Brazilian artist Vik Muniz was working at grand scales when the idea of squeezing a castle into a grain of sand came to him: ‘I used to work in a smaller studio and my work had a certain scale and then I realized that by moving to a larger studio, my work sort of expanded, reaching up to 500 meters in diameter’.
In 2002, he had the opportunity to work in what he calls ‘an environmental scale’: some of those pieces were so large that they could only be properly seen from a helicopter. It was around the time of his Earthworks project that it occurred to him that doing the complete opposite would be a terribly cool idea.
As described by Muniz, it was a fortunate event that he ran into Marcelo Coelho, who at that time was and still is a Research Affiliate at MIT. Marcelo was immediately captivated by the simple yet beautiful idea of etching a castle into a grain of sand.
It wasn’t that simple, however; it took Marcelo 4 years to figure out how to do it.
Vik used a Camera lucida, which projects what you have in front of yourself as you sketch and allows for you to draw it accurately in a much smaller scale. Marcel took Vik’s castle sketch and used the focused ion beam (FIB) technique to draw castles on several grains of sand.
When interviewed about the project, Vik said that, ‘the interesting thing about these kinds of projects is that they connect scientists with artists. We’re all looking for the same thing: we’re trying to understand the world around us’.