Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Kseniya Simonova, sand animator: 2009 Winner of Ukraine's Got Talent

Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine's version of "America's Got Talent." She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, imagination and "sand painting" skills to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII. (Oh, and she has earned herself a place in Wikipedia post on herself. Heh.)

Check out the amazing video as she does the magical painting here or in YouTube, "Kseniya Simonova - Sand Animation (Україна має талант / Ukraine's Got Talent)" which has so far gathered 9,005,753 views!

Not many people around the world watched the inaugural season of Ukraine's Got Talent on TV last spring. But since then, the winning performance—a live sand drawing by Kseniya Simonova—has received more than 7 million views on YouTube and won raves for its mesmerizing depiction of the Soviet Union's fight against Nazi Germany. Gracefully manipulating handfuls of sand atop a light box, Simonova created ever-transforming images that were projected onto a screen: a bucolic village disintegrates into a war zone, a woman grows old waiting, her piteous face transforms into the Ukrainian monument to its Unknown Soldier.

Thanks in part to Simonova's performance, live sand drawing—also known as live sand animation—is quickly winning new fans and widespread notice from Mexico to China. Part performance art, part visual art and part storytelling, the craft has been featured at Cirque du Soleil and Christian youth camps, Russian nightclubs and corporate events. Live shows enchant audiences not only because the visual effect is riveting, but because they tell a story, typically about love, war, or faith. Artists, who can command tens of thousands of dollars for a single gig, storyboard their shows the way directors do their movies, so that each image flows seamlessly into the next. The effect is like a patriotic fireworks show or a pop concert, designed to pluck heartstrings and astound crowds.

So far, there is just a handful of well-known sand artists. But Mexican-American artist Joe Castillo, who also performed live sand drawing on America's Got Talent, expects that to change. "Right now sand art is new and unique," he says. "There are lots of artists out there, and once they get light tables ... well, I've got a couple years before there's a sand artist on every corner."

Sand-animation films first appeared in the late 1960s. But Canadian filmmaker and animator Caroline Leaf, a pioneer of the art who completed her first film while at Harvard, doubts the performance-based live form grew out of her work. "I was always alone in a dark room doing very meticulous adjustments," she says. "It seems instead they're responding to the plasticity of the material."

Although sand is malleable, it is not easily controlled. Once it is poured, pinched, or flicked away, there's no going back. Artists must relinquish perfectionism. "You can't fix or erase it," says Ilana Yahav, an Israeli artist who has performed at the Kremlin accompanied by four live bands. "You have to move your hands with the music, so you can never stop for a second." As a result, no two shows are the same—and oftentimes, says French artist David Myriam, an accident creates a "marvelous effect."

The most established live sand artists—Castillo, Yahav, and the Hungarian Ferenc Cakó—also create TV commercials for clients such as Qwest, Animal Planet, and Mercedes-Benz. But they say nothing compares to the energy of working a live crowd. After Castillo performed at the September opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology outside Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, people approached him weeping. Even the judges at Simonova's winning appearance sobbed. With such strong reactions, it's little wonder companies—and countries—increasingly hire these artists for big events. "There's a natural fascination with artists at work," says Leaf, who regrets she has only seen live sand drawing on YouTube. It won't likely be long before she can see it on any street corner.

From Newsweek, "Drawing Lines in the Sand".

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