On Friday, Creative Time staked out a small plot of Rockaway Beach, attracting a small crowd and a dense flock of boom mics to its second annual Sandcastle Competition. There was so much press, in fact, that “Who are you writing for?” was a pretty reasonable introduction. From there, conversations migrated towards photo strategies and documentation.
That’s because it’s well worth documenting the shit out of this event; good sandcastles make for a full-day artist pageant and a manifesto for teamwork.
David Brooks‘ mimes, for one, did a good job of showcasing the fruits of collaboration. Throughout the afternoon, they worked double-time, shoveling invisible sand next to a presentation board displaying diagrams of the Tower of Babel, which looked a little like the Tatlin Tower. Master of Ceremonies Nato Thompson called it “a sisyphusian task that never finishes.” The mimes provided endless entertainment to a crowd of kids, mugging silent fights with Nato and judges Jen Catron, Paul Outlaw, and actor/fashion designer Waris Ahluwalia.
“No mimes outside of the orange ropes,” Ahluwalia announced into a megaphone, and the kids squealed with laughter.
Elsewhere, other teams took a more builderly route: Esperanza Mayobre brought in a set of casts to create a life-like sand raft tied with sand ropes called “Raft of the Immigrant.” Close to judgment time, a pigeon landed on the sand raft for the briefest of moments before half the team shooed it away with shovels and brooms.
The silicone rope casts for the sand raft were artful, and the crowd responded enthusiastically when Mayobre took the mic to explain her work at the end of the day.
Rachel Owens built a party whale, complete with a four-seat car interior and steering wheel and large sand bottles floating nearby. Hers was the only sandcastle to occupy the entire roped-in space with sculpted sand from border to border, and her team enjoyed a well-deserved rest in their whale in the final minutes of the competition.
Corporate sponsorship eked into the competition through Duke Riley‘s “White Castle,” a highly-detailed drive-thru, with flags and crushed-up shells for parking dividers. For size and realism, this one was also a hit with the kids.
While other teams jokingly bemoaned that Riley had bribed the judges with White Castle sliders, he defended his actions: “We went over the rules very carefully, and there was nothing in there against it.” They also took some time for “ripping on rippers” (Nato’s wordplay, not ours) saying White Castle was a far superior burger. Riley then handed the audience bacon cheddar slider coupons during the judging round–while wearing a burger mask with a horrifying hole for a mouth. “That’s 1035 Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway, folks. Take a burger, you never know when you’re gonna get a craving!”
For most of the day, it was unclear what Jamie Isenstein‘s team was up to; two guys with shirts off danced inside cylinders on for three hours straight accompanied by music from their iPhones. The whole activity resembled smashing grapes in a barrel. When one complained about fatigue, the other said, “You don’t have to jump up and down so much.” “Yeah I do, I have an audience!” Only later, would the project come into focus.
What looked like a mini Great Wall of China turned out to be Christopher Robbins‘ elaborate pancake machine. One person shovels sand into a pan, which is carried behind the wall on the back of an assistant to the kitchen. The chef slips an actual pancake through a hole in the wall, and Robbins catapulted it into the crowd toward Jamie Isenstein’s and Natalie Jeremijenko’s respective sandcastles. Natalie eventually caught and ate a pancake herself.
Few fully understood Natalie Jeremijenko‘s sand castle lab, which came with pamphlets and tubs filled with watermelon chunks, beatles, and different colored sand. Six sand humps turned out to be viewing platforms for the small environments. Judge Paul Outlaw asked “Are the worms going to breed? Because if there’s breeding going on anywhere here, we want to be a part of it.” She explained the concept to Nato, who relayed it, confused, through a megaphone.
“The beetles are named after urban planners … Uhh … Do they choose the dark side or the light side of the sand …?”
He turned to Jen Catron, who was lying on a viewing post. “Jennifer, do you find this way of looking at it helpful?” Sensing he might lose the audience, Nato said, “There’s a lot more depth to this one, we’re gonna move on.”
“Nato, the beetles–they’re having sex!” she called after them.
We later learned each of her tanks had different critters that purify water or soil. One had chara, a seaweed-looking plant that apparently filters heavy metals like platinum and silver from the water. Earthworms made a miniature compost out of beach sand and watermelon. You get the idea.
Jeremijenko’s dog was also present, though not an official part of the sandcastle. The super cute puppy peed on her sand a few times during the day, which made her interactive sandcastle a little less appealing to lay on.
Marc Andre Robinson‘s “The Shark Whisperer” was built with an elaborate wooden cast, but when it was removed around 4 PM, the whole thing came crashing down. “You guys got any glue?” Outlaw quipped. In an inspiring reconstruction effort, the team went right back to building it up again, managing to create a pretty impressive, albeit smaller, shark head.
Sebastian Errazuriz‘s shadow was better when we thought it was a drone, but not by much. Then we found out the planes landing at JFK nearby reminded him of 9/11; he sees the evaporating water used to create the shape of the plane as a metaphor for memory loss and release. The piece was a little heavy for a lighthearted event and slight on effort. The project was untouched almost the entire time we were at the competition until about 15 minutes before judgment when Errazuriz’s team members removed the plastic barriers around his wet sand.
Ghost of a Dream‘s gold and silver plinth recalled 2012 winners Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw’s human fountain.When they took their positions in gold lamé, Nato told the crowd, “They’re assuring us this is all part of the plan.” The golden actors were “performing the trophies” they hoped to win, according to one such trophy. “If we win, we get to take ourselves home. If we lose … well, it’s a win-win situation!”
They then sprinted into the ocean, closely tailed by cameras.
Around the 15-minute call, David Brooks’ mimes scrambled to finish their piece. “I’m going to need you to just focus on the southwest corner for now,” Brooks instructed his workers. They hauled ass.
After a day of her dancers packing the sand down with their feet, Jamie Isenstein peeled back the black casts on each pillar to reveal, simply, pillars. She placed bubbles on one, and ice on another. A saxophone player stepped onto the third and played a soothing medley, opening with the riff from “Careless Whisper.” He played on, as the judges deliberated, bubbles floated overhead, and people tossed scraps of Christopher Robbins’ pancakes to the seagulls.
Isenstein’s ending was such a nice surprise that it won her first place. “It is perhaps a testament to the sophistication of our judges,” Thompson noted. And in keeping with the spirit of the event, she took home a US flag, a $500 check, and a whole garbage bag of White Castle stuff.