Center of Contemporary Art Ibiza
Oct 10, 2018 2:10PM

Interview by LEILA ARATO

We often associate sand with the ephemeral: sand running through our fingers, tricking down the hour glass. It is in constant motion. It is carried by the wind and washed away by the waves. Karen Hain seeks to capture this constant movement and make it eternal. Her works “Elementary Games” are a series of large scale pieces that take inspiration from the course of nature and its elements. I’ve sat down with Karen and had a talk to her about her medium, inspiration and creative process.

Working with sand is not the most traditional art form. How did you start creating this pieces?

I just do what I enjoy doing. What I like is transformation: taking something and giving it a new purpose. This does not only apply to my artwork, it extends to how I live in general. I constantly encounter objects and materials that seem to be of little value to others and I just have the urge to make something new out of them. I just cant stop myself. This is how I get all my furniture (laughs).

(Karen stands up and points out a beautiful lamp behind her) This is made of recycled bottles. A very stylish way of recycling! What your the fascination with such a raw material as sand in particular? I find recycling and re-purposing very interesting.

We live in a throw away society where people buy things just for the sake of it and dispose of them to make room for something new. I am more attracted to objects that have been used, that have a past and a story to tell. And sand has very long story to tell. Every grain of sand used to be something else - a rock, a coral a seashell - that has been transformed over time into sand. And I enjoy giving that grain of sand a new form, another life.

Is it the past of the material that fascinates you rather than the material itself?

Not everyone would see such a world of possibilities in such small particles... It’s everything about it. The long journey it has made but also its form. You wouldn't believe how manytypes of sand there are. Different shades, compositions, weights... It all depends on what is has been before and how the environment has shaped it. For example, dessert sand has round grains which makes it impossible to build with whereas sand from an earthy environment has sharper edges which gives it more stability. They all behave differently. This gives me an immense spectrum of possibilities to bring it in to life.

“In the end it’s all about the beauty of the process and the constant transformation.” When you speak about your process it sounds like something that evolves organically.

How important is to you to give creativity its time?

Everything needs its time. An idea can come like an epiphany but being patient is a crucial part of my creative process. To work with sand in the way that I do means that I can have a vision but that doesn't mean it actually works that way. It’s impossible for me to plan the outcome. My work is a lot about trying things out and experimenting. Maybe you are not able to for plan the final outcome but when I look at your work I sense that there’s a big element of premeditation involved: you put the materials into place and you alter them in a way that it would never happen naturally.

Which part plays a more important role the premeditated actions or the unexpected results? Control or chance?

My goal is to find a balance of both. It is true that I construct scenarios: I mix different sands on a platform (lighter sand with a heavier one, different proportions and shades..). I bring the platform into movement, abit like the natural forms of erosion, and I move the material around in an indirect way. What happens next isn’t controllable: the heavier particles separate from the lighter ones, the rounder shapes from the angular shaped grains. This is plain physics and not up to me anymore. I can do that over and over again until I like composition. But it is mainly luck. I can’t alternate parts of it. I can’t say “Oh I’d like a little more tension in the left corner”. A painter would get his brush and work on the left corner until he is satisfied. I, on the other hand risk changing the whole composition with a tiny movement. And often, I end up ruining a complete day of work within seconds. There is no step backwards. You have to risk it. Its’ all or nothing. So it’s all about knowing when to stop. Yeah, that’s right. But that is also the most difficult part. The process itself, the experimentation is what I enjoy most, so it’s hard to for me to interrupt it in the middle of the work-flow.

So when do you consider the process, this ongoing metamorphosis, as completed?

I know its time to stop when I get really excited.I see things that are happening, shapes I like and I feel euphoric; an almost addictive feeling. But even though I could go on and on I know I have to be cautious. I normally take a break and and then reconsider if its done or if I should keep on working on the piece. But it often happens that take it too far and then I think “Why didn't I just leave it the way it was?” You have to leave the party at its peak, just when you are having the best time... Sounds like plenty of self control. (Laughs) Yes... You know, there is a lot of work that goes into fixating the sand. I use different forms of glue: spray, then I drip it on and sometimes the glue is injected inch per inch to fixate all the layers of sand. And I just want to make sure I get it right before doing it. I've even come up with tricks to prevent me from overworking a piece. I set up two pieces simultaneously, and whenever

I get to this euphoric yet slightly reckless state where I just want to keep on working, I switch to the other one. That way I don’t have to interrupt my creative flow but it also keeps me from ruining something good. Although, to be honest, it does not always help. In the end it’s all about the beauty of the process and the constant transformation.

Center of Contemporary Art Ibiza