7 Jan 2017

Sculpting in -20°C: Triple socks and double gloves

2:13 pm on 7 January 2017

Two New Zealand couples are trading their togs for thermals this summer to take part in the world's largest ice festival in northern China.

People visit ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights marking the opening of the 2017 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

People visit ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights marking the opening of the 2017 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Photo: AFP

Jimi and Lisa Walsh, from South Taranaki, will be joined by the Kerikeri artists Murray and Catherine Dunn in an snow-sculpting team at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

The Walshes exhibited there three years ago, and today they are heading back into the minus-twenties to test their skills against professional teams from Russia, Poland, Siberia, China and Korea.

Mrs Walsh said going last time was a lot more challenging because they knew nothing.

"I was fascinated to go to a place that was that cold. Just to see what it was like and to experience it. We went last time just really wanting to work out how to use the medium, because we knew nothing and we didn't even know what tools, we didn't even know what clothing would work because in New Zealand it's actually quite hard to get clothing that's rated to that temperature.

"So it was sort of a trip of the unknowns last time, whereas this time going back we feel like we understand a hang of a lot more about the medium and how to work it, and how to work in those temperatures because to be honest that's the biggest challenge is working with that amount of clothing on and still having to sculpt outside in the elements. That's challenging."

She said the secret was lots and lots of layers, "you triple sock and double glove".

During the festival they will work in freezing temperatures and will test their skills against professional ice sculpting teams from Russia, Poland, Siberia, China and Korea.

Not only are these teams used to such temperatures, they get to practice and many are on a professional circuit.

Each team has three days to sculpt a four metre high by three metre square block of frozen snow, using only hand tools.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Photo: Supplied

Ms Walsh said they were packing a variety of tools, but last time their secret weapon proved to be an commercial lino scraper.

"Last time we took it as a gamble because we didn't know whether it was going to work or not. And all the other teams were envious of this tool that we took and couldn't believe that we were so lucky to have this thing.

"That was just brilliant for carving back big blocks of the ice very quickly and they didn't have anything like that there. So it will be interesting to see if they have found something similar."

She said last time they produced a giant kete but this year's creation will feature butterflies.

"We're aiming to do a 4.5 metre piece and we're basing it on the butterfly effect. So we're going have butterflies forming into a tornado, going up into a vortex. It's about collective energies working together to create one thing."

To make matters worse it gets dark at 3pm and while they put lights on it, once the sun goes down it gets bitterly cold.

Ms Walsh said it was impossible to practice.

"Basically you can't. What we do is we make maquettes up out of clay and to scale. Then we divide it into days and what we need to achieve by the end of day one and whose doing which task on that day. And then we just think through the process and try and think through any potential problems we have. And have a plan A, B, C and D.

"So we've got different scenarios if something happens. One of them is if it snows. If it snows it means it's warmer, but we could have dumping of 5cm of snow as we are sculpting and then it will freeze. So then we will get rid of that. so that's obviously a time delay. You have to allow for different things to happen," she said.

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