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Rosie Goodwin
Family Arts Correspondent
1:30 PM 1st October 2019

First There Is A Mountain

Sometimes an idea is so striking that it’s worth braving a little rain. This weekend, not even weather warnings were going to stop me travelling to Scarborough’s South Bay to make sandcastles with some rather unusual ‘buckets’ and spade.

The buckets – or sand pails – were not actually castles at all, but mountains: five exact scale models of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Shasta, Mount Fuji, Mount Stromboli and Mount Uluru. When packed away, they nestle inside each other rather like Russian dolls.

It’s not every day that you get to make mountains on the beach. The participatory art event, however, was one of 32, open to the public and held across and around the British Isles this summer. Each participant built all 5 of the little mountains, scooping up the grains of sand and forming them inside the moulds. Shortly afterwards, the sea would remove all trace of what we’d made: ephemeral art at its most ephemeral.

It’s a fascinating way to explore big concepts - concepts like change, flux, the passing of time – by building mountains out of sand, set to be destroyed almost immediately. Mountains have long been recognised as symbols of constancy, permanency and strength. Standing tall, they stretch towards the heavens. This weekend we reduced them, made them in exact miniature form, then watched them tumble into the North Sea.

Katie Paterson, the artist behind First There Is a Mountain, has been exploring these big concepts in workshops every Sunday since the end of March – every Sunday, in fact, during British Summer Time, in diverse locations everywhere from remote Orkney Islands to Cornish beaches. The mountains that she invites participants to create remind us that nothing is permanent. Everything has its time.

Katie came to Scarborough in collaboration with Scarborough Museums Trust and it is a message that is well-placed: Scarborough has known its fair share of coastal erosion. It’s this very erosion which has led to the wealth of fossil finds that make this coastline famous – many of which can be found at the Trust’s Rotunda Museum, little more than a stone’s throw from our sandy mounds.

Millions of years old, these fossils form a wonderful contrast to our transitory mountains. Even the mountain pail moulds, thermoformed with a corn starch bioplastic so as to be fully biodegradable, will cease to exist one day.

There’s something very interesting about the process of building on the beach, knowing that no matter how beautiful the creation it will be washed away before the day is out, covered by the salty waves. How many other masterpieces were lost that day, I wonder - the first tentative signatures of children, countless unique patterns and pictures, deep moats and tall towers of sand. Like every achievement, all these fleeting moments pass, disintegrate and are lost.

More information can be found at www.firstthereisamountain.com.

Next weekend, Sunday 6 October, Katie will be at Formby Beach in Merseyside.

First There is a Mountain is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland and Arts Council England. It is a collaborative cross-disciplinary project; 25 new pieces of writing have been commissioned to accompany its evolution. The texts will form a digital anthology, bringing together celebrated authors, poets, geologists, earth scientists, ecologists, and art writers.