Cape Town - Many people forget about the importance of sand, a vital resource to human development. Besides being the core ingredient in making glass, without it, we wouldn't have our buildings or even our computers.
Design house Atelier NL aims to change people's understanding of this resource through a collaborative art project moulded from sand around the world. Designers Lonny Ryswyck and Nadine Sterk co-founded Atelier NL during the creation of their Tilewall - tiles created from clay sourced from farms in the Netherlands.
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The collective hopes to create intimate relationships between the earth's resources and communities. "When they have an intimate relationship with their environment they also start to appreciate their environment a bit more and start to understand where things come from, as well as its history, geology and how the earth is formed," says Ryswyck, who is a speaker at this year's Design Indaba in Cape Town.
'To See a World in a Grain of Sand' aims to create a glass map of the world and Atelier NL has issued a call for people to send them sand either from their home or from their travels. Design Indaba attendees can also submit a labelled bottle of sand at the conference before 23 February, but many around the world have already sent in their samples and can even order their own glass memento.
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Why is sand important?
A precious resource, most glass is only made from white sand, but the 'wild glass' made in this project have all kinds of colours. The project also hopes to highlight the destruction that illegal and mismanaged sand mining can have - not only causing environmental degradation but also leading to the disappearance of our beaches.
"In a way you can bring these problems, like the scarcity problem of sand, in another way, so people are joining because they want to send their memory to us ... and for some it's just holiday sand and for others they start questioning it. The purpose wasn't to confront the bigger picture, but it is important to see the richness of the soil beneath your feet."
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Understanding how the world works
Ryswyck never really had interest in geology before. To her it was too complex and "far away" to understand, but now she understands the relationship it has to everything and believes this is why design and science are so beneficial to each other. She referred to renowned sand expert and fellow collaborator on the project Michael Welland, who passed away last year, and how happy he was that his work was transcending the science sphere.
"By working together with us we reach many people, from children to artists to scientists. He really liked it and that's also why people contribute - they want to share their memory and share their story and then they understand how valuable the material is, and then they start wondering."
She hopes to start working with children to share this knowledge to foster this relationship with their resources early - learning by doing and touching.
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Memories living through a grain of sand
Ryswyck has her own story and memory attached to one of her sand samples close to her heart.
"I have really special sand that's from a place very close to the Amazon. I did a project there in 2011, and it was a life-changing experience. I worked with indigenous people, and in the mornings we would go fish our own fish and I had to sleep in a hammock. There was not a lot of water available and at night the animals were in my food because there's no light."
"I always wanted to touch the whole world and I also wanted to feel very pure. I wanted to understand what is was like to live there, but I also understood that I'm western, I really missed home and I understood this is not my life. I was very lonely, but it was a beautiful memory of that time because I was like Robinson Cruisoe exploring the real Amazon, but at one point it was so boring because I was always seeing the same thing.
"I realised I missed my friends and I wanted to drink a cup of tea with my mother. You can't touch the whole world, and you always bring yourself [while travelling] so I realised I have to be happy with what I have at home."
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South Africa's contribution
A few samples have already been collected in South Africa. One comes from the soil next to a woman's new shack in Pretoria, another from the beach of Kleinmond in Western Cape where someone spent their childhood summer holidays.
Before the Design Indaba, sand from the drought-stricken Theewaterskloof Dam was sent to Atelier NL and they created small glass pieces as presents for the speakers at the conference, highlighting the water crisis in the region.
Ryswyck plans to collect a sample at the dam herself during her stay in Cape Town, but has already captured a sample from Camps Bay. "It's so unbelievable, it's like snowy sand, super white and then black grains also. I was really wondering where it comes from."
"I think the way we are now producing - it's all about speed control, efficiency, mass production - there's this huge abundance when you go to the supermarket, you cannot eat all the food, and on the other hand there's this scarcity. The way we are using our resources now, they will be gone, so we have to really find a balance."
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For updates on the Design Indaba Festival 2018 and for ticketing information please visit www.designindaba.com/festival
24.com is in partnership with Design Indaba 2018.
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