facing my door, opening my door, and taking my first steps into my studio—a feeling fleeted—a sense I often had when my family moved into our next apartment (we moved around a lot). 

I’ve entered a place someone else used to live. It’s now meant to be mine. So, I have to figure out how to make it feel like my own. 

What will I make in this room?—beginning to feel larger than it is, walls so wide and tall and empty, tables just as bare.

If I were starting a tenth 22-month biennial process, I’d be reading my thesaurus, what I’d done every other February 1st since 2001. 

But, I wasn’t starting another 22-month process.

I didn’t need, or really want that structure any more. But, as I turned my body in my bigger-than-it-is room, I was missing this structure. 

And, in the next moment: I don’t have to make something right now.

So, I rebuilt my website, which was much like moving my things into a new apartment, getting everything I owned (the work I’d done the past 18 years), where I wanted it in my new room. And, it was a lot of stuff.

It was completely surreal, to not be in my chair, opening the pliable pages of my thesaurus. Even now, I remember their texture on my fingers.

And, when my new website was built…

What will I make in this room?—beginning to feel larger than it is, walls so wide and tall and empty, tables just as bare.

comfort in counting sand
The 562,437 grains of sand in the first of flux V’s 720 vials.

So, I recounted my sand, moving each grain from the right to the left, 100 grains at a time.

For flux V, 1 of 9 installations I’d presented at MATTER (my 8th solo biennial, 2014), I counted 562,439 grains of white sand over the course of 15 months (counting 2,000 grains a day ~5 days a week). 

I removed 2 granules to make the total a multiple of 9 (562,437), and poured it into a vial, the first of 720 vials to be installed on a 120-foot pedestal. 

At MATTER, I asked participants to carefully pour all the grains of sand from the current vial into the next, the sand meant to travel from the first vial to the last vial over the course of the 3-week exhibit. 

Once the sand reached the last vial, or the exhibit ended (whichever came first), the installation would be complete. And, I would eventually recount all the sand in this last vial, documenting how much matter made it to the end of the installation.

comfort in counting sand
flux V at MATTER (my 8th solo-biennial exhibit of interactive installation; Robinson Mill, Parsonsfield, Maine, 2014)

I knew there would be spillage, and grains that would stick to the 719 vials as the sand made its way to the 720th;

this was was my interest, in observing how differently people would pour, along with the general decrease occurring from the friction of the sand against the glass. 

And, I’d asked my participants, that if they did spill, to please try not to scoop, to leave the sand where it’d fallen (and I’d made my pedestal wide enough so that if granules did spill, they’d be caught).

Well, in a few places, months worth were spilled in single, way-off pouring motions. 

I wondered whether any sand would make it to end, any I could re-count, or if the result of my experiment would be 0 grains. 

But, by MATTER’s final day, there was indeed a little bit of sand in the bottom of the 720th vial. 

comfort in counting sand
On the left is just a little spill, I don’t know, maybe 1 or 2 days worth? On the right, a participant takes it slow, trying to get all the sand in the next vial.

What was great about recounting this resulting sand—right now, when my studio was feeling large—was that technically, I was making art. In fact, I was finishing a piece! And, bonus! There was something, a first thing, on one of my tables. 

And, counting calmed me, comforted me, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,…settled me in my space, shrunk my studio and its walls back to normal-size. 

And, I could start making new work, just after my first round of counting (again I set out to count 2,000 grains a day); I set up for myself a small drawing area on the other end of this same table. 

And, once I’d finished counting, 8 days later, I’d finished 6 drawings (more on these later). 

And, once I’d finished counting, I found that less than a 30th of the sand had made it to flux V’s 720th vial, 16,281 grains. 

Which, by the way, is a multiple of 9.

comfort in counting sand
My chart from when I counted the original 562,437 grains of sand over 15 months (a detail). Each tic is 100 granules. Each set of 20 tics is a day’s worth of counting.