Karen Hain
Born 1971 in Kassel, Germany
Moved 1999 to Ibiza, Spain
Since 2001 continuous exposition activities



The Art of Natural Philosophy

Credible witnesses have told me that, in kindergarten, Karen was conspicuous for her noticeable inconspicuousness. For instance, at the end of the day it was noticed that the kid was not rollicking about with the others, but apparently had spent hours with a magnifying glass, sifting through the whole sandbox with archaeological scrutiny, cubic centimetre by cubic centimetre, because, in this case, another kid mourned the loss of her stud earring. In other cases she did so just for the fun of it. The many mostly tiny objects found apart from the earring fascinated her just as much as the search itself.

But the solitary micro-focused researcher could transform anytime— just like superwoman— into the awesome heroine of the sandbox. Under her little hands the sand would become alive with industrial grade power and shape as by itself into sophisticated ball run coasters or life sized seals, or house tall sand pyramids on the beach shovelled up during low tide by a spontaneously ignited workforce of kids. All this with the goal that one could stand on top and experience how the incoming flood would wash the whole mountain away.

And of course this is no different today. When one, maybe very early in life or later, happens to discover and feel the radical reality of the powers of nature one surrenders to them, because they are the creators and movers of all things — including oneself. In fact, there is no other way.


unsolidified sediment of mostly rock, shell or coral with a grain size from 0,063 to 2,00 millimetres, classified between silt and gravel. As physical, thermal and chemical erosion breaks pieces off mineral bodies, wind and water picks up particles of adequate weight and size and transport them on and under the earth’s surface in motions which together with earth gravity favour agglomeration and assortment of bits organised by size and weight. Travel time and distance can vary depending on the resistance of the substance. While soft coral quickly erodes to dust, individual hard rock sand grains can travel thousands of kilometres and reach an age of two billion years. Typically, sandstone undergoes sedimentary cycles of two hundred million years, where sediment gets compressed by its weight and solidifies, then reaches the surface by tectonic motion and erodes again.

The remarkable feature of sand to assort itself under movement opens a wide space for creativity. Elementary Games is a continuous investigation of phenomenal particle co-behaviour under the influence of vibratory agitation and the powers of water and air, as they basically occur in nature. Only natural, uncoloured sands from many world locations are used. The interaction with the material is indirect, just stimulating the movement, its amplitude, speed and direction. The process requires continuous alertness as everything is in constant transformation, nothing is predictable and the only tool is intuition. The finished work is determined by choosing the right moment to stop.

(Text: Robert Arató)

Sand under the microscope:

New Zealand, Tindalls, Whangaparoa
Sand from New Zealand, Tindalls, Whangaparoa
Hawaii, Ka Lae Island, South Point
Sand from Hawaii, Ka Lae Island, South Point
Sand from Takétomi, Japon
Star-Sand from Takétomi, Japon
Sand from Orange Beach, Alabama
Sand from Orange Beach, Alabama
Sand from Namibia, Kalahari desert
Sand from Namibia, Kalahari desert
Namibia, Skeleton Coast
Sand from Namibia, Skeleton Coast








Interview by LEILA ARATO


a conversation about

inspiration, transformation and



We often associate sand with the ephemeral: sand running through our fingers, tricking down the hour glass. It is in constant motion. It is carried by the wind and washed away by the waves.

Karen Hain seeks to capture this constant movement and make it eternal. Her works “Elementary Games” are a series of large scale pieces that take inspiration from the course of nature and its elements. I’ve sat down with Karen and had a talk to her about her medium, inspiration and creative process.

Working with sand is not the most traditional art form. How did you start creating this pieces?

I just do what I enjoy doing. What I like is transformation: taking something and giving it a new purpose. This does not only apply to my artwork, it extends to how I live in general. I constantly encounter objects and materials that seem to be of 
little value to others and I just have the urge to make something new out of them. I just cant stop myself. This is how I get all my furniture (laughs).
(Karen stands up and points out a beautiful lamp behind her) This is made of recycled bottles.

A very stylish way of recycling! What your the fascination with such a raw material as sand in particular?

I find recycling and re-purposing very interesting. 
We live in a throw away society where people buy things just for the sake of it and dispose of them to make room for something new. I am more attracted
 to objects that have been used, that have a past and a story to tell. And sand has very long story to tell. Every grain of sand used to be something else – a rock, a coral a seashell – that has been transformed over time into sand. And I enjoy giving that grain of sand a new form, another life.

Is it the past of the material that fascinates you rather than the material itself? Not everyone would see such a world of possibilities in such small particles…

It’s everything about it. The long journey it has made but also its form. You wouldn’t believe how many
 types of sand there are. Different shades, compositions, weights… It all depends on what is has been before 
and how the environment has shaped it. For example, dessert sand has round grains which makes it impossible to build with where as sand from an earthy environment has sharper edges which gives it more stability. They all behave differently. This gives me an immense spectrum of possibilities to bring it in to life.


“In the end it’s all about the beauty of the process and the constant transformation.”

When you speak about your process it sounds like something that evolves organically. How important is to you to give creativity its time?

Everything needs its time. An idea can come like an epiphany but being patient is a crucial part of my creative process. To work with sand in the way that I do means that I can have a vision but that doesn’t mean it actually works that way. It’s impossible for me to plan the outcome. My work is a lot about trying things out and experimenting.

Maybe you are not able to for plan the final outcome but when I look at your work I sense that there’s a big element of premeditation involved: you put the materials into place and you alter them in a way that it would never happen naturally. Which part plays a more important role the premeditated actions or the unexpected results? Control or chance?

My goal is to find a balance of both. It is true that I construct scenarios: I mix different sands on a platform (lighter sand with a heavier one, different proportions and shades..). I bring the platform into movement, a
 bit like the natural forms of erosion, and I move the material around in an indirect way. What happens next isn’t controllable: the heavier particles separate from the lighter ones, the rounder shapes from the angular shaped grains. This is plain physics and not up to me anymore. I can do that over and over again until I like composition. But it is mainly luck. I can’t alternate parts of it. I can’t say “Oh I’d like a little more tension in the left corner”. A painter would get his brush and work on the left corner until he is satisfied. I, on the other hand risk changing the whole composition with a tiny movement. And often, I end up ruining a complete day of work within seconds. There is no step backwards. You have to risk it. Its’ all or nothing.

So it’s all about knowing when to stop.

Yeah, that’s right. But that is also the most difficult part. The process itself, the experimentation is what I enjoy most, so it’s hard to for me to interrupt it in the middle of the work-flow.

So when do you consider the process, this ongoing metamorphosis, as completed?

I know its time to stop when I get really excited. 
I see things that are happening, shapes I like and I feel euphoric; an almost addictive feeling. But even though 
I could go on and on I know I have to be cautious. I normally take a break and and then reconsider if its done or if I should keep on working on the piece. But it often happens that take it too far and then I think “Why didn’t I just leave it the way it was?”

You have to leave the party at its peak, just when you are having the best time… Sounds like plenty of self control.

(Laughs) Yes… You know, there is a lot of work that 
goes into fixating the sand. I use different forms of glue: spray, then I drip it on and sometimes the glue is injected inch per inch to fixate all the layers of sand. And I just want to make sure I get it right before doing it. I’ve even come up with tricks to prevent me from overworking a piece. I set up two pieces simultaneously, and whenever
I get to this euphoric yet slightly reckless state where I just want to keep on working, I switch to the other one. That way I don’t have to interrupt my creative flow but it also keeps me from ruining something good. Although, to be honest, it does not always help. In the end it’s
 all about the beauty of the process and the constant transformation.