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Publication Date : 14-01-2013
Making art from frozen water takes both determination and creativity
Although it is even colder than usual this winter in Northeast China, two recently arrived Russians are not dismayed.
Aleksei Sidorov and Evgeni Savchenko are here in the industrial city of Harbin for the three-month International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival that officially opened earlier this month. The hardy Russians are snow sculptors.
Cold is their business.
The surprise is that they won - not the snow-sculpting contest that they came for, but the ice sculpture event, which they've never entered before.
"I still can't believe that now," says Sidorov after the duo was presented the 10,000-yuan (US$1,606) first prize at Harbin's 27th international contest for ice sculpture, one of the most important events of the festival.
All the designs by the 2013 contestants are on display at Harbin's Zhaolin Park until the end of February.
Sidorov and Savchenko hadn't even registered for the ice contest when they arrived in Harbin, focused on the snow sculpture competition, now in its 18th year.
Perhaps they were inspired by the massive ice blocks for sculpting, harvested from the Songhua River which freezes from late November until March. In any event, the time felt right.
They begged for the chance to enter, and the organising committee granted an exception to allow them to sign up late.
Sidorov says they left their electric saw at home - it's not a tool needed to shape snow - so they had to carve the ice without one. That brought challenges, but the result was a winner.
Their sculpture Motorcyclist is about healthy lifestyle, Sidorov says.
"In our hometown Amur, people like playing on a snow motorcycle in winter, and it is also a traditional sport event there," he says.
"Snow motorcycle races are held to tell people, especially young people to keep away from drugs and choose healthy lifestyle, so we choose it as our subject."
This year there are 24 teams of more than 60 artists from seven countries - France, Russia, Thailand, Mongolia, Malaysia and South Korea as well as China - that have braved freezing temperatures to compete.
In one special case, a pair of longtime rivals became a team this year. A young woman from South Korea met a young man from China at the Harbin contest in 2005.
"After the competition we became very good friends because of the same passion for the ice sculpture," says Shi Lei, a 28-year-old graphic designer working in a company in Beijing.
When his company later posted him Dalian for one year, he met his Korean rival Bang Geu-rai there, who is now a sculpture teacher in Dalian Polytechnic University after studying in China.
They decided to team up in Harbin this time.
"It is cold in Dalian's winter, but it's not cold enough to produce large ice blocks for ice sculpture," the petite Bang says.
"The blocks used in Harbin - two metres long and 0.7 metres thick - may be the largest in the world, almost double the average size. It is appropriate for a good work."
To create their sculpture Source, Bang and Shi first cleaned the snow off the surface of the ice block with a shovel and then copied an outline of the design from a pencil sketch.
Then they put the shovel away, grabbing all sorts of special, smaller tools to create the piece.
"In our work there are flowers, birds and water. Water is the source of life and I want to tell people through our work that to save water is to cherish life," says Bang, describing how she and Shi came up with the name for their work almost simultaneously.
To French artist Marcel Brossard, ice is a much more traditional form than the medium that has made him famous at home - fire.
Brossard, 58, says fire and ice reflect two different styles and show different beauties.
"I tried to make ice sculptures 20 years ago and I really love this art. The fire sculpture is a modern art and the ice sculpture is more traditional and classical," he says through a translator, his son Fabien.
The father and son partnered with Marcel's old friend Denis Magnan to claim the first prize in the snow-sculpture competition.
"Michel has been to Harbin twice and he told me that it's really a great and big city, so I decided to come with him," Magnan says.
The name of their ice sculpture is The Free Electron-Cortex and it won the "Award for Skill" in the ice-sculpture competition.
Like their foreign peers, Chinese ice artists are active in the arena, with six teams joining in the competition.
Sun Haiping's hometown is Harbin, but he is now teaching art at Kunming University.
"I grew up in the world of ice and snow, so I have special feeling toward ice sculptures. But my students have little chance to enjoy ice and snow in Kunming, a city that has four seasons of spring," Sun says.
He says that the experience, not the result, is important for him and his team. "I hope my students can receive more experiences through such high-level competitions," he says.
His team members invited ice sculpture expert Shang Yadong as their adviser. The 68-year-old retired urban construction engineer from Harbin has spent many of his retirement days in the frozen art.
Although participants had to stay outdoors for about 10 hours a day during the competition, the hardy veteran says that he didn't feel cold and enjoyed every minute.
"In fact, making ice sculpture is a very good way to keep healthy and good state of mind," Shang says.
Their work was honoured with a "Memorial Award".
"In my heart, this is the best encouragement for our endeavor," says Zhou Liping, a senior student from Kunming University.