Ice Artists Create Metal Sculptures in Greenwich Park
By Lisa Chamoff
Local resident Mary Gibbons has brought a small slice of the Icehotel to Greenwich.
While that sounds glorious during the most recent heat wave, there is no ice involved. Gibbons, who for the past seven years has traveled to a small Swedish village about 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle to help manage, construct and document the building of a giant frozen hotel, has invited 18 artists from around the world to construct metal sculptures in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park.
The artists have all previously contributed to the design and building of the Icehotel from thousands of tons of ice from the Torne River. Each of the hotel's suites, and its stunning bar, are designed with a theme in mind. Come the spring, it melts away, to be built anew the following year.
Gibbons was inspired to join the building crew at the Icehotel, located in the village of Jukkasjarvi, in 2005 after watching a television show about the process of building hotels from ice and snow. She is just as active when she is home in (significantly warmer) Greenwich. Last summer, she organized an exhibit at the Greenwich Arts Council called "Arctic Women and their Art," featuring the works of three prominent Swedish artists.
"So many of the artists that I've met at the Icehotel travel the world doing art symposiums," said Gibbons, 57. "I just started thinking, why couldn't Greenwich have an art symposium?"
Inspired by hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, who last year launched the Greenwich Town Party at the same park, Gibbons approached First Selectman Peter Tesei several months ago about organizing the outdoor exhibit.
What has been dubbed the Greenwich Harbor Arts International Metal Art Symposium will occupy the waterfront park along with Shakespeare on the Sound, which is staging performances of "Romeo and Juliet" through Sunday.
Visitors to the park can watch the artists as they create their sculptures, which will be for sale.
"It was my dream to do an art symposium to work with artists who are so talented, and who work with ice and snow sometimes," Gibbons said.
The theme of the exhibit is "connection."
Irish artist Dave Ruane has been creating a sculpture with an ocean theme. Seven rods, each representing the seven seas, come together in a circle at the top.
"Mary was thinking we should have something that connects us throughout the world, and water is an obvious choice," said Ruane, who has been designing rooms at the Icehotel for the past 10 years and currently resides in Sweden.
Ruane said he has certainly found it challenging to work with welding equipment in the 90-plus degree weather.
"At least in the cold you can put on extra clothes," Ruane said.
Some of the art might help people to think cool thoughts. Coinciding with the exhibit is the launch of a coffee-table book that Gibbons helped write featuring photos of the Icehotel. The 567-page book, which be available for sale at the park, includes the work of Swedish photographer Ben Nilsson and is a compilation of the last six Icehotel catalogs -- publications documenting each version of the structure -- some of which Gibbons helped craft. In the book, Gibbons also tells the story of the melting of the ice hotel.
"It's a love letter as I write about each suite," Gibbons said of the hotel's themed rooms, which are frozen art exhibits.
Last year, the theme for the hotel's ice bar was "It Takes Two to Tango." The room featured an ice mural of people dancing the tango and sculptures of feet on the ceiling.
Nilsson, who started taking photographs for the catalog six years ago, after some artist friends invited him to the hotel, said people want something that allows them to remember the fleeting structure. The hardcover book is the ultimate souvenir.
"I've been dreaming about the coffee-table book for many, many years, and Mary really made it happen," said Nilsson, who came to Greenwich recently for the book launch.
Nilsson explained that photographing ice is quite tricky. Some artists design their rooms to be dark, and using a flash causes the shots to be extremely overexposed. Some of the artists use light in the rooms, which helps.
"It's working with what's there to enhance it," Nilsson said. "Some are dark and obscene, because that's the way the artist wants it to be."
While Nilsson and Gibbons have worked hard to capture the wonder of the Icehotel in pictures and words, there is no replacement for seeing the glistening structure in person.
"Even the most hard-core businessman will go in and gasp," Nilsson said. "The mind can't comprehend how it's done. Everybody turns into a child again. Everyone turns back to when they were 5, playing in the snow."