Today I found myself being led by Birmingham Hippodrome to an undisclosed location down Hurst Street. An unassuming metal gate next to The Village Pub was opened and I was shown through an inconspicuous door into an expansive warehouse...
I was met with a unique sight – a number of chest freezers lined the walls and a team of young artistic looking folks donned in a singular yellow glove were busy carving away at 20cm ice figures. This surreal spectacle was the makeshift base of Néle Azevedo, an internationally acclaimed Brazilian artist from São Paulo.
Néle has been invited to the city by Birmingham Hippodrome to display her work as part of Birmingham’s centenary of World War One Commemorations. Her Minimum Monument exhibition involves an entrancing display of melting ice figures and has been shown all over the world including Sao Paulo, Havana, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and Florence. The scale for the Birmingham event however is on a larger scale than Azevedo’s previous exhibits, which usually employ around 1,500 figures and have been used symbolically to highlight many things including environmental issues and the loss of the Titanic. The event in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square will feature 5,000 of the frozen figures.
Azevedo was identified by Sarah Allen, the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Creative Programme Manager over a year ago on a random Google research mission (part of her role is to identify exciting creative talent); Sarah is instrumental in the branching out of the Hippodrome’s activities into outdoor space, such as the popular and upcoming Summer in Southside series of events.
Usually utilising a team of 4, Azevedo has opened up the project to the local community, and enthusiastic young artists have been working tirelessly over the past 2 weeks to create the necessary 5,000 figures - averaging approx 400 a day. The basis of the figures, men and women are produced in moulds, but are then refined by the team using sharp blades. We were invited to create one for ourselves, after we had eventually managed to don a rubber glove over another glove (very tricky indeed) we had a go, quite successfully might I add! We then bagged our sculpture to be placed in one of the chest freezers around the site.
One of the biggest logistical challenges will be transporting the 10 chest freezers that house the completed sculptures to Chamberlain Square, where they will be plugged in smartish before the figures will be placed across the entirety of the square’s amphitheatre step arrangement. Here they will be left to melt away, disappear in what promises to be a unique and poignant spectacle. To further enhance this briefest of installations a sound artist named Annie Mahtani has been commissioned to install microphones into some of the sculptures - the sounds of the melting ice will be broadcast around the square.
Each figure is unique, and although many will associate the sculptures with the fallen soldiers of the war, they represent anyone with a connection to the atrocities, whether they were the fallen or someone whose life was/has been affected by the events.
More affecting than a permanent sculpture, as the icy sculptures slowly melt away it will be a moment for remembering, a quiet time and as one girl at the press call noted, an act of letting go, and a celebration for the anonymous, common man.
It was a privilege to be invited to be a part of the event and sculpt one of the 5,ooo figures that will eventually make up the exhibition and you too can get involved; if you get to the site early you can ask a member of the team if you are able to place one of the figures on the steps of Chamberlain Square. Perhaps you have your own story or connection with the Great War which will give the act of doing so even greater resonance for you.
This FREE event will be held at Chamberlain Square 1pm-4pm on Saturday 2 August. Dependent on the weather the sculptures will take anywhere from 1-2 hrs to melt.
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