Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Like glass - 43 days til opening

Yesterday, Gord opened The Globe & Mail to Marsha Lederman’s article on the front page of the Arts Section.

"PUTTING OLYMPIC ART ON ICE", it headlined . . . . . "Gordon Halloran and a crew of craftsmen have been busy preparing a painted frozen artwork that promises to be a monumental addition to the Winter Games."

See the whole article at:

Now as the earth turns, minutes are added to the sunny side of each day. At the hotel, the Christmas trees were whisked from the lobby over the holiday weekend, and there’s an eerie silence – no more dreaming of a white anything. Instead, there is a huge sign beside a tv screen on the wall announcing that this is the official hotel of the International Olympic committee. And Wang Shu Gang's 'Meeting' outside on the lawn as if it were already spring.

We celebrated those cozy, sentimental, hyped-up several days of gift giving and merrymaking, surrounded.

Christmas Eve, Tracy’s ‘Nonno’ her Italian grandfather, his three sons and their open-hearted families hosted us in a small kitchen in East Vancouver.

Home grown tomato sauce, Abruzzo fish and home made wine. We couldn’t help but remember our 2006 adventures in Turin.

Christmas Day, after our time-honoured tradition of ball hockey on icy tennis courts, after festive hats around the family table, we toasted to Patrick – who spent his first Christmas in Afghanistan.

After turkey and sweet heirloom confections,

after phone calls to family in other parts of the world, after lights on the tree melted into darkness, that weird feeling of nostalgia and sadness crept in, an unshakeable, mortal feeling, profound and unsettling, like waking up at dusk after napping too long. A shared but dreaded let-down; at Christmas we witness our loss of innocence even as everything conspires to bring us back to that child-world of hopeful, eternal days when everyone you loved was alive, when Santa Claus still existed and anything dark was held at bay by the soothing words of a capable parent and a lifetime yet to be lived.

Monday, the engineer’s signature for the wall finally inked the paper after a year of planning, designing, constructing. Kudos to Allan May.

Today, after our first day back in the gulag, all admitted to being ‘stuck on the sofa’ and ‘totally wiped’. Talk at our Artigiano table was reflective and constructive.

Erik and Jaz have worked as crew since the 2006 installation and are beginning to understand the complexity of creating works in this scale - works which are truly ephemeral.

Erik admitted relief to work the rest of the year as the author of his own creation, but now enjoys being part of the team, as the ‘pressure is off’ and full responsibility is not on his shoulders. “In Chicago,” he says, “the skyscrapers were watching.” "There are days, " Gord admitted, "when the importance of it all escapes me."

Here, the ice freezes so fast, it makes bigger, thicker pieces of sculpture possible.

And, unlike ever before, here there are clear pieces, which freeze like glass.

Photos by Jaz Halloran, Caitlin Hicks and Allan May.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 days 'til Christmas, 48 to opening

We kicked off the longest night of the year at the Lantern Festival at the Roundhouse in Yaletown. Ari was the master of ceremonies in a yellow vest, and Becky and Erik waved red and saffron flags onstage.

It was a magic event with hundreds of people watching fire dancers in the cold and an array of amazing events, including a Whirling Dirvish, and from the Sunshine Coast - Twisted String!

The word of the day is clinquant - glittering with gold or silver, and it's all around us -- everything that illuminates these dark days and nights - all in anticipation of Christmas, just days away.

On the way home from an excellent & fun holiday dinner with crew (Becky wore a dress! and Bri brought her boyfriend!) we passed huge cranes between the skyscrapers glowing with Christmas lights, and glimpsed the Olympic rings in the water, this time green.

At the gulag today The Province's Damien Inwood interviews Gord for an article.

Yesterday Allan May visited Minus 28 degrees, and snapped some photos - the work is so complex & layered, with things I have never seen before in the structure of the ice. Yesterday Gord said, "Every once in a while, I'm thrilled." It's part of his usual creativity see-saw, a combo of haunting doubt, necessary confidence and healthy skepticism.

Phase Five deliverables were due yesterday; this morning the lighting arrived on the coast and Allan May got the B-1 form stamped by the engineer for the wall itself. After the holiday, it's all systems go.

Last night I heard the hotel will most likely host a show of the Paintings Below Zero Turin installation during January and February for their 'Westin Unwind'. More on this later.

These short days melt into darkness so quickly.

Monday, December 21, 2009


The ski goggles were a hit, a bucket of paint spilled and froze instantly and it was, by all accounts: “the hardest day”, the lifting, pouring, carrying buckets full of paint and water, chopping, sawing. And for Gord, making decisions. No more t-bars, for instance.

“The scale has been decided, the colors, the forms, but we don’t know what the final situation will be, exactly. Right now it’s exciting to be in the moment. The possibilities are open for us.”

“This is where it all comes together instinctively; it’s like stick-handling, you trust the moment, and go with your instincts. If you were a control freak, you would fail. The environment has its own measure of control; you just can’t have a pre-determined concept. You have to adapt to the qualities you find.

“With brittle ice, you get really interesting breaks; now we’re layering it; it’s somehow more muscular - and the separation of colors is more pronounced.”

“Gord doesn’t like pickles, unless it’s in a tuna sandwich,” Becky informs us with a smile, “I found out yesterday."

"The goggles are pink! Erik got the only pair of gray goggles, I guess he’s the ‘saw man’ so he deserves more manly-coloured glasses. I’ll get over it; now I’m embracing the pink." Becky is the only rookie crew member among us today, and I ask her impressions.

"Riding my bike through Vancouver, it seems tropical, it’s easy after working on Ice Gate,” she says.

“I knew I’d be cold, but I was open to whatever it required. It’s very physical; it’s hard, heavy work, but I’m toughing up,” she says, flexing a bicep. “It’s gender-equalizing.”

On the home front, Allan May’s crew has installed the first bank of lights and the Kingspan insulation on the back of the wall.

He begins rebuilding the wall on the site at Richmond City Hall on January 7th.

Check out the O Zone website!

50 days until we open.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How cold is cold?

Tuesday, the thing was solved. “It was a good day,” Gord said, upbeat. “As if everyone knew exactly what to do – we were a team.” And essentially, the ice set well. On the way home, everyone fell asleep in the car.

That night we went to see Musica Intima, in a show called Noel at the West Vancouver United Church.
Twelve performers with gorgeous voices singing ancient melodies and carols from different locations across the world. Poetry in voice. We closed our eyes in the warm church and let the melodies float over us.

It was absolutely refreshing to sit in the same room as an ephemeral art form and just be with it.

Then yesterday, Gord came back, exhausted, yet on edge. His eyeballs were hurting from the cold. We went out – he seemed driven to get to the store before it closed, resolutely determined to get some goggles for the next day’s work. How many different ways can you say it’s cold? It’s really cold, It’s super cold. Scary cold. How long can you work in minus 28 degrees? With fan-induced wind chill? So we stocked up on goggles – who knows how long it takes an eyeball to freeze?

And, unlike the one-day reprieve on Tuesday, yesterday the ice was brittle. 70 per cent broke when they pried it from the trays.

“On the first day I could be in that space without a hat. Yesterday, it was impossible.”

I consoled the crew that we’re still ahead of the game. For Turin, the other winter Olympics, it wasn’t until January 5th that we had ice. And Gord got reassurances from Scott that they would concentrate the cold at the back of the building, not in the studio. “They’ve been helpful in terms of everything,” he says. “They made a ballet of carrying the plates on those forklifts, with two of those things backing up and moving forward. I had to stop and watch.”

Becky brings Gord a sandwich and they spend the time it takes to eat the sandwich in the warm room before heading back to the cold studio. Jaz took pictures yesterday – they reminded me of the inside of the church at Fenestrelle, before they figured out how to get ice from bubbly water.

This morning, Gord drew the solution he free-associated yesterday: a different way to cut the ice prior to removing it from the tray.

We discussed the benefits of petting the cat for one minute, how the cold studio warehouse is Not a church! And how Sleep Won. Maybe we’ll see Becky tomorrow at the best ever place for coffee on the west coast of Canada.