Dutch visual artist Gijs van Bon has designed a fascinating little ‘robot’ that can write on the ground using sand as its ink.
When the computer-controlled device – christened Skryf – moves forward, it leaves in its wake a stream of letters made from carefully measured piles of sand.
Not a meaningless jumble of letters, mind you, but poetry or prose that has been programmed into Skryf’s onboard computer beforehand.
Skryf – which means ‘writing’ in Afrikaans – can print out entire stories or sonnets at a pace of 40 metres (131 feet) of text per hour, and normally puts in a shift of at least four hours per day.
Van Bon has used Skryf for various public ‘performances’, including the 2013 Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the city where he is based.
During that event, van Bon chose to sand-write a piece by local poet Merel Morre on one of the city’s main squares, selecting her work because he believed “it reflects what’s happening now in Eindhoven”.
In fact, whichever streets van Bon sets Skryf loose on, he tries to ensure that the text that it writes matches the time and place as closely as possibly.
Skryf manages to write as it does thanks to CNC (Computer Numerical Control) technology, such as that used in watchmaking to make components.
Van Bon types a text into the onboard laptop, which is then converted into a code that controls three engines regulating the stream of sand.
The sand – a mixture of bird sand and beach sand – flows through a small opening onto the ground at a very precise and regular pace, letter after letter.
It can write using different fonts and the sand can even be tinted to create multi-coloured texts.
Skryf gets its mobility from two rear wheels and a double front wheel. Van Bon has even equipped it with an onboard camera.
For van Bon,the idea behind Skryf is that “the text is written with a lot of care and then you just give it away to nature and people”.
He adds: “Skryf is referring to the fact that everything is transitory. An almost irrelevant pile of sand creates the magic of the word. Human beings, nature and the passage of time are responsible for the disintegration of the word again.”
Skryf’s texts are essentially transitory, and they are even more ephemeral when created outside because of exposure to the elements and passers-by.
But inside Skryf can come up with more lasting works of art.
Van Bon has also designed and developed another kind of sand-writer – more like a sand-drawer – called ‘Blom’.
Blom means ‘flower’ in Afrikaans and like Skryf, emits sand but rather than text, it depicts diverse patterns, such as large flowers, garlands of ivy or clouds of hearts.
It also encourages a certain collective artistic approach: At the Festival aan de Werf last summer, van Bon invited members of the public to add a personal touch and complete Skryf’s creations by filling in with coloured sand the outlines sketched by Blom.
Skryf’s texts have graced many a place around the world. A map on Skryf’s website designates each location where the machine has been and even illustrates its feats with snapshots taken from the event.
Leaving traces of sand-written sonnets all over the globe, Gijs van Bon has proven with Skryf that playing with sand can, in fact, be a true source of poetry in motion.
For more information about Gijs van Bon, Skryf, Blom and his other artistic endeavours please visit: http://www.skryf.nl