Happily he reports he slept rather well the past night, the last before the ports are opened to ICEHOTEL #20. Checking the time, he notes that the first guests are checking in as he speaks. A feeling of relief and pensive melancholy sweeps over the room. Some of the artists will be leaving the group to return home already today. Some remain to continue with stage two.
We are here to talk to the designer duo Mats Nilsson and Jens Thoms Ivarsson, veterans in the context of ice sculpting. They have received a great deal of attention, both at home in Sweden and abroad, and several of their products have been awarded international honours. They have been creating ice art for ICEHOTEL since 2003, on the spot in Jukkasjärvi, for a variety of events and at a number of bars around the world.
“This year we are building the ICEBAR here at ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi. It’s our eleventh bar, but it’s our first time building the bar here, at the original location. We submitted a design for a suite, but Arne Bergh had other plans in store for us”, says Jens. And Mats continues, “This year’s edition of ABSOLUT ICEBAR Jukkasjärvi is designed by Åke Larsson, the architect at ICEHOTEL. We were thrilled when we saw the room, it offers the very best conditions.”
The dialogue is quick and lively. It’s quite enthralling following the twists and turns and descriptions of an array of possible and impossible projects Thoms & Nilsson have been involved in. “Our greatest driving force is about studying the social interaction between people in public spaces. That is, how do strangers interact with their surroundings and other individuals, and what can we as designers and artists do to contribute to that communication, a real meeting, takes place”, says Jens.
He continues, “we can sit for hours at a town square, in a park, at a bar or in a hotel lobby, simply studying people’s behavior. What if, with a well thought-out shape and design of an entryway, bar counter or park bench, we can really make a difference and contribute to a meeting that alters a person’s life, maybe contributing to a lifelong friendship or a conversation that becomes a lasting memory.”
“We put a great deal of weight on the thought behind the design, that the expressed design supports the thought”, Mats explains. Jens and Mats got to know each other in the late-1990’s when Jens, as his first job, worked for Mats, a fourth-generation stone sculptor. The contact in the meeting was immediate and a creative cooperation quickly developed, where they both vitalized each other’s ideas and complemented each other in the best possible way. Mats was also working as a fireman parallel to creating and inspired Jens to also enter upon this course. Their paths split for a while when Jens worked on his degree in industry design in Gothenburg and London. When the time came for his degree project, the natural path led him back to his old partner in Sölvesborg, in southernmost Sweden. The result of his degree project is the washbasin HF01, now called “Tradition”. It immediately drew great attention, was awarded with a scholarship from the Gothenburg foundation Willinska Stiftelse, and was exhibited at Svensk Form (Swedish Society of Crafts and Design) in Stockholm as well as in SAAB’s exhibition halls in Varberg and Gothenburg. In addition, it was the starting shot for the joint firm Thoms & Nilsson.
“The work with ICEHOTEL is incredibly stimulating. Creating in ice and snow is a young art form that we have had the privilege of being a part of and vitalize through our experience with large and heavy installations in stone and cement. We, especially I, really get ignited by clever, almost impossible requests and ideas. We have yet to fail a task. Just give us a little time, and we’ll find a solution. It is stimulating to see how the experiences and experiments with ice have in turn vitalized our way in working with other materials”, says Mats.
Black magnetite is one of these materials, which like the snow, originates in Swedish Lapland. In contrast to the snow, it doesn’t fall from the sky, but is brought up from deep within the underground, from the iron ore body that lies beneath the city of Kiruna. The contrast to the ephemeral ice and snow couldn’t be greater: black, iron-rich, magnetic, heavy and eternal – with testified magical properties. Believed to aid in meditation and relief from negative emotions, magnetite is also said to attract love, commitment and loyalty to its bearer. In an exciting art project focusing on magnetite, together with companies such as LKAB and Minelco, ICEHOTEL has created a permanent sculpture park adjacent the ephemeral hotel.
“Our magnetite sculpture ’60 Degrees’ is a stylization of the ore body in Kiruna, with its walls and shaft. On the one side, all lines meet in a hole. There you can look into the inner depths of the earth”, says Mats. We go out together to meet the fresh, breathtaking beauty of the winter’s day to photograph. And indeed it is magical to see the black magnetite with their white caps of snow, seeming to want to warm and comfort, soften up the black and hard. The eternal coupled with the ephemeral, a meeting between yin and yang.
“Here in Jukkasjärvi, different art forms, artists and designers meet from all reaches of the world, with different backgrounds and experiences. A completely unique, creative atmosphere emerges. Everything is possible here. We prove it together, by building a new, unique ICEHOTEL every year”, says Mats.