Modern mandalas, on the stunning art of Elvira Wersche

August 02, 2011

Modern mandalas: a guest post on the stunning art of Elvira Wersche

Tibetan sand mandalas, powerful images of ephemerality. Gathering, design, and dispersal, the never-ending journey of Buddhism and sand grains.

And recently, thanks to my arenophile friend, Carla Lagendijk, I have been alerted to a modern exponent of the sand mandala. Elvira Wersche’s works are faithful to both the art and the spiritual symbolism of the traditional mandala, at the same time created through dramatic modern designs. Carla was fortunate enough not only to witness one of these extraordinary performance art events, but also to meet and talk with the artist. It seemed natural that Carla should write of this herself – all that remains for me to do is to exhort you to watch the video she links to – it is compelling and hauntingly beautiful. Over to Carla:

During a few cultural weeks in June in Leiden, the Netherlands, I had the pleasure to watch a sand artist creating a sand mosaic, named “Shamseh”, on the floor of the “temple hall” in our Museum of Ancient History. Creating the mosaic should take her 3 weeks after which a special final performance with dance and music was going to follow.

The artist was Elvira Wersche (German/Dutch). Her website: www.elvirawersche.com

She was creating her sand project of 6×7 meters in front of an ancient Egyptian temple, a very appropriate location. The inspiration for her kind of work she got many years ago during a visit to the Friday Mosque of Isfahan in Iran were she studied the fantastic designs on the walls.

About 10 days before the final performance I visited Elvira twice while she was working on her design. About 600 bags and bottles of sand were lying around and I could see how, sitting on her knees, she was carefully filling up the triangles. The geometrical pattern looks simple but at a closer look it has a very intricate, dynamic design of circles and triangles, which had been drawn on the floor beforehand.

She showed me the several kinds of sand. Some she had collected herself, most of it had been generously given by known and unknown travellers, sometimes combined with information about the origin of the sample: historical/ archaeological sites, holy places, deserts, sand from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, etc.

She sometimes examines the content through a magnifying-glass but the structure of the sand is more important for her work. It is the history of mankind behind the location of the sand that fascinates her most and fits to the underlying idea for her projects. Sand is not only a product of natural geological processes but also a silent witness of the long development of the human race. It reveals a piece of earth history but also hides a lot of secrets. This is the mystical side of it.

But….. however fascinating this all is….. what about the grains??

I saw a lot of sandstone sand with lumps in it which of course needed to be sieved. Sand of volcanic origin, dark reddish sand which looked like laterite, desert sand from Mongolia, carbonate sand, even the snowy white powdery dolomite stuff with pyrite from the Lengenbach quarry in Switzerland. She also showed me some sand which was useless for her purpose: an Asian beach sand which almost completely consisted of larger foraminifera. Of course these little critters roll to all sides. As I was very interested, she gave me half of this material.

The third time we visited the museum was for the final performance.

That evening the mosaic should be wiped out, following the idea of the Tibetans with their mandalas (nothing lasts forever). However, the way it had been done was not at all Tibetan like, but probably more impressive. It made me feel a bit sad to see Elvira’s work being destroyed, knowing it took her 3 weeks on her knees to create this stunning piece of art but I must confess, it had been done in a delicate way by 2 young good-looking girls (twins), light-footedly dancing over the pattern and mixing the sand with their long black skirts (later with their hands) accompanied by dark tones of a strange musical instrument. It fascinated all the spectators. They were dead silent. Needless to say that the dust, hovering in the hall, partly contributed to the strange atmosphere!

website museum: www.rmo.nl. YouTube video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfGQhT0ZFTI

At the end of the performance we all received a bit of this mixed “world sand”:

It is clear that this sand contains a combination of grains, impossible to find together in nature. At first sight it already has too many different colours. Second: the shape of the grains is far too varied: angular, rounded, etc. Looking closer you can start an imaginary world trip through volcanic fields and over beaches, pass colourful sandstone areas and find yourself  back in quarries or sandpits.The pyrite is down in the middle. And even a white foram is in the right hand corner.

[The illustrations above are from Elvira Wersche’s website, but are not from the performance that Carla describes; they are of Taqsim – Teilung, a 2009 work at the Landesmuseum fur Natur und Mensche in Oldenburg, Germany. The video is of the Leiden work, including the recycling by the twins. World Sand photo by Carla – thanks to her again for everything.]

Posted at 03:31 PM in Art, Guests, Sand and us | Permalink