A Mirage at my fingers – The incredible sand-art of Lilia Chistina


Lilia Chistina (Li Chi) is a trickster. The shadows which flicker and leap on and off the wonder wall of her alluring cinematic cave are composed of nothing but sand and light. Nothing but sand and light and dexterity. Nothing but sand and light and dexterity and technique. Nothing but sand and light and dexterity and technique and intelligence. And sheer ineffable talent. Her sand-art is an ephemeral world of ethereality in motion, a world of collapsing moments made incarnate by dust; a silent invocation of storytelling sculpted from the breeze of thought and licked into a temporary existential fragility by the delicate fingertips of a supremely talented young painter of mute and beautiful shadow puppets, rising and falling like dappled fish in the ocean of time. Thank the Lord for dappled things, says Gerard Manley Hopkins.

So, sand-art is a form of theatre, a form of painting, a form of sculpture, film-making, puppetry; an installation, a happening, a meditation, a cartoon, a dumb show. More than anything, sand-art is a live experience which occurs in the now – this is the secret of sand-art. The nowness is as infinitely delicate as a slowly disappearing whisp of smoke; the joy of the constant growth and ultimate obliteration of every unique image, constructed grain by grain then magically extinguished by the hand of the creator, which reminds us of our mortality, of the inherent beauty in a handful of dust, (if you can see infinity in a grain of sand …William Blake); Li Chi’s sand art performances remind us of the never ending cycle of birth and death and the tangible miracle of dust being animated into anthropomorphic entities by the artist/trickster who is after all, only something akin to a handful dust of herself. Promethean dust; electrified, and imbued with mystical knowledge of other dimensions.

Is it a dream within a dream?

It is an illusion, a childish play of the imagination. We should be above such things. We have iphones after all – surely there’s a sand-art app? Maybe there is – but nothing can ever replace the satisfaction of seeing a master execute their craft. Above all, Li Chi is a master of her craft. Her composure is mystical. We allow the flow of her brain waves to mingle with the culpability of our delight. It is a supreme pleasure, to swim in the waves of her creativity, to become entranced by the dance of her fingers in the evaporated mirror pool of time. And then, just as suddenly as it began, the time comes to obliterate the smoke and dust and with one deft swipe of her hand, Li Chi annihilates the faery palace images so delicately construed, so quintessentially refined from base materials and there it is; gone. At first we are jolted by this destruction, but then we realize it is another gift of this uniquely live and ephemeral form of art, it reminds us, in the words of William Blake, that we should ‘Kiss the joy as it flies.’

Li Chi frequently works with the theatre of Love, English theatre project and can be seen performing with flying banana children’s theatre company at the Stanislavski electrotheatre.

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