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Ice Sculptures Shine with Cultural Diversity

The time of year has come again when Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province is transformed into an exquisite, shining winter wonderland.

And last weekend witnessed the competition to decipher the best ice sculptures created by artists from both home and abroad at Harbin's 22nd International Ice and Snow Festival.

This year, onlookers at the event had the chance to see the best of Eastern and Western ice sculpture culture.

As one of the highlights of Harbin's chilly winter with temperatures often falling below -30 C, the month-long China Harbin ice festival competition drew an unprecedented 42 teams from 19 countries and regions.

Acting perhaps as a prelude for the celebration of the 2006 Russian Year in China, Russia sent 17 teams, consisting of more than 40 sculptors, to participate in this year's competition.

Dozens of ice blocks, measuring 2 meters in height and width, and 60 centimeters thick, were positioned in a circle in the city's Zhaolin Park.

Contestants were then required to transform these ice blocks into their own creations in two and a half days, and they were then judged on Sunday afternoon.

Alexandre Shadrin and Dzhuluspan Markov from Yakut of Russia won the competition with their work entitled "Resurrection of Shaman."

Local celebrity

"My two sons and I just came here for fun," said Zhang Dexiang, a local citizen of Harbin, who had entered almost every ice sculpture competition since it was founded 22 years ago.

"I now get really excited when every winter comes," said the 62-year-old man, who is a three-time winner of the event.

Zhang is a "real celebrity" in the city's ice and snow sculpture circle. Dubbed as an "ever-green tree," he has grabbed numerous honors and prizes over the past two decades.

This time round, Zhang has teamed up with a friend and helped his two sons form another team.

"I am from the No 3 team of China and my sons represent No 6," said the retired art teacher of a local middle school proudly.

This family's works are undoubtedly the most eye-catching amongst all the sculptures.

The father's work was named "Life is Just Like a Song," with several pigeons flying above a giant French horn, and won an award for technique in the competition.

"My work would always be inspiring," he said. "One's life should be like a sonorous song with an inspiring tune.

"Can you hear the horn's sound and see a spirit rising as the pigeons take flight?"

The two sons' work is called the "Quiet Quiet World," with a serene picture of the sea displaying many tropical and flying fish.

"The world has suffered a lot this year, I hope to convey a sense of peace and tranquility through my work," said Zhang Xuetao, the elder of the two sons.

"This is my wish too, like father, like son," he said. At the top of the sculpture, a flying fish can be seen stretching its fins upwards, seemingly about to fly.

"It is more dynamic, bringing vitality and a feeling of movement to the work," he said, adding that the fish was actually added later upon inspiration.

"I always felt that it lacked something when I first finished it, but I couldn't see where," he said.

"When I cast a glance at the leading pigeon on my father's work, bang, I suddenly knew what was missing," he said.

Though his father kept praising his sons for mastering many of his techniques, they are aware that they still lack experience.

"I had originally planned to put this somewhere above the large central fish," he said, pointing to a starfish in the right-hand corner of his sculpture.

"But my father said it would spoil the whole momentum of the sculpture and he is right," he said.

"Original ideas are important, but experience is most important," he said.

Standing before his sons' work, Zhang nodded approvingly.

"We are a family of ice and snow," he said cheerfully.

As the only mixed-country team, Anke Kuipers from Holland and Kim DeRusscher from Belgium produced an eye-catching sculpture with their modern tools and exotic style.

The couple are both freelance sculptors and met each other two and a half years ago while working together on a sculpture project in Holland, where they fell in love and began working together.

DeRusscher said that he received an invitation to this competition when he was in Italy.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to come to China, so I came," he said.

DeRusscher usually sculpts with marble, but he said that it is not that different sculpting with ice.

"Basically, they are the same, but this competition has more limitations as you have only this piece of ice before you," he said.

"But it is Ok, because we always have a lot of ideas," said Kuipers.

"We can always find a fitting one (idea) for both of us," she said. "Maybe that is why we want to work together," she said with a smile.

Their work at this event has been called "Sun Bather" with a scene depicting a girl sitting under an open umbrella held in her right hand.

"The image appears very deep from far away; but when you walk closer, you will see that it is not that deep," said DeRusscher on the pairs' work, which won second prize at this years event.

However, he appears not to care about winning. "I don't like competition; I only want to create a work I like.

"I only pay attention to the quality and feeling of my work," he said.

It is interesting to witness the variation between the works of the foreigners and the Chinese. The former appear to depict something fairly abstract and include sculptures of people, while the Chinese sculptors have mainly focused on something more specific, usually animals.

"I think this is because the Chinese were forbidden to carve human bodies in history," said DeRusscher.

Zhang Songtao has his own opinions towards this.

"Sculptures can reflect the culture and style of a country," he said.

"You see the foreigners would usually bring something abstract, such as a legendary figure, into their sculpture," he said, pointing at a sculpture showing a man leading a fierce monster.

"They have paid a lot of attention to having a large centerpiece with a nice posture and harmonious proportions, while we tend to attach more importance to carving something small but exquisite," he said, pointing to an almost lifelike fish on his sculpture.

Zhang Dexiang also pointed out the different equipment used by the Chinese and foreign sculptors.

"We are really lacking behind with regards to our equipment, compared to them (foreigners)," he said, in reference to the advanced tools that have been used by the European contestants, such as electric drills and saws.

(China Daily January 11, 2006)

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