24 Hours of Sand at We the Curious


24 Hours of Sand is a new interactive artwork installed at We the Curious as part of their major new exhibition Project What If and the redevelopment of the science centre's ground floor. 

24 Hours of Sand is an installation of 24 hourglasses, revealing key questions around the sustainability of sand through headline facts and photos from Avonmouth's sand wharves and wider research on the global sand industry. 

The installation aims to spark curiosity and raise awareness about sand as a finite resource, following a question from a Bristol citizen: 'Who was the first person to see sand?' and workshops (led by We the Curious) in Avonmouth with a group of older men with experience working in the local sand industry. 

Sand is the most consumed natural resource in the world after water, and human consumption of sand for use in concrete for our booming cities, glass in our windows and cars and silica for our computers and machines is using sand at a faster rate than it can be naturally replenished. Desert sand is too smooth for use in industry, so coarser coastal and river sand is used instead, causing environmental and human harm through sand quarrying. A large part of the global sand industry is illegal and unregulated, known as 'The Sand Mafia', where authorities - such as in India - are often bribed to turn a blind eye to sand quarrying from protected environmental areas. 

The UK's sand industry is legal and regulated, but still has challenges of its own. The artwork is framed through the lens of Avonmouth's sand wharves here in Bristol, where sand is dredged from the Severn Estuary and processed for use in buildings locally and across the South West - from helping to build Avonmouth Rugby Club to filling in the old Bath stone mines. Some of the Severn Estuary's sand banks have run out over the last few years, leading to others further out to be used instead, with the hope the original sand banks will naturally replenish. 

24 Hours of Sand asks the question - how long do we have before our supply of sand runs out?

Book tickets now for the major new exhibition Project What If at We the Curious to see the installation and spin the hourglasses for yourself! Opening Winter 2020.

Find out more about the sustainability of sand in the UN's 2019 report Sand and sustainability: Finding new solutions for environmental governance of global sand resources

Huge thanks to Jack Stiling of Stiling's Workshop for fabrication. 

Photos: Avonmouth's Cemex sand wharf and We the Curious installation, Ellie Shipman, 2020