Sensational Sand Art - Amazing Sculptures Grace Fulong Beach Once a Year
By Kurt Weidner
Sand sculpting has come a long way since the times when only children and playful dads, equipped with plastic shovels and buckets, built simple sand castles on the beach during summer vacations. Since the 1970s, when Gerry Kirk and Todd Vander Pluym started to approach this pastime in a more professional way, assembling teams in California to design intricate miniature reproductions of real castles, sand-sculpting competitions have become popular events around the world. Today, professional sand-sculpting teams enter international competitions organized by beach resorts located in all corners of the globe, from Canada to Florida and from Russia to Australia. There are even festivals, such as Sandsation in Germany’s capital, Berlin, that are staged far away from any sea or ocean.
Located in the far west of the Pacific, Taiwan is surrounded by sea, and the island’s wonderfully varied coastline is one of the great scenic attractions awaiting visitors. Though large stretches are characterized by rocky outcrops and pebble beaches, there are also premier fine-sand beaches attracting beach-goers in large number during the warmer months of the year. One of the most popular is Fulong, located close to the northeastern tip of the island and conveniently reached by train from Taipei (the fastest train takes a bit more than an hour). The town of Fulong is rather small, with its only claim to fame being its beach. Visitors come here to enjoy water sports, camping, bicycling, and two major annual events – the Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival and the Fulong Sand Sculpture Festival.
The sand-sculpture festival was first staged by the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area Administration (www.necoast-nsa.gov.tw) in 2008. Tens of thousands of visitors now come each year to marvel at the incredibly sophisticated works of art, made with nothing more than sand and water. All are welcome to sign up for the amateur contest, and have the chance to win prizes. Most visitors, however, are contented with viewing the sculptures created by professional artists from Taiwan and abroad. Last year, during the biggest edition of the festival to date, more than 350,000 visitors came to see a total of 61 beautiful works.
Tens of thousands of visitors come each year to marvel at incredibly sophisticated works of art
Standing in awe before some of the intricately carved structures, many a visitor wonders what it takes to create these masterpieces. To find out, Travel in Taiwan recently met up with Taiwanese sculptor Wang Song-guan, who is the mastermind behind the event. A few weeks before the arrival of the international artists participating in the festival, he leads a team of workers to prepare the beach, with the most important task being the construction of large “sand pyramids” held in place with wooden planks. The sand is piled up in layers with the help of excavators, each layer compressed with tamping rammers. “Basically, we do all the preparations,” explains Wang. “The foreign artists just need to show up, and can start sculpting straight away.” The circumference and the height of the sand piles can vary, based on the designs submitted by the sculptors in advance, but what all of them have in common is a pyramid shape. “Because of the nature of sand, every sculptor has to start at the top and work his way down to the bottom,” says Wang. “You have to have a clear idea of how you want to go about realizing your sculpture, because once you have finished the upper parts and work further down, you can’t go back up and make changes later on.”
The festival organizers grant the professional sculptors from abroad – 30 sculptors from eight different countries have been invited this year – maximum freedom to express themselves artistically, but these artists are encouraged to incorporate an overarching theme in their works, which this year is “dragon,” a reference to the Chinese zodiac animal of the current year. Visitors can look forward to marveling at ingenious renditions of this mystic creature carved from nothing but sand. The type of dragon depicted doesn’t matter, according to Wang: “We might see long-shaped Chinese-style dragons or the winged versions familiar in the West. Any type of dragon is fine.”
While the sculptures by foreign participants will feature dragons, the theme for the works by the Taiwan team, consisting of professional artists, will be different. “This year, we want to incorporate ‘music’ in our designs, which will present some new challenges,” says Wang, who comes up with the design ideas for all sculptures realized by the local team of sculptors. Leading this team, Wang plays the role of coordinator and instructor, and he also does the final touches on each sculpture. Says Wang, “We want to give local artists, who might be expert in other fields of art but have no experience with sand-sculpting, the chance to work on these sculptures, contributing by using their respective artistic talents.” One of the challenges of creating sculptures related to music will be the rendering of portraits of famous music stars. “The sculpting of well-known faces in sand is a difficult task, more difficult than sculpting animals or cartoon characters,” he says.
Thinking about the fragile nature of sand sculptures, you might wonder how those amazing works of art can withstand the forces of nature for any period of time. What if it rains heavily or – even worse – a major typhoon hits the beach? “There is no need to worry,” Wang says assuringly, “for the sculptures are protected by an environment-friendly sealer, consisting of water and glue, which is immediately applied once each part of a sculpture is finished. The only real danger there, in fact, is the visitors. Sometimes there are a few naughty children among the large crowds who can’t resist the temptation to throw things at the sculptures. If that happens and the sealer is broken, the sand can start trickling out, which can seriously damage the work.”
“It’s amazing how the simple creation of sand sculptures has led to an event of this magnitude”
After being created in April the masterpieces will be on display at Fulong Beach for two months, until the end of June. They might well continue to exist for many more weeks beyond this, standing against the forces of both nature and man, but in the end, in what may seem to their creators like an act of cruelty, they are taken down forcefully by excavators to make room for the second of the year’s big annual events on this beach, the Ho-Hai-Yan rock fest in July. Summing up the sculpture festival, Wang says, “This is a great example of creating something meaningful out of virtually nothing. Starting with not much more than sand and water, artists from Taiwan and abroad are brought together to engage in cultural exchange, large numbers of people are attracted to the art, thus boosting local tourism, and the huge crowds coming to Fulong create numerous opportunities for local businesses. It’s amazing how the simple creation of sand sculptures has led to an event of this magnitude.”
English & Chinese
Fulong Sand Sculpture Festival 福隆國際沙彫藝術季
Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival 貢寮國際海洋音樂祭
Provided by Travel in Taiwan Bimonthly May June Issue, 2012
Creating sand sculptures has become serious business in recent years, with professional sculptors vying for crowns and prize money at sand sculpture festivals around the world. In May and June some of the best will put outstanding works of art on display at Fulong Beach on Taiwan’s northeast coast.