This time last week I was out in a field helping children snow sculpt. It was a brilliant few days, and by the look of the weather it happened just in time!
Now that it’s done it’s amazing to think that it was over six months ago that Birgitta first mentioned her idea for the project. We had only just met in the kitchen at wip and were chatting about how we survive as artists. The conversation turned to children’s projects and Birgitta talked about her ambitions for a snow festival on Årstafältet (a common that she is involved in trying to protect from development).
It was the first children’s project I’ve worked on in a couple of years, and the first one I’ve done outside of the UK. In many ways it wasn’t that different from other ones I’ve done, and yet in other ways it was so different! I can’t quite put my finger on what made it different, perhaps it was just that I (literally) didn’t understand much of what was being said. One thing I noticed was the way the children worked, they were much more focussed and calmer than the London children I’m used to working with. They were also much better at cooperating and sharing the tools.
Speaking of tools, I was a little nervous when I saw the tools that we would be working with – it’s not that they were particularly dangerous, but they had the potential to be – it made me realise that it’s not the tools that are the challenge but the children’s way of handling them. Over the two days we were working with saws, trowels, files, rasps and even axes I didn’t see one incident of a tool being used in a threatening or violent way – something that I’ve (unfortunately) learnt to expect.
From the moment I arrived at the school, where we met all the children and designed the sculptures, I was aware of how different things are here. The school grounds and building were open, I walked across an open area to the class we were borrowing for the day, opened the door and let myself in. There were a few children hanging around in classrooms and others making themselves sandwiches in the kitchen area along the corridor (it was ‘sports week’ which is like half term so there weren’t proper lessons but the school is open for children whose parents work). I’m not used to such openess
Susanne, Birgitta’s old college friend who is an experienced snow sculptor, showed examples of the projects she’s done where she lives in Kiruna (up in northern Sweden were it can be -30 in the winter) and handed around the tools we would be using. Then Irina presented the ‘inspiration’ slide show that we put together.
The children came up with great designs for their snow sculptures. They were good at working in their teams and deciding on the one design they would actually make. After badly cutting herself while trying to carve plaster Birgitta discovered that florist’s Oasis foam is a great way to make a macquete. By the end of the afternoon the children had all carved their own versions of their group sculptures and the room was covered in a fine green dust!
The weather the next day was fantastic – brilliant blue sky, sunny and about minus five – perfect for being outside and working with snow. Birgitta and Henrik (a fellow field campaigner) had already prepared the blocks of snow the children would work on. I had no idea that there are special forms/frames that you need to use to make the blocks – to be honest I hadn’t really thought about how to get the snow ‘together’ at all! Susanne explained that you never quite know what the snow will be like when you unpack it, and that that’s part of the excitement, but it can also effect what you can do with it. There had been a couple of mild days since the snow had been packed into the forms but thankfully the forms came off easily and blocks looked good – I took Susanne’s word for this ….