Nfld. & Labrador

Artists create 40-tonne sand sculpture at downtown St. John's gallery

You've probably made a sand sculpture at the beach, but it almost certainly didn’t weigh as much as the latest Eastern Edge art exhibit.

It took a lot more than plastic pails to create this sandy work of art

Artist Josh Vettivelu, curator Kailey Bryan and a team of volunteers shovelled 40-tonnes of sand into a sculpture at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

A group of artists and volunteers have been hard at work this week at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's, shaping a back-breaking pile of sand 40 tonnes of it, to be specific  into the centrepiece of a new art exhibit.

Artist Josh Vettivelu designed the sculpture to make the viewer feel as if they are inside the hull of a boat.

"It'll feel very heavy," said Vettivelu. "There's going to be five-foot walls of sand that kind of surround you and kind of cascade down. So there's a feeling of entering but also of being barricaded as well."

But the sand sculpture isn't just any boat. Vettivelu said it's inspired by the fishing boat used to rescue Tamil migrants off the shores of Newfoundland in 1986.

The medium of sand is also central to the meaning of the piece, which is meant to portray how people distinguish between "us" and "them," Vettivelu said.

The sand sculpture resembles the fishing boat that carried Tamil migrants to the shores of Newfoundland in 1986. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"The physics of a sand sculpture is that it holds itself together through surface tension between two particles of sand and a bridge of water. So those two points of attraction, if you multiply it by a billion, you get a form," said Vettivelu, who is based in Toronto.

"In a similar way, the ways in which we can desire things for ourselves or our families can create a form-like country or nation." 

Watering down the sand is crucial to the sculpture holding together. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Vettivelu wanted to use the metaphor of how sand holds itself together to talk about how we "create an us" and how that can be used in different ways.

Artwork echoes Tamil migration to Newfoundland

Creating the piece inside the Eastern Edge Gallery was a journey in itself that took many helping hands, as well as support from organizations like Business and Arts NL, said curator Kailey Bryan.

"We go to art school and we learn a lot of concept and theory, and you do a lot of smaller scale projects," said Bryan.

"But what is really shocking is how much you get into the real world, and you have to know engineering and you need to know math."

The gallery invited the help of a math professor from Memorial University to assist them in calculating the cubic feet of the installation.

"It's a lot of professions in one."

Artist Josh Vettivelu and a team of volunteers shovelled forty back-breaking tonnes of sand to create the sculpture. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

The exhibition called Surface Tension, or What Holds An Us Together  opens the night of Friday, April 26 and runs through the month of May.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's.


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