On Thursday my friend Lisa and I went to the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival at Black Rock. The sky was blue for a while and the kids needed a run around so we drove to the Marina and took the short walk to the exhibition. The perimeter wall had a sign on it asking graffiti artists to use the wall inside as an outlet for the artistry, a gesture which has resulted in a colourful backdrop inside. When we got to reception we were told that entry had been reduced because the previous night’s storm had damaged some of the exhibits, we could use our tickets again when the sun was out and the sculptures had been remodelled but for now some of the work wasn’t at its best. We went in anyway and we weren’t disappointed.
The theme this year is music. The first sculpture we saw was of the X-Factor judges but the storm had taken Louis Walsh’s head clean off! Simon and Cheryl seemed oblivious to their cohort’s de-capitation but our party found it hilarious, a fitting comment on the musical legacy of the TV show, and that judge in particular.
The sculptures are made by compacting sand through various stages until it is solid enough to carve. It all looks amazingly clever and time consuming. Many of the works are as intricate as any stone sculpture. We saw a sphinx-like Beethoven, beautifully rendered tributes to the Cavern Club, superstar DJs, 1970s glam and 1990s Brit Pop battles. There’s an amazing recreation of the Abbey Road cover (though there were only three Beatles for some reason) all flowing hair and flares that gave the impression of actual movement. Sand noise explodes from Jimi Hendrix’s guitar; Beyoncé’s butt undulates in smoothed grains.
It was time for a cup of tea. The kids played in the enormous (and quite damp) sandpit with spades and moulds provided and we headed to the tea bar. One of the artists sold us tea and asked us if we were enjoying the sculptures. We told him we were and that we actually liked the effect of the crumbling sand, that it seemed a fitting comment to the impermanence of the subject matter. He wasn’t so keen, there’s nothing good about Elvis losing his head. But I disagree, though I would like to see the exhibition in its restored glory, the damage makes it look like the tributes of an ancient civilisation, with much in common with Mayan temples or the pyramids. The crumbling effects of time have been accelerated by the use of sand and the famous should take note, nothing lasts for ever no matter how big you are. I am particularly interested in fame at the moment; I’m working on a collection of stories about famous people. The famous characters are not the important ones though, the stories are all about ordinary people who come across the famous in their everyday lives, and it could be an obsession with an actress, a chance meeting with someone well known or just events unfolding during a TV show. The famous in these stories are transient, impermanent, a bit like the sand sculptures. Frank Sinatra is there but his face isn’t, Elvis has left the building but the man who sweeps the floors is still there.
As the sea mists rolled in the place took on the aspect of one of the famous cemeteries, Pere Lachaise or Highgate, very spooky and melancholy, we left taking with us happy and sand-covered children and leaving behind a sand sea-turtle and a tunnel to Australia. I would recommend this as an afternoon out, storm damaged or not. It runs until September and you can see work being carried out on the sculptures until the end of April. For details visit http://www.brightonsandsculpture.co.uk/