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Interview by Katerina Barsukova to HuffPost in Athens

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Katerina Barsukova reveals the secrets of Sand Art, the details of her career and her commitment. Interview of 24 February 2023.

Translation from Greek into English by OAM.

Portrait de Katerina Barsukova. Photo : Viktoria Nazarova
Katerina Barsukova. Photo : Viktoria Nazarova

What made you first interested in Sand Art ?

I got into sand animation quite by accident in 2010. I remember how inspired and carefree I lived during that period: summer, student holidays, youth, and mutual love. I felt like a feather, ready to absorb new things and develop. Something seemed to be happening in the air, flying. And it was in this state that Sand Art came to me! My friend invited me to her home and said she wanted to show me something that might interest me. I came to her and saw glass, on the surface of which lay sand. And at the bottom of the glass was a lamp. She suggested that I try to draw. I tried to draw a couple of lines with sand, but it was very difficult. Drawing with sand was not like drawing with pencils or paints, which I had been drawing with since childhood for many years.

My friend convinced me to try this genre and prepare the first performance with sand animation for 10 minutes. During that period, I experimented a lot: I looked for and tried different sands and drawing techniques, and we made different light tables. At that time, the sand animation genre was not taught professionally at universities, there were only a few artists around the world.

I learned everything by myself through trial and error. This process was difficult, sometimes painful, but also exciting. Then it seemed to me that I was at the origin of creating something new and previously unexplored. It was incredibly inspiring, but also frightening. I, as an artist, had a huge responsibility for the genre of sand animation. Then there were many other performances. So, from 10-minute shows, I moved on to longer shows and more complex music. And, gradually, I started making sand animation for classical music concerts with symphony and the chamber orchestras, and for theatrical performances in Russia and Europe. This happened about four years after the beginning of my acquaintance with the genre of Sand Animation.

Portrait de Katerina Barsukova, sand artist. Photo : Viktoria Nazarova.
Katerina Barsukova. Photo : Viktoria Nazarova.

What kind of handling does sand require as a material? What are the technical difficulties of making Sand Animation?

Sand, on the one hand, is a very interesting, natural material for drawing, which we all know from childhood when we built castles on the beach or played in the sandbox. It is soft, loose, and supple, but also with its character. Its essence the transformation, as we see it in nature itself.

On the other hand, sand is a very complex material. The sand is mobile and rapidly changing. It quickly crumbles and changes its shape and structure under the influence of wind and movements. Depending on what I want to draw, I use different sands from sea, river, ocean, volcanoes, and quartz. All these sands differ in the size of the grains of sand, and, as a result, give different line thicknesses when drawing.

I also draw with colored sand, which I hand-dye myself. It’s an exciting chemical and creative process to expect the desired color.

In addition to sand, the surface and size of the light table are important: some of the sand animation artists draw on glass, while others draw on the plastic surface. I draw on a plastic one, which is convenient for transportation and tours, but grains of sand slide more on it than on a glass table. You must find a compromise between convenience and comfort.

The light table can also have different dimensions for the drawing: sometimes it’s bigger, sometimes it’s smaller. It depends on the desired result and the experiment.

What does sand represent to you?

Sand for me is the most malleable material that transforms in real time, unlike other materials in visual arts. It blends organically with classical music and, in my opinion, can fully and deeply reflect both music and my character. Sand Animation is an ephemeral art, like music.

La Petite Sirène. Katerina Barsukova, dessin sur sable. Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire. Dina Gilbert, direction. Angers. Centre des Congrès.
Mermaid. Edward Grieg. Katerina Barsukova, sand art. Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire. Dina Gilbert, conductor. Armelle Gouget, narrator. Angers, France. Centre des Congrès. 2022. Photo : OAM

Do you find any similarities between the fluidity of sand and music?

In my opinion, the greatest interest of Sand Animation is precisely in its fluidity, and its ability to transform, like music. Therefore, they are a good match. The image can reveal even a stronger and deeper comprehension of music to the listener, attract young listeners, and surprise the connoisseurs. Music and Sand Art are in amazing harmonic unity! This always amazes me!

How is lyrical symbolism connected to the subconscious?

I call my drawing style “lyrical symbolism” for a reason. Since childhood, I have been fond of psychology, philosophy, the secret of the existence of the World and Man. My favorite symbols in my works are keys, sail, infinity, hand, wind, door, sea, rain, light, birds. In my opinion, with these symbols, the subconscious speaks to me and to the spectator. But each of the symbols can have a different meaning, depending on the context and the personne. I do not want to impose any interpretation of the symbols on the viewer. I want the symbols to be read in their own way, depending on his/her vision of the world.

Are there any philosophical ideas behind your works?

I am impressed by the World, on the one hand, its volatility, complexity, and at the same time amazing harmony and infinity... I often see a combination of incompatible things and many contradictions. But, at the same time, an amazing integrity. We perceive things according to our perspective, which we can change. I often incorporate these thoughts into my sand animation works.

Méthamorphoses. Richard Strauss. Katerina Barsukova, sand artist. Copyright : OAM.
Metamorphosen. Richard Strauss. Katerina Barsukova, sand art. 2020. Copyright : OAM.

How is your work connected to music?

I illustrate music by revealing its meaning more to the public, especially to young spectators who can hardly stay focused nowadays because of their exposure and use of screens. Just look at the speed of action in movies and cartoons.

Classical music requires concentration, culture of mind and soul, attentive ears, imagination and often patience. I help the listener, especially the little one, to understand classical music in this way, and I give the seasoned listener a new source of inspiration, a surprise. For me, drawing a concert is like a dance of hands and sand, where music takes the lead. Music is what defines the mood for drawings and intrigue, and it fascinates me and inspires me incessantly!

Music is an abstract art. What are the difficulties in creating the right images to go with it?

I think there are no "correct" images. I would say there can be uninteresting drawings and unexciting or superficial music. All art is subjective. Sometimes the music is very specific, sometimes illustrative. For instance, the music of "Sheherazade" by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov has a specific plot and musical themes. You can easily recognize them. But music can be abstract, for example, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. You see the difference? But how exactly I will draw, how the sand will fall from my hands and with what plasticity and musicality, this is left to my imagination. I try to evoke an idea by applying all my abilities and talents to be in synergy with the idea of the composer and the performers (orchestra and conductor).

I enjoy creating unity, tuning in to a wave of common energy with all participants in what is happening, including the audience. It is true creativity, Art begins where there is co-creation, and synergy of everyone and everything. And then appear, if everything matches, real ecstasy and catharsis.

Shéhérazade. Nikolaï Rimsky-Korsakov. Katerina Barsukova, dessin sur sable. The Athens State Orchestra. Nikos Haliassas, direction. Athens, Grèce. Megaron. 2023.
Scheherazade. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Katerina Barsukova, sand art. The Athens State Orchestra. Nikos Haliassas, conductor. Athens, Greece. Megaron Hall. 2023.


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