THE EPHEMERAL MAGIC OF ICE SCULPTURES
By TIIU KIRSIPUU
Snow and ice sculptures have been made all over the world since time immemorial. This is something that has been a part of the Nordic winter and is offering joy for the viewers and the artists. Making ice sculptures continues to be popular in many countries in nowadays. I believe that many people have seen on television what wonderful giant buildings and sculptures are made of ice every year in northern China. In many countries there are also artistic level ice carving competitions going on every winter.
My first ice carving experience was in 1998, when I lived and worked in Fairbanks, Alaska for a month. I went there to learn the technology of joining ice blocks and making ice sculptures and also took part in my first ice sculpting competition. The Fairbanks competition has been the biggest competition I’ve ever participated in, both in terms of the number of teams and the amount of ice used for a sculpture. I learned a lot while working there and had great experiences. Within the framework of the event, two competitions took place – one for two-member teams and the other for four-member teams, where the volume of ice blocks was also twice as large.
I have participated in competitions and workshops for making ice sculptures many times also in different parts of Finland – in Vaasa, Lapland in northern Finland, Helsinki and Savonlinna and once in Latvia. I especially remember the ice sculpture competitions organized in the Zoo of the Finnish capital Helsinki for many years with the participation of sculptors from all over the world. The theme of the competition there was always nature, birds and animals. The sculptures of the two-member teams were born in the sight of the visitors of the zoo in three days. There were many spectators, both children and adults, coming to see the event no matter how cold the weather was. The artworks in Helsinki Zoo were usually 2-3 m high.
My country, Estonia, is a small country in northeastern Europe. We consider ourselves a Nordic country. Estonia has four seasons and winter – warmer or colder, with more or less snow – usually lasts from November to March. For about 15 years, I have made at least one or two large ice sculptures in the urban space in Estonia every winter. Often they have been ordered to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Also I have organized several international ice-carving events in Estonia myself.
Transparent ice is a wonderful material for a sculptor. We can saw and cut various sculptures out from large ice blocks relatively easily. When the ice blocks are joined together, the large volume of sculpture is cut out with a chainsaw. After that the more precise shape is cut out with special chisels. The chisels are very sharp and if they become dull, they will not cut the ice and must be sharpened again. Although the process of making ice sculpture is a hard physical work it’s a lot of fun and a very creative work.
There are two types of ice from which the sculptures can be made. One of them is natural ice, which is cut out of the frozen water of a lake, river or quarry. We cannot use sea ice, because when the salty water freezes, the ice does not become clearly transparent. The second type of ice – the so-called artificial ice – is frozen in special metal molds. There the water moves before icing and the oxygen is extracted under vacuum. This ice is extremely beautiful and completely clear and transparent. Previously we ordered large ice blocks from the northern part of Finland, Lapland, where they cut the ice out of the river and sent to Estonia by large trucks. Unfortunately, as a result of global warming, winters have changed also far to the north and become warmer. Nowadays in some winters they don’t have thick layers of ice as they used to have.
For about 10 years now we have been ordering ice for making ice sculptures from our neighboring country Latvia, where there havelarge ice-freezing machines. The dimensions of the ice blocks coming from there are 2 m x 1 m x 50 cm. In order to get larger sculptures these ice blocks must first be joined or frozen together with water.
In Tallinn we illuminate the ice sculptures from below with LED light and in the dark the ice sculptures shine mysteriously. The lifespan of the ice sculptures depends on the weather. If there are minus degrees outside the sculpture can remain out for several months. At plus degrees the ice will naturally melt quite soon.
Beautiful and magic ice sculptures are enjoyed by both adults and children. For the sculptor they offer joy of creativity and the enjoyment of the working process.