The national Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival in Bruges presents its ninth edition this year. This interactive winter experience is unique in Europe.
In a special thermal and cooled tent, an international team of professional ice sculptors has created dozens of impressive works of art, at a constant temperature of minus 5 degrees Celsius. The forklifts used to move the blocks run on gas. The burning of gas leaves no soot particles behind so that the ice is not discoloured by air pollution.
Approximately 300 tons of crystal clear ice and 400 tons of fresh snow form the natural materials upon which the sculptors set to work. The gigantic ice blocks are up to 2 metres high. A single block weighs easily 2 tons and takes up to 4 weeks to complete.
Ice sculptors once worked natural ice from Swedish Lapland, but now the artists realise their creations on high-quality, self-made ice from West Flanders. Through a special technique in the freezing process, no air bubbles can form in the water tanks and we get solid, crystal clear blocks.
In order to make the tremendous amounts of snow that the artists require, workmen grind ice very finely with a snow crusher. Snow sculptures are made using the same techniques as ice sculptures. The carvers place the snow, layer by layer, in large wooden moulds, and stamp it down firmly. After three days, the wooden moulds are dismantled and we have rock-hard giant snow blocks as a result of this whole process. Then the actual sculpting or carving can begin.
Although each carver has his or her own method, they all generally work from top to bottom. The rudimentary forms are made with chainsaws, grinding discs, and drills. They then utilise chisels, blades, and even sharpened shovels to create the details. Working with ice in an enclosed space is a dangerous business. The artists need to be mindful of sliding and falling chunks.
In addition, pieces of the sculptures are often "welded" together. In this case, the artists use a pressing iron to melt the seams of the surfaces to be joined, thus achieving a smooth, polished surface. The seams are then placed against one another and the freezing cold does the rest of the job. Sometimes they squirt a little water between the seams in order to strengthen the joints.
For four long weeks, a group of around forty artists assembled from the Four Corners of the globe, toil on these, their fleeting, unique works of art. These are the best sculptors from China, Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Ukraine, The Czech Republic, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium.