Sand castles are one of the first almost unconscious challenges in children’s games: finish it before the water carries you away. In Blokhus, a small coastal town in northwestern Denmark, an international group of 16 artists and eight expert sand-shaping technicians have challenged themselves by raising the world’s tallest tallest of its kind. Designed by artist Wilfred Stijger, from the Netherlands, the structure measures 21.16 meters and will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. It deserves that honor because it is 3.5 meters taller than its predecessor on the publication’s charts, which was erected in Germany in 2019.
Stijger’s is chaired by a representation of the coronavirus – round and pointed – that wears a crown to underline the influence of the pandemic in our lives in the last year and a half.
A town of about 500 inhabitants, Blokhus has a beach that attracts thousands of visitors annually, according to data from the Danish tourist office, and the gigantic castle – located in front of the town’s House of Culture, which commissioned it – can be visited since last July 8. In the shape of a hexagonal pyramid, 4,860 tons of sand have been needed to sculpt an allegory of the sea and the communities that coexist with water.
The final work has giant sea creatures, lighthouses, pointed windows or a young woman surfing the waves and even a character hugging a syringe for the vaccine against the virus. The sand was layered over three weeks to make it compact enough to be carved and embossed. Water, sand and also 10% clay to give cohesion to the mix.
Stijger had never designed such a large castle before. “But I trust the sand and I have had a wonderful team, with a representation of the best artists in the world in this field,” he says, on the phone, from his home in Pieterburen. This is an equally small town, in the northeast of the Netherlands, of about 300 neighbors. Known for its Seal Research and Rehabilitation Center, the artist has just been vaccinated against covid-19 there, who also sculpts ice and foam blocks, in addition to being a painter.
Endure the wind
On one side of the castle, Blokhus is welcomed, and its inhabitants have liked that the set includes scenes from their life by the water. Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, the pyramid of sand is also a tourist attraction. The challenge is that it does not collapse or lose volume due to the wind. “We’ve sprayed it with a glue-like coating that will hold up to bad weather until at least December,” explains Stijger. In his opinion, the best thing about this type of sculpture is that people can follow the evolution of the creative process, “and share a work that is not in museums and will not be copied or reproduced in series”.
Apart from the beach forts of his childhood, sand as an art crossed his life around the age of 17. He saw an architecture book that used it as a material and it seemed to him that he could treat it to his liking. Over time, he has verified, “there is an artistic family spread around the world, in Canada, the United States or Japan, where contests are organized and we give our best”.
During the pandemic it has been very difficult to see each other and compete, so when he was commissioned to build the largest sand castle in the world – to date – in Denmark, he thought that beauty and size could go together. Crowning the virus has been a way of remembering its presence in a work subject to the elements and of which only photos or footage will remain. Although this time the castle is not carried away by water but by winter frosts.