Home Blog Building the ‘Mind the Gap’ Art Suite: week 3

Building the ‘Mind the Gap’ Art Suite: week 3

Sunday, 6th July 2014

Destination Specialist

sweden lapland icehotel art suite mind the gap

‘Mind the Gap’ designer Marcus Dillistone kept a diary of his experience constructing his Art Suite at the Icehotel. Here are the last few days – including the fundamental importance of heavy metal, the history of the Icehotel and the all-important final finesse stage before the hotel opens to guests.

Follow the build: Week 1  |  Week 2

Day 15 – Heavy metal

ICEHOTEL is built every year from scratch, and lasts just a few winter months. The whole idea originally started when French artist Jannot Derid held an exhibition in a one-off igloo type structure near the current site at Jukkasjarvi (near Kiruna in Swedish Lapland).

There was a shortage of hotel rooms in the area, so some visitors asked if they could sleep in sleeping bags in the igloo. This launched the whole idea.

ICEHOTEL is now in its 24th year, and there is an annual cycle. In early summer artists submit their ideas for jury selection; many submit, but few are chosen. Sometimes ideas are really good, but are too similar to other previous submissions. So not getting selected doesn’t at all mean it’s a bad concept. The creative team likes to balance ideas to provide the best blend of art suites for guests and visitors to enjoy.

It is creativity that is the energy behind ICEHOTEL, and it is international creativity too – there are artists here from all corners of the globe.

Whilst the wonderfully diverse art is the project’s driving force, ICEHOTEL is also a structure that needs building to house the art. This, for me, is the ‘heavy metal’ bit, and today I want to reflect on those construction people whom I see working, but whom I don’t really know. They build the rooms in which we create the commissioned artistic installations.

ICHOTEL is a huge team effort, and the heavy metal team is vital to its existence.

When work is in full-flow, one of the most striking things about the ICEHOTEL site is the amount of heavy plant moving around in a fast and intuitive pattern, as loaders with huge scoops move snow for other loaders, who in turn take it to the snow-blowers. They all work in a relentless and well-oiled way, knowing each other well after years of teamwork.

Because the days are short and the dusky ‘sunset-like’ period is long, these huge machines, lights ablaze, look extra cool. When I go out to get snow, or to the tools shed for a specialist tool, or simply take a break, it’s fascinating to watch the huge quantities of materials moving about.

The heavy metal ‘moniker’ is never more applicable than when they’re moving the formers around, i.e. the huge sheets of steel that shore up the hotel’s sides during moulding. This metal is dangerous stuff in a normal climate, but here there are extra hazards: touch cold bare metal with damp gloves they’ll stick to it, touch it with a bare hand and you could lose skin.

You need to keep your wits (and hazard vests) about you when moving around after dark. I have a Peli Mini Flasher (strobe) on my parka to help me stand out.

ICEHOTEL construction is a safe and slick operation, but it can make one jump, if – for example – a massive sheet of steel hits the ground dead flat, emitting a deafening ‘gung’ sound, this is usually followed by the rattle of huge chains that remind one of where the real power lays.

This is a heavy metal soundtrack that contrasts well with the slightly more genteel sounds coming from within, where the artists toil.

The art suites are off long vaulted snow corridors, and one enters them through an arched shaped shoulder-wide and 1.5m deep walkway in the thick snow walls. Each suite is 4.5m x 6.5 m with a high arched roof, which is the starting canvas for an art suite, whatever the idea.

As one walks along the corridor a different symphony is heard to that playing outside: the light bright scratching sound of ice-chiselling, slush being swirled in a bucket, and then buckets being ‘bang-cleaned’ of frozen icy detritus. Commando spades thud as they shape walls, plus there’s the sudden and inevitable onset of a chainsaw that comes without warning. Understandably there’s also the occasional curse, in one language or another, as a piece of ice misbehaves in one of a hundred ways in which it can. The bass is provided by the low grunts of heavy lifts.

The artists all salute the heavy metal crew, because without them our ideas would remain on paper as homeless notions.

Day 16 – Making the most of it

Working on a project-by-project basis, I’m used to trying to make the most of the opportunities that each endeavour presents.

Being primarily a filmmaker I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do many diverse things, and to be introduced to new subjects and locations on a frequent basis.

Film is a communications medium where garnering an audience is what it’s all about, and art is no different. Work is made to be seen, and to have some sort of emotional effect on the viewer.

In my view ICEHOTEL is all about creativity and emotional impact. Art in this extraordinary environment cannot fail to inspire. It’s a very emotionally engaging place, and the arctic environment alone is fantastic, notwithstanding the hotel and its contents.

There’s no doubt that if you can visit ICEHOTEL, then you should. But rebuilding a hotel from nothing each season is not cheap, so I appreciate that it’s not a viable option for many. My endeavours towards ‘making the most of it’ include trying to convey the experience of being here to a wider audience (including through this blog).

I am probably one of the more PR-oriented artists here, but one of the main reasons for this is that PR helps my ideas to reach a wider audience, which, in my view, is a good thing.

Making the most of the ‘Mind The Gap’ idea started way back in February 2013 when I first thought about the notion. I didn’t want to submit an idea that might subsequently become a ‘no-go’ for some reason of rights or permissions, so I decided to contact Transport for London first. If I were able to garner their interest, support, and approval, then I would be in a position to submit the idea to the ICEHOTEL creative team for consideration.

The head of intellectual property at Transport for London is responsible for protecting the classic London Underground logo and identity. Fortunately he really liked the idea, and told me that it was London Underground’s 150th Anniversary year. This seemed serendipitous to me. That said, I didn’t want people to think that this was merely an idea raised-up as part of the celebrations, because it wasn’t. Also, such a notion might look a little cynical on my part.

I was aware that all of the extra interest in London Underground might help ‘oil the wheels’ of progress, and help get the piece made (at this point my primary desire).

Because I had submitted the idea to ICEHOTEL very early on it was a long time before I had a response, but eventually it came, and it was positive. From then on I knew that the ‘last stop on the Northern Line’ would come to exist.

Because I have primarily a film brain, and because ‘film’ is an expensive medium to work in, I do tend to think more commercially than some creative people. Filmmakers need funding for their art, and so must often go the extra mile to garner support.

It is important that one doesn’t sell out, and lose any artistic integrity, that’s something I would never do. But if someone wants to help me to get the job done in a better way, then why not?

Today’s media – especially social media – is a beast that can never be fed too many photographs, video clips, or status comments, and a lot of artists post; updating people on what’s going on is part of the making the most of it at ICEHOTEL.

I had an email today from the UK outlining some possible media interest in the Mind The Gap story, and should they come to fruition it will be great to see the suite taken to a wider audience, especially by esteemed publications and broadcasters. Maybe those who see it in the media first, will make the ‘bucket list’ decision to come and experience everything up-close and personal, i.e. for real here in Jukkasjarvi!

In film the ‘fourth wall’ of the set is the camera, and therefore the audience, so I have designed my suite meticulously to suit a certain optimum point-of-view. I have also calculated carefully the camera position and lens, so that the suite is fully photographically recordable ‘in one’. I am using an excellent 14mm prime lens on the Fuji Xpro-1. Of course part of me knows (and agrees) that people need to experience the 3D space in their own way, and from many angles. But I do think it helps if one can make a meaningful and complete statement about the installation in a single image, particularly as there are many people who will see the suite only as a photograph or on video. I really do want to make the art accessible to them too.

It’s now fast approaching midnight, so I need to get some zzzs. We have just two days ahead to get this finished, with so little time I need to knuckle down and make the most of it.

Day 17 – Finesse

Today was the longest work day, and the shortest sun day so far. Tomorrow is the last full day of work on the suite, so now we‘re in the ‘finesse’ stage.

I suspect that most ice artists agree that there’s never a moment where they feel that perfection has been achieved, and if we didn’t have a deadline we could probably keep tweaking things.

Ice is a beautiful medium with which to work, but it can also draw one into a level of precision that is unnecessary. These art suites are pretty big and imposing, so getting bogged-down in minute details can make one lose sight of the overall aesthetic.

Today was a day for decisions and compromises. The suite’s opening deadline is fixed, and the clock is ticking, so we had to focus our efforts, especially as everyone’s looking decidedly jaded at this point.When working in a suite for long hours under blazing work lights, one sees every single imperfection. But when these lights are removed and only the suite’s final ‘set’ lighting is on, the impression is entirely different. Lighting is vital to the look and mood of an art suite. This is especially true for Mind The Gap.

I like to use a film lighting approach, which means using light to paint the appropriate mood to help tell a story. I tend to use back-light as it gives an extra dimension to objects.

My suite has three main sources of lighting: an art deco platform light, which is on the back wall and which lights the side of the train, the train’s headlights (that are on the front, obviously), and the train’s interior light.

These three sources of light do different jobs: the back wall ‘platform’ light provides modelling and helps to cast the front of the train into shadow. The front of the train being in shadow enhances the drama of the train’s headlights, whilst the interior light enhances the windows from inside and provides a slightly warmer and more inviting light for the suite’s bed area (it’s easy to forget that this is an hotel bedroom!).

Other areas that need to be finessed include the solid white snice (snow/ice) surfaces; they can be polished with sandpaper to remove imperfections. Sometimes a small chunk of errant ice appears during polishing. This needs to be picked out with a knife and the hole filled with freshly mixed snice paste. This can be a bit frustrating when one wants to make rapid progress, because filled holes then require re-sanding, so it’s a step backwards, when forwards fast is the way.

Also, as the finishing line looms ever-nearer, the support and lighting teams are pulled in different directions with different concurrent (and always super-urgent) requests. These people are very experienced, and are a calming influence; they prioritise appropriately. The fact that they also have bags of sweets to share is a nice touch. Mind you, at these temperatures, even jelly babies are pretty hard.

Ice can be polished using heat to slightly melt the surface. If one overdoes this you can get a horrible drippy look that has streaks frozen into it, so subtle use of this technique is generally best. That said, such ‘rules’ are there to be broken when the situation or aesthetic concept demands it. One must also be aware that the finish on the ice will change over time, so it can look differently on different days. Knowing how it might go is a consideration when choosing which parts of a suite will be ice, and which will be snice.

Ice is more precise but less forgiving than snice to work with. Snice mistakes can be filled pretty seamlessly (once one has the snice-making technique ‘off-pat’), but ice is less easy to repair because the source ice is so solid, pure, and clear that filling gaps with water can make the repair look cloudy. This means that one must work on ice steadily, confidently and without rushing.

At the start, a piece of ice can be carved into a general shape quite rapidly (and seemingly harshly), but as one approaches the perfect required shape, one tends to proceed with a little due caution to avoid screwing up many hours’ or even days’ work.

So we are now at the point where we are attempting to add finesse in the right places, whilst behaving with finesse to ensure that the convivial mood is maintained, even at this hectic final stage.

Day 18 – Opening minus one

The Mind The Gap suite is pretty much finished. The train windows need a little polishing using an ultra-sharp chisel, combined with a mere waft from a heat gun. Plus there are a few ‘housekeeping’ tasks, and a sign to fit. The tube has a bed with reindeer skins on it ready for the first guests (me).

This is a huge piece of art that we have made, and I hope you’ll like it.The notion of “The last stop on the Northern Line”, a London Underground tube station built entirely from snow and ice, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, is now an official reality – it exists right here tonight in the tiny village of Jukkasjarvi.

The train looks like it has truly arrived from somewhere else, and had not just been built there. It also has a brooding presence, as many trains do.

This concept has a sort of nonsensical, surreal, ‘what-if’, mystery to it. Just think about it: the idea of such mainstream urban transport existing in such a remote outpost of mankind, taking the urban into such a wild place, and vice-versa. It’s about increasing urbanization, and the merits of it. It is also about notional juxtaposition, plus it has a simple, whimsical quality. I hope it appeals and entertains on many levels.The evening before ICEHOTEL opens to paying guests, the artists take it in turns to introduce their suites and show their finished (or near finished) work to their colleagues and the support staff.

There were about fifty people at the walk around, and it was hosted by Arne Berg, ICEHOTEL’s Creative Director, who welcomed everyone and outlined the proceedings.

We went from suite to suite listening to the appropriate artist’s introduction, and then politely and patiently taking turns to enter, and to see the finished results of shared endeavours. With everything in place each room had really come alive.

This ice and snow art is as fabulous and inspiring as it is different.

When my turn came to introduce the work, I stood on a Peli case with my colleague Magdalena next to me on a short stepladder. I explained the creative idea, and the tricky journey I had come on with this project, I then started to talk about all of the wonderful help I had received. At that point I was quite overcome and had to stop. A tide of emotion, and probably a tad of relief hit me like a wave.

We had a muted party this evening in the famous Octagon cabin; it was rather like a pleasant and convivial night at the pub with a large group of colleagues and friends after a job well done.

Another tradition is that each artist sleeps in their suite, so I am going to.

It’s been a long day, but I am tired and feel content. Wherever you’re sleeping tonight, I hope it’s warmer than here. The day may be opening minus one, but tonight it is Mind The Gap at minus 7ºC in the suite.

Good night, and thank you for sticking with this blog.

icehotel mind the gap tube icehotel finished

Day 19 – Done


Design: Marcus Dillistone.
Artists: Marcus Dillistone & Magdalena Åkerström.

Support team head: Mats Nilsson.
Support team: Dave Ruane, Adrian Nordenborg, Jon Nilsson.

Chief electrician: Janne Haglöf.
Electricians: Olof Lange, Martin Svensson.

Special assistance: Johan Andrén & David Andrén.
Additional chiselling: Rob Harding.

Blog editor and distributor: Alina Palimaru.
Blog webmaster: Simon Edwards.

IPR for London Underground: David Ellis.

PR (Icehotel): Beatrice Karlsson.
PR (UK): Fiona Reese & Sadie Lee.
PR (Discover The World): Lizzie Bourke.
PR (Transport for London): Ruben Govinden.

Marketing lead: Georgina Hancock, Discover The World.

Viral video (traveller): Renée Shorter.
Viral video assistant (London): Alice Mayhew.
Viral video assistant (Jukkasjarvi): Magdalena Åkerström.
Transport for London Film Office: Shirley Cody & Sue O’Malley.

Transportation Logistics: Sari Kaufman, Discover The World.

Executive for ICEHOTEL: Petra W Lindh.

Lief in Isproduktion (London Underground Roundel), fellow artists, catering staff, the ‘heavy metal crew’, Nigel Winborne, Paul Stefanidis, Magnus Winther, Sofi Ruotsalainen, Jens Thoms Ivarsson and Arne Berg.

Supported by:
Jo @ Canada Goose (technical outerwear)
Marion @ Sorel (boots)
Anja @ Bering Time (Arctic watches)
Gill @ Peli (protective cases)
Katie @ Fujifilm UK (professional cameras and lenses).

Dedicated to my daughter Olivia (who got me into this lark in the first place), my Partner Alina (who helped me to create ‘Frigid Dare’ at ICEHOTEL 2010/11), and to everyone who has built and run the ‘real’ London Underground since 1863.

Building the ‘Mind the Gap’ Art Suite: week 3

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