A Visit To The Sand Man
Aegis Hands is the last remaining inhabitant of his wing at Höfðabakki 9. The steps are crumbling from the nibbles of a nearby bulldozer. The windows, coated in construction dust, reveal only vacant rooms and the occasional scaffolding structure. Despite the ‘one-month notice’ to vacate the property, and his neighbours’ apparent compliance, something told Aegis Hands to stick around just a little longer. Something alerted him that someone may be interested—an interviewer from a local paper, perhaps—in seeing his work in person. And Aegis always listens to these ‘somethings.’
Through two doorways, past abandonment and random piles of rubble, we arrive at a third doorway where a hand-painted sign hangs: “Aegis Hands Tears of Time.” Aegis opens the door ahead of me and we step into what remains of Mr. Hands’ living and studio space: a network of rooms that indicate some movement, but no rush, to leave.
Fate on line one
We step slowly around a U-shaped display of statues; Aegis runs his hands across the rough and glimmering black volcanic sand that the sculptures are made of. I tell him that I’ve never seen art made of this material before. “Yes, I am the only one in the world. Nobody has done this before,” he responds. “And none of it is my idea. It’s very unusual.” It seemed like a curious statement to make, especially for an artist, but Aegis wasn’t being facetious, and he wasn’t being post-modern. What he meant is that through a series of intuitive callings he was pulled to the medium that would determine his career as an artist.
The story takes us back to 1991. Aegis is a 45-year-old father of four, and has been unemployed for five months when he is offered a job as a sandblaster on the Westman Islands. The night before his plane leaves, however, Aegis receives a second call from a company in Kópavogur offering him an interview for a similar position. “At 45 years old, five months unemployed, what would you do?” Aegis asks, acknowledging the obvious and reasonable answer: get on the plane and take the Westman Islands job, happily ever after.
But Aegis stayed. He went to the interview the following day and, by a stroke of luck, or fate, got the job in Kópavogur. “And you see,” he continues, “the difference between sandblasting on the Westman Islands is that they use Polish steel sand. You can’t do a thing with it. But this [the sand the Kópavogur company used], this is natural Icelandic, volcanic sand. If I had taken the first job, I never would have been introduced to it. I was chosen.”
Time will tell
Twenty-two years later, Aegis stands in his studio remnants and tells me this story amidst an audience of about twenty black volcanic feminine sand-sculptures. The figures curl into one another softly, their rounded backs reminiscent of a mother huddled over her child. One of them is even called “Mother Care.” “I’ve been offered a lot of money for it,” Aegis asserts, but we both know that “Mother Care” is not going anywhere.
Aegis tells me how he denied pleas from Ben Stiller for two of his statues. “I told him from the start, not for sale. Not for sale.” Even when the offers started rolling in, Aegis kept his word. The statues stayed in Iceland. But Stiller didn’t leave empty-handed. After spending two hours in a locked room with eight of Aegis’s available sculptures, he decided that he wanted one titled ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (“I think therefore I am”). A few weeks later, the statue landed safely in America. Ben Stiller is just one on the roster of celebrities who own Aegis’s sculptures. Others include the Clinton family, Al Gore, Shania Twain, Brian Tracy and Claudia Schiffer.
It takes more than just a pretty penny to own one of Aegis’s statues. “The statues don’t like everybody,” Aegis tells me. For Aegis to sell, you can’t just express a desire to own one. The statue has to ‘want’ to be owned, too. “The sand they’re made of, it’s been around forever. I came up with this theory that everything that ever happens is registered in the sand.” And the sand reciprocates the knowledge, too. “It tells us things, like you know when people just ‘get an idea’ or the answer ‘comes to them’ while thinking? It’s from the sands! It can put these things out there for you; you just have to be willing to receive it.”
Your inner self
He walks around the corner to what used to be his living area and Johnny Cash’s voice fills the room. It’s one of the albums that he listens to while creating these sculptures, a highly intuitive process itself. It begins with him running his hands through a bowl full of the sand “to get the feel, to get in touch,” he explains, before he is ready to enter the studio space.
He approaches a rotating stand where a hunk of dry sand stands. With closed eyes he moves his hands over it, quickly and with purpose. “And then I turn it, and begin on this side,” he rotates the hunk, his hands still moving. “And then I begin to see lines, lines where I can make a hole, or a head,” he tells me as he continues to wither down and round out the hunk. He digs his left fingers vigorously into a recessed region and a head appears. Simultaneously his right hand moves tirelessly back and forth, and a curved back suddenly extends from the head.
He stops there, as the demo is over, and we abandon the work-in-progress and walk back to the exhibit. “You can run on for a long time…” Johnny sings as we make one final lap around the finished sculptures. “You should always listen to your inner self,” he says, looking at me before staring endearingly down at one of his figures. “I did and got lucky.”