It is said that while life is short, art is long. But in many cases, we might as well stick to another maxim: nothing, not even art, lasts forever. A case in point here is a sculpture made of salt, the first of its kind in Thailand.
This artwork, measuring 8m wide and 4m high, can be seen from Rural Road No.2021, a two-lane shortcut from Samut Songkhram to Hat Chao Samran Beach in Phetchaburi. It is displayed next to the shore at KM 41. The sculpture features two Bryde's whales, a mother and a calf, swimming happily in a sea of 50 wave sculptures.
The idea of making salt sculptures as a location landmark was initiated and sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phetchaburi office, which wants to promote Ban Laem district as the largest salt producer in Thailand.
Last month, artists in Phetchaburi were invited to create sculptures from the unlikely material. Each tried different methods to hardening the crumbling salt and all came to naught. All artists gave up, except Assoc Prof Poonsawat Moombansa, assistant dean of the Arts and Design Programme at Phetchaburi Rajabhat University.
He stuck at his trial and error process until he could successfully erect one sculpture _ a big one indeed.
"I tried many things but I failed so many times that I almost gave up," he said.
Assoc Prof Poonsawat mixed salt with materials such as resin, spray adhesive, urethane, and glue made of animal's skins, gluing latex and pangpeak (glue made of tapioca flour) but the salt dissolved in each.
Then he tried it with a glue made of rice flour.
Assoc Prof Poonsawat Moombansa.
"Salt still melted. So I kept adding more salt until I could make a small ball, but then it gradually melted again," he said. He thought hard for a solution, and his headache was lifted when he talked to local salt farmers. The trick, they said, was to just add salt, and store in a dry area, like the warehouses next to the district's salt farms.
He took that to heart and applied salt grains around the salt ball. It worked.
"Coating the salt balls with dried salt grains also helped make the ball easier to manage because the glue didn't stick to my palm and I could keep adding layers to make it bigger too," he said.
In the next step, he created a small model of the sculpture-to-be. He cut styrofoam to shape, applied rice glue on the surface, added a 1cm thick layer of rice glue and salt mixture, then covered it with salt grains. Complicated, but it worked.
"I showed the model to the team of the tourism office. They asked me to make a big sculpture to be displayed outdoor for the Art of Salt event [which took place last week]," he said.
He asked his students for help, but it was the time the students had to prepare for final exams. Poonsawat called the tourism office to tell them he couldn't possibly finish the sculpture in time, but when the tourism board decided to postpone the event for next year, the ad hoc salt sculptor felt so guilty that he begged his students to spare at least three hours a day to help him creating the sculpture. He felt that he must try to fulfil the expectation because it was the duty of the university to serve the needs of locals.
"Fortunately, my students agreed to help. First, I thought about making an abstract sculpture, but not everyone can appreciate it," he said.
He thought of Bryde's whales because the aquatic creatures have been spotted in the sea delta around the area.
Steel bars served as a frame, bent into the shape of a whale rising up from the sea. Thin bamboo pieces were tied around the shape. Then the team covered the bamboo layer with papier mache. Next came the same process as for the small salt model, only this time with food colouring added to the glue mixture to dye the whales blue.
"I had to sculpt the big whale at the exhibit location, and not at my university, because it would have been too heavy to move when finished," he said.
He and his students camped at the dirt field. It took them about seven days to complete the mother whale.
"We ate and slept next to the sculpture. We used to work during the day time, but some parts of the sculpture melted at night. We had to change our working hours and started at three o'clock in the morning so when the sun shined strongly during the middle of the day, it could strength the mixture of the sculpture," he said.
The smaller whale and 50 blue waves were created in the university by his students and later moved to the location. When the sculpture was finished, they used about two tonnes of salt, 130 students and a 80,000 baht budget.
The two Bryde's whales can last for months if there is no rain. If it rains, it will dissolve and wash away within 20 minutes, he said.
"The salt sculpture is like sand or snow sculptures which are not permanent. It can easily be destroyed by humidity, dew and rain," he said.
Although it might last only a short time, Assoc Prof Poonsawat said he hoped it would entertain those who use the rural road to Cha-am and that they would stop and take pictures to share among friends.
"I hope it can help promote Ban Laem as the number one salt farm in Thailand," he added.
About the author
- Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe