The Creators Project: Vik Muniz’s Grain of Sand Castles

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Artists Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coehlo produced a unique and innovative reversal of the sand castle by microscopically etching castles on a single grain of sand.

The Creators Project has been celebrating the mixture of art and technology for a few years now, and some of the incredible creations made by the pairing of artists with scientists, engineers, and more has yielded fantastic results. The newest pairing brings us some incredibly tiny masterpieces.

Artist Vik Muniz‘s work became known for its use of perspective, which grew exponentially as he moved from regular sized-art pieces to huge installations that could only be seen by helicopter. Muniz then began thinking in the opposite direction as well, and seek out new miniature canvasses to work on.

Pairing up with artist/researcher Marcelo Coelho, the pair used a number of devices that spanned the age of photography, from the antiquated camera lucida which Muniz used to sketch the castles, to a Focused Ion Beam that Coelho used to etch the grains of sand. The short documentary below follows the process of making these microscopic masterpieces.

On why they picked sand castles, Muniz noted, “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.” 

At these magnification levels, a single pixel is about 50 nanometers wide. Yep, nano. A single line can be somewhere between .4 to 1.0 micrometers—close to the diffraction limit of visible light, hence why the duo can’t photograph these drawings using an optical microscope. Each image requires at least nine scans before it can be printed, which Muniz blows up into four feet wide macro photographs. 

“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.” Throughout his trial-and-error process, Coelho kept asking himself, what if he just Photoshopped the images? ”You realize it’s not the same thing. The final image carriers the process of the images you’ve developed.” 

Grain of Sand Castles 1 The Creators Project: Vik Munizs Grain of Sand Castles

Muniz added a rather-epiphanic thought on this project: “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,” much like what happened to our understanding of painting when the photo was first introduced. 

“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.” 

The documentary debuted recently at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as a part of an exhibit on Muniz’s work. We will continue to keep a close eye on The Creators Project, so be sure to check Geek for more on these unique mixtures of art and technology.


Images: The Creators Project, Vik Muniz

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