IJsbeelden Festival, ice sculpting techniques in Zwolle

by Francesca Spanò

© Carlotta Casamassima

When we think of ice sculptures, what usually pops into our heads is the dreadful and too opulent image of pseudo-artworks (sometimes also made using fruit) found in luxurious cruise ship. Well, we have to change our mind. Ice sculpting is a proper form of carving, which implies preparation, time and a good level of physical training, given that artists work in temperatures near to (or lower than) 0°C.

+31mag.nl, curious to know more about that, went behind the scenes of the Zwolle IJsbeelden Festival, during which this art owns a privileged position. During its 6th edition, the event will open its doors from December 12th until January 16th of 2016 and has the purpose to mesmerise its audience through a real journey into an iced world.

IJsbeelden Festival
© Carlotta Casamassima

“The concept behind the event is an airport”, Marc van Aalst, one of the organisers, told us while pointing out the entrance hall for visitors. “There are the arrivals, than you go under controls and you reach the gates, which allows you to the journey through the ice sculptures”.

The scenario is easily done: a huge freezer in the middle of the shed hosting the event. Inside we found sculptures in progress, technicians, noise coming from chainsaws, any type of tools, snow, ice and, of course, a lot of cold.

“This part is dedicated to Indonesia, this one to America. Here there is a llama, made of snow. It will spit, actually”, said Van Aalst, while smiling. The statues, as he explains, are carved by means of different techniques: a machine which produce snow directly is used to create part of the artworks; moreover, we saw squared ice blocks, instead, which arrived from the South of France. “They are realised on purpose for use at -30°C and they are made in such a way to remove air bubbles which can grow inside. During the transport, they are put in special boxes in order to avoid ruptures”.

IJsbeelden Festival
© Carlotta Casamassima

If the final product is not too big, for each block they obtain a statue. When the artwork is of architectural nature, like the Egyptian columns, professional “stackers” link the blocks of 50cm squares in complex structures. “They come from Latvia or Finland and they do this for a living: they travel around the world to put together ice. It is not simple, water is used to do that but a lot of professionally is required to get the best result as possible”, said Van Aalst.

Are you familiar with the first scenes of Frozen? The image is the same: ice workers with all-size tools, even graters, to give life to a very hard material, despite its actual malleability, Laura Scavuzzo – Italian sculptor and scenic designer – explained. This is her third participation to this event.

IJsbeelden Festival
© Carlotta Casamassima

“You can easily work the ice with tiny and thin tools. Hacksaws or even very sharp blades are perfect because they can dig deep in the ice, thus giving it a homogeneous form”. The greatest challenge is, however, to maintain the ice as purest as possible, she pointed out. “If you make a mistake you can fix it with a mixture of very cold water and snow, but the goal is not to do anything wrong, because the ice should stay intact and clear”.

Once the work in finished, eventually, final touches are given with sand paper and water, which freezes making the surface smooth and shiny. “The process is quite long and we have been working for ten days for an event of such magnitude”.

Now all we can do is wait for the opening and enjoy the ice with music, lights and special effects. Although, it would be a good idea to wear snow-boots.


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