Small scale mountains
In 2003 a small island Nipah on the border of Singapore and Indonesia was reported as nearly submerged. It was dredged away for its sand. The island belongs to Indonesia and marks a point in the archipelagic baseline of Indonesia–Singapore maritime border. Along with the island disappeared the point in the border baseline and the actual placement of the border became disputable, to Singapore’s advantage. The largest importer of Indonesian sand is Singapore, despite the ban Indonesia set in 2007.
I moved to Singapore in 2015 and while living there got interested in the country’s curious obsession with expanding its area through land reclamation, huge operations to push the sea away and extend the tiny city-state even at the cost of political and environmental stability. Since then the border dispute between Singapore and Indonesia may have been settled at least for now but the ripples of global sand trade are anything but quieted down. A grain of sand, a tiny piece of land not bigger than 0.0625–2 mm in diameter, can carry a huge impact and meaning that far exceed its size and scale. And sand is everywhere, our infrastructure relies heavily on this one seemingly ordinary mineral. I see sand as poetic and political at the same time.
This small piece of land has memory, it can tell stories, reveal a history that extends beyond human time. The shape, form, and consistency of a grain of sand can tell a lot about its life and the paths it has travelled. Even without any recognisable flora or fauna, it is like a fossil, a recording of moments in time that have left their traces into the substance of the sand. Small scale mountains is a study on different forms, landscapes and stories of sand. In my project, sand is both a subject for photographs and material I work with. I used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to get closer into the surface of single grains of sand, to examine the scratches and particles at the surface of the sand, follow the traces and explore the alien landscape. These are my attempts to find a way to read the sand, to catch a glimpse of the language of land.
The time and scale of sand is slow and tied to the steady rhythm of the Earth. Sand continues its never-ending cycle through erosion and compression, right at the edge of where mountains are formed and land area is been shaped. Opposing this slow continuous process and circulation are rapid and at times violent actions of humans reshaping the land, taking it from one place and filling it up elsewhere. The global network of sand trade tangles with the natural cycle, only at a much faster pace and against nature’s current. Intertwined into the new routes of sand are also the smuggling and illegal mining and dredging of it, and all that comes along with such business. Sand has become the new gold.