States of Becoming Sand, periwinkle shells and thread on pillowcase, © Amanda Wagstaff 2016
States of Becoming Sand (All flesh is grass.), periwinkle shells and thread on pillowcase, © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

It’s no secret that Annie Dillard’s writing has had profound influence on me, how I live, how I think about the world, and the art I make. I even named one of my grad school projects after her book “For The Time Being.”

I reread her writing from time to time, and she often pops up unexpectedly in my thoughts. This happened a few times in Ireland, and one particular instance led to new soft sculpture called “States of Becoming Sand.”

Walking along the coast at Howth, just outside of Dublin, was one of my favorite rituals during my life in Ireland, and I enjoyed watching the coast and cliffs change throughout the seasons. There are a few spots along the cliffs at Howth where smooth pebbles, sea glass, and shells accumulate. In particular, small, bright white periwinkle shells litter these beaches. I began collecting these shells and broken shell parts, because I was so attracted to their smooth surfaces, and because they stood out so starkly against the darker, more colorful bits of beach.

And because they reminded me of passages in Annie Dillard’s book “For the Time Being.” The book is a long meditation on the natural world, humans, and suffering. It is about the tension between the individual and the universe.

Throughout the book, she meditates on ten subjects, one of which is “Sand.” She tells the natural history of sand, the process of it’s formation, how rock is worn down by wind and water, how sand is transformed by tremendous pressure into more rock. Sand travels thousands of miles. It accumulates. Everything becomes sand.

The periwinkle shells are in the midst of this process, slowly being worn down by waves and friction. I decided to collect the shells in various states of becoming sand – whole shells showing signs of smoothing, broken shells revealing their inner structure, and small white bits that barely suggested their previous form.

Now, they are part of “All flesh is grass,” an ongoing series of work that I began in Ireland and intend to continue forever.

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