Emma Gibson’s Quicksand can be seen from Saturday February 12 to Sunday June 5.
The exhibition features a triptych of sculptures which see minuscule grains of sand transformed into megalithic forms, putting this endangered but seemingly ubiquitous material – used to make anything from phone screens to windows, from plastics to paint – quite literally under the microscope.
Using micro-3D scanning technology, Gibson worked with The Imaging and Analysis Centre at the Natural History Museum to discover the otherworldly shapes of individual sand grains before recasting them as colossal forms. Each piece was made using recycled plaster and clay, timber and a pioneering resin made from recycled plastic bottles that have been redirected from landfill and the oceans.
Simon Hedges, head of curation, exhibitions and collections at Scarborough Museums Trust, says: “Sand is running out all over the world – it’s a global problem; it’s climate change with bells on. It may be difficult to believe, but sand is limited – and it’s critical as a commodity for so many types of technology.
“It’s estimated that, for construction alone, the world consumes roughly 40 to 50 billion tons of sand on an annual basis. That way outstrips the rate at which sand is being naturally replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.
“As a museum in a coastal setting, we feel it’s our responsibility to help raise awareness of this issue – and Emma’s sculptures are a particularly stunning way of doing that. Three giant grains of sand, each over a metre tall, have been created after being magnified nearly 3,000 times. They represent just three of the many different types of sand there are – a fossil foraminifera, a rolled-up piece of quartz, and a chip from a shell.”
Emma Gibson says: “Quicksand is about assumptions in relation to perceptions: we assume that there is the same amount of sand available as stars in the sky. People say: “Can’t you just use sand from the Sahara to build stuff? We’ve got loads of sand.” But you can’t because it’s wind-blown and all the grains are circular.
“I started reading all these strange documents about people stealing sand because it’s a seriously valuable commodity. Some go to the beach to sunbathe; others turn up in the middle of the night in a truck to take the sand away. There are people getting murdered over sand, it’s really serious.
“Grains of sand are really tiny, so I wanted to explore how I could make them important to humans at their own scale. I’m hoping people will have some kind of murmuration – just a little moment in their minds where they recalibrate their belief system in nature and technology, and what their purposes are – maybe it can offer an altered perspective and state of mind for a moment.”
Alongside the sculptures, Emma Gibson will be re-creating her studio in Scarborough Art Gallery. She will be showing films, digital and physical models and supporting materials as part of the development process of the work, which is as much about the science as the aesthetic. She’ll create a learning experience that lays out some of the globally significant issues in an inclusive and approachable space.
The Trust’s learning team is also devising new hands-on learning experiences for local primary school children, in collaboration with geologist Dr Liam Herringshaw, including a ‘Beach in a Box’ bringing an important part of the curriculum to life in new and engaging ways. .
Quicksand has been gifted to Scarborough Museums Trust by Selfridges & Co, where it was originally exhibited in The Art Block gallery in 2020, and which it co-curated with The Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Emma Gibson is a British artist exploring the uncertain state of reality. She studied at Open School East and University of the Arts in London and currently lives and works in the Highlands, Scotland.
Gibson’s large scale installation works are the result of both traditional and technological making processes, often using 3D-scanning and digital representations to create physical sculptures and total environments, she regularly collaborates with scientists in her fields of interest. Currently her practice revolves around coastlines and shores as a metaphor for the edge of reality, the end of the internet and a loss of control. Where science and nature collide and mimic each other, where so much is unknown, where human intervention can go no further.
Scarborough Art Gallery is open from 10am to 5pm every day except Monday (plus Bank Holidays). Entrance is free with a £3 annual pass, which also allows unlimited free entry to the Rotunda Museum.